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A dangerous time to live in but they want independence...
Freedom...the word on everyone’s lips...
Rakesh, proud to be a freedom fighter but fears the future for his family.
Dev; a lost soul after a death, confused and lonely. Will he overcome his feeling of guilt?
Pooja, a girl in love, but destiny chose to play another hand – she didn't dream her marriage would be so disastrous.
Amit; love is strange but he found it, but will he be able to claim it?
Sunil, dedicated but naive, still stands up to protect, but will he get over his insecurities?
It’s August 1942, Mohandas Gandhi calls for immediate independence and the Quit India Movement begins.
From the birth of the Movement to the fall of the British Raj in 1947 and the rise of two new nations: India and Pakistan, Freedom of the Monsoon follows the interwoven lives of five friends as they strive to survive these often cruel and murderous times of change...
I jabbed at the dying embers. ‘It’s our turn, Dilip. Now, it’s our turn.’
Dilip puffed on his cigarette and rolled out a few circles into the air. ‘Are you sure? Rakesh, what about your family...about Dev?’ He tapped his cigarette, letting the ash fall to the ground.
I gave up trying to revive the smouldering coals and rolled up my shirt sleeves. I snapped the stick in half and began to doodle in the ash instead.
The heightened wind extinguished the fire, allowing a rise of wispy smoke escape to the sky. The clouds chased each other across the darkness; the stars playing hide and seek. A dog barked in the distance.
‘You know my history. I have to do this,’ I said.
‘Even if it will cost you your life? Last week, you know—Mohan was hanged. He was caught handling explosives.’ Dilip said this matter-of-factly.
I shook my head. Mohan was a good man; he’d died a martyr...like so many others. ‘I am not important. I can sacrifice my life to free my country if I have to. What about you? Your parents are old. You have a wife and two young children and one on the way. They depend on you. If something happens to you, then who will support them?’
Dilip looked me in the eye. ‘If I die, I will be shahid . My family would be proud. I have discussed this with Rakhi and she has no qualms. She will support me all the way and my children—I want them to grow up in a country free from the rule of the Raj. I am prepared to die to give them that chance.’
I had to respect him. ‘Good. It is settled then. Who else is involved?’
He dropped his cigarette into the dead fire. ‘Two other men. I will introduce them to you tomorrow.’
I felt Dev’s excitement and his eager smiles on my back. I’d allowed him to come, just this once. I hope he would be content after that. I
call him “Chottu ” – my dear, younger brother. We have a close relationship and his respect to me is shown when he calls me “Bhai ” – elder brother. This is his love. My reluctance for him to join me in this meeting is reasonable but Dev was stubborn. My frequent disappearances had made him suspicious and his relentless questioning began. I had little choice but to bring him on the secret.
‘Bhai, where are we going?’ he asked, walking closer to me.
‘I’ll tell you in good time, Chottu.’
‘Do you believe...India will have her independence?’ Dev asked hesitantly.
‘Yes. India will be free and that’s why we are doing this—to put pressure on the Raj —to make sure India is freed!’ I halted and turned to face him. ‘Never think otherwise. This country belongs to the Indian people, it belongs to us!’
‘Yes...Bhai.’ His face showed shock and uncertainty.
I was alarmed. Had I said too much? ‘Chottu, I can’t say anymore here. If someone overhears our conversation, there is bound to be trouble. What we are about to do, is not only dangerous but unlawful. We could be arrested or maybe worse. Wait until we reach our destination.’
I was nervous. Dilip had called on me unexpectedly, he said it was urgent. He wanted Dev there too. At first, I was angry; I didn’t want my brother getting mixed up in this but Dilip insisted that he could be a lot of help.
My parents had become suspicious too. Without realising it, I changed and my family saw it. During the last few months my temper flared without reason and I nearly stopped talking altogether. Doing this to my parents was awful, lying to them, betraying their trust was not something I wanted to do, but it was better than telling them the truth.
We now walked past dimly lit houses – a sign that the day was coming to an end for most. The lingering scents of sandalwood and spice drifted towards us. At the last house we passed, a cycle was left abandoned outside the gate and a mother was singing a Gujarati
lullaby from inside. It was something Ma used to do when Dev and I were children. Even in these times, lives carried on as normal.
‘Chal Chottu.’ I walked a little faster. Dev glanced at the unlit oil lamp I was carrying and raised an eyebrow. ‘We can’t risk being seen,’ I answered his unspoken question.
A few cows lowed as we approached the cow house but no one was around. I breathed a silent sigh of relief. Every breath, every step and every sound multiplied in the dark. I wished we would get there sooner.
As we came to the river, it whispered its greetings. The air was still and the trees stood as if in command, allowing their leaves to do as they pleased. Only the crickets made themselves known.
We entered a long stretch of road after leaving the riverside, it was eerily quiet. We moved faster, concentrating on the moonlit road and soon a house loomed ahead of us.
‘Is this it?’ asked Dev.
‘Yes.’ I checked all around but the area was clear apart from two people by the front door. I acknowledged them and they disappeared into the shadows.
‘Who are they?’ asked Dev.
‘I’ll tell you once we are inside.’ We moved around to the back of the house. Dilip and I found this place by accident, it was just right for what we needed it for. The state of the building kept away unwanted visitors and mainly the police. The windows were boarded up and the roof was tumbling down.
The door creaked as I pushed it open. It took a few moments before my eyes adjusted to the gloom. Careful to tread quietly, I passed from the first room to the next like a shadow. Dev followed.
Old unsmiling portraits of men and women hung on the walls in the second room... there was a picture of a family too but it was difficult to make out the detail.
‘How long has this house been empty? Those pictures...’ said Dev, coming to stand beside me.
‘Could be thirty years and those pictures—they were the owners,’ I said as I searched in the room.
‘Why did they leave?’
‘They didn’t leave. It’s said that this house is haunted, the family who owned it were murdered.’ I pressed the north wall and knocked it with my knuckles and moved to the next.
‘How were they murdered?’
‘Do you really want to know?’
‘Yes, what happened?’
‘Some say the deaths were terrible to behold; throats were sliced and then the bodies were hanged. A farmer found them, poor man; he had nightmares until the day he died. They say he went mad. People are frightened to come anywhere near the house, they believe the spirits still wander around. The villagers still talk about it.’ The space between us narrowed; I held back a smile.
‘Haunted, ghosts…oh God, Bhai have you seen them?’
I couldn’t help but laugh. ‘Not scared, are you?’
‘No…no, of course not,’ Dev said too quickly.
This time I raised my eyebrows and chuckled but turned my attention back to what I was doing. I checked the other walls—pressing my ears against them one at a time.
There wasn’t much in this building; a few chairs, a table, and some broken clay pots laying around that no one had bothered to remove.
‘What do we do now?’ Dev asked.
I lighted the wick of my lamp, casting shadows across the room. Dev shuddered.
‘In here.’ I pointed to an open trapdoor. The lamp illuminated a set of stairs, leading to a basement. Carefully and quietly, I closed the trapdoor behind us and we proceeded down the creaking stairway.
The basement was warm in comparison to the above floor. It contained a small, wooden round table and three chairs. In one corner, a mat and some cushions made the room cosy. A few empty beer bottles were stashed in a box and a set of playing cards lay on the table.
‘What were you doing before?’ asked Dev, picking the cards up. He began to shuffle them.
‘When you were pressing the walls.’
‘We check if the walls are false, if they have been tampered with to trap us. We check each time we come here,’ I said.
‘But how can they be tampered with— if no one knows about this house, except for us?’ he asked.
‘With the Movement, security has tightened around the country, Chottu. All police officers are on the alert for anything suspicious. All they need is evidence—anything to catch us with. Other derelict places have been raided; this house could be on their
list. We know that entrapments are used—like I said, false walls to hide in or to leave a recorder. Just be careful, Chottu. This house must be kept secret; it must be monitored and used with discretion. We cannot come and go as we please, and everything—every little detail must be planned.’ I placed the lamp on the table.
‘How is it monitored?’ said Dev.
‘We have people on the lookout.’
‘Those two we saw outside...’
‘You are sharp. Good.’ I appraised him. ‘Yes, Manoj and Namdev.’
Manoj and Namdev including myself and Dilip, made the group of four. Everything was done together. Dilip was the ringleader – the planner who took to foresee any problems ahead. I was in charge of printing, Manoj dealt with surveillance and Namdev supplied materials.
‘Manoj and Namdev are already watching this house. If they see the police within two hundred yards, they will alert us with a wail, or they will hoot. We stay here until the way is clear.’
‘Do you…are you scared Bhai?’
‘We are always scared.’ As I increased the flame a little, a floorboard creaked above. We froze into a crouch.
‘Chottu, did you hear that?’ I lowered the flame.
Dev’s eyes were wide. ‘Do you think it’s the police?’
I hesitated for a second, then slowly stood up and relaxed. ‘No, it can’t be. They would make a lot more noise than that and besides, our watchers would have warned us. It may have been a rat.’ I returned the flame; shadows flickered across Dev’s anxious face.
‘Or a ghost,’ he whispered, his eyes widening.
‘Maybe you shouldn’t have come.’ I looked at Dev’s tired face and thought about the hour. Dilip was surely taking his time.
‘But I wanted to.’
‘No, it was reckless of me, bringing you along.’
‘I am nineteen!’
‘Nineteen and still young.’
This time we heard a different kind of noise. We froze again.
‘Is that Dilip?’ said Dev.
‘Let’s hope so.’
‘I think we should leave. Something is wrong; I can feel it Bhai.’
‘It’s too late. We’ll have to wait—don’t worry. Dilip said he will be here, and so he shall.’ Time ticked on. I checked my watch—it was past midnight now.
‘Do you think Ma knows we’re not at home?’ Dev asked.
‘We will be home before dawn; she will not awaken until then.’
The trapdoor opened and Dev jumped. Dilip appeared.
‘Good. You two are here. Sorry, I am late.’ Dilip came down the stairs.
‘We’ve been here for over an hour, Dilip, where were you?’ I said.
‘Look, I said I was sorry. I got held up. It was difficult getting away. You know Suresh, my eldest – he is ill. I had to get some medicine,’ he said.
‘I suppose—you had good reason. Sorry for—well you know, I get nervous. Anyway, what was the urgency?’
‘I’ll show you.’ Dilip took out a piece of paper from his shirt pocket and laid it out on the table. He blew away the dust and brought the lamp nearer.
Students: Fellow Indians
Be Indian in both culture and life
Boycott schools and colleges
Send foreigners away
Boycott all national newspapers
Organise freedom movements in towns and villages Educate All
Paralyse the Raj
Persuade Raj servants to quit their jobs
Damage lorries carrying troops and war goods
Cut communication wires and remove rails.
JAI HIND !
‘This is why I wanted you to bring your brother. He will be able to do this with ease,’ he said, directing his words to me. ‘This is the first step.’
‘What am I to do?’ asked Dev eagerly.
‘We need help in getting these pamphlets around colleges, and you are the link. Your brother tells me you are popular and connected to the right people. Therefore, this will be very easy for you.’
‘It sounds dangerous,’ Dev said.
Dilip looked at me in surprise. ‘I thought you said he could do this?’
I took Dilip to one side and spoke in a low voice, but rather sharply. ‘I didn’t say anything like that but he was eager to come. You insisted!’ I frowned, was I mistaken? Had I read Dev’s eagerness as courage? Was I fooled to think that he too, wanted a free India?
Dilip and I returned to Dev.
‘You shouldn’t have come,’ said Dilip. ‘I was wrong to ask Rakesh to bring you. Maybe, this is too much for you to handle.’
‘No, no. I will…I can do it,’ said Dev.
‘I’m sure your brother has told you, but I will tell you again. This operation is dangerous and if you are arrested, they won’t forgive you. A lot of courage is needed, boy. Are you sure you can do this…if you are not, then I don’t want you involved. It is risky.’ Dilip looked at him hard.
‘I am ready, I promise,’ said Dev.
‘Alright, you will need to start off with people you can trust and who will give you support—close friends first. No one must be connected to the authorities – no teachers, politicians, police or official servants of the Raj.
‘If this,’ Dilip waved the pamphlet in the air. ‘Reaches the wrong hands…well, you know what could happen. You cannot afford to be careless and you must be on your guard at all times.’
‘I won’t let you down.’ Dev tried to say it confidently but I wasn’t fooled.
‘In that case, Rakesh—take this to Ali and Narendra and get two hundred printed,’ said Dilip. ‘Now the next step, I will need to see you in private tomorrow, to finalise... but not here…I have seen the police wandering in this district; looks like we may have to find somewhere new for us to meet. I will send a note with Namdev when I know where to go, what time and what date.’
‘Can I come too?’ asked Dev.
‘No,’ Dilip said curtly. ‘This other job is not for you. It’s...unpredictable.’ Then his voice softened. ‘Dev, you are still young. I don’t think you will be able to do this.’
‘But—’ said Dev.
‘Enough,’ I said, putting a hand on Dev’s shoulder. I stared at Dilip disapprovingly.
‘What?’ he said.
‘Why couldn’t you tell us about this back at home? Why call us out here at such a ridiculous hour?’
‘Rakesh, I needed to speak to Dev personally and thoroughly. The Elders are already talking about our meetings, I fear they know something. I don’t trust them. We must be discreet! It’s time to leave. Wait here, I will look if it is safe to go.’ Dilip opened the trapdoor and disappeared. After a few moments, he re-opened the door and signalled. I followed after Dev.
Dev wanted to know what other things had been planned and how serious it was; his unspoken questions were large in his eyes as he stared at me. I knew he was waiting until we were alone. I hoped I could avoid answering – Dev would plead with me to not go, to not do it.
As we entered the village, the sky burst with hard, slanting rain, soaking us through in seconds. Dev and Dilip ran for cover but I remained where I was standing; my arms open, welcoming the Freedom of the Monsoon and I hoped that one day, India would also be just as free.