Once upon a time, during the Quit India Movement

T.S. SATYAN writes: I was in the first year of my BA class at the Maharaja’s College in Mysore, when Mahatma Gandhi launched the Quit India Movement in 1942. Students boycotted classes, poured into the streets and went in procession shouting patriotic slogans. They were in the forefront of the struggle.

Those who led and inspired us then were my college mates—H.Y. Sharada Prasad (who went on to become a well-known journalist and Information Advisor to the Prime Minister) and M.V. Krishnappa (who became a minister in the central government).

I also remember my affable friend, Abdul Gaffar, whose inspiring speeches in Kannada are still ringing in my ears. Our English teachers, J.C. Rollo and W.G. Eagleton, were surprised that their favourite student, the suave and brilliant Sharada Prasad (then the Secretary of the University Union), had been chosen as our undisputed leader in the Quit India agitation.

“Showrie”, as we affectionately called him, was a soft-spoken, frail and mild-mannered young man and no one credited him even with an iota of aggressiveness. The compulsions of any occasion, it is said, throw up a leader and Showrie was one such. He came from a family, which valued Gandhian ideals. Always dressed in khaddar, he was self-reliant and an idealist, qualities he inherited from his parents.

Sharada Prasad’s speeches electrified the students who willingly courted arrest, and filled the only jail in Mysore. Talking about those days, he says: “There were not many to advice us to device plans and programmes. Some elderly lawyers told us that it was the turn of the young to show the way to the old.”

Showrie conceived a novel idea—the Cycle Brigade. Bicycle squads not only went round the streets of Mysore but also fanned out into the surrounding villages, shouting Quit India slogans and exhorting people to join the Movement. The students picketed government offices and courts.

The news of Showrie’s arrest spread like wild fire and his name became the talk of the town. Many of his followers marched behind him when he was taken to the Court of the First Class City Magistrate. The tense gathering inside the Court waited for the judicial worthy to pronounce his order. The judge shuffled his papers, picked up one and held it aloft to pronounce his judgment. He began saying, “The All India Congress Committee met in Bombay on 7 and 8 August, l942 and passed a resolution to quit India.” The assembled crowd burst out in laughter. The magistrate corrected himself and, after reading the charges against Showrie, sentenced him to eighteen months of rigorous imprisonment.

Recalling his entry into jail, Showrie says: “A convict-warder who led us to our barracks gave us a piece of sound advice: ‘Take good care of your things. This place is full of thieves.” He was himself doing his eighth term for house-breaking!”

Writing about his jail days in his lyrical prose laced with some anguish. Sharada Prasad says: “The outside world suddenly seemed so far away. It was as though we were encased in a capsule of silence, cut off from the aching joys and dizzy thrills of the Movement. But, within a couple of days, the world began flooding in through the walls. Students were brought in by the dozens and scores. Then there were groups of villagers from far and near. I remember the cheerful face of a village elder who had a forearm with a bullet embedded in it. They took him to hospital to have it removed.”

Showrie also recalls with a tinge of anguish how, one day, after a minor dispute with the prison authorities, the reserve police were called in and a fierce lathi charge was ordered. “There were scores of students with broken bones and bad bruises. We were locked up without food. Word came that a high school student, Shankarappa, was so badly injured that he later died in hospital.”

Along with Showrie there were some six hundred political prisoners. “The jailers sought our help in dealing with them and keeping order. We also set about holding literacy classes for the unlettered villagers. For the younger students we organized classes of political education and introduced them to important political books.”

The police force in Mysore was rather mild earlier in treating the young ‘law-breakers’. However, in order to demonstrate their loyalty to their British officers in Bangalore, they hardened their stance as the Movement gained momentum and the agitators were taken aback by their aggressiveness and brutality. Among them was a once-charming sub-inspector who transformed himself into a sadist. He wielded his baton with gay abandon and took the credit for arresting the largest number of demonstrators.

The City Magistrate of Mysore did one better than the police officer. Earlier, he had earned a reputation for being gentle, educated and highly cultured. He was also known for his philosophical bent of mind. Many in Mysore were surprised to find that even he allowed himself to be provoked by the agitating students. Pressured by his senior officers in Bangalore, he ordered the police to shoot at the demonstrators when a student named Ramaswamy got killed. Five years later, when India won freedom, the government gave official recognition to the popular sentiment of the people by naming the road junction near the Maharaja’s College Hostel in Mysore as Ramaswamy Circle.

There was a comic angle to the agitation. There was our lone college mate who had his crazy ideas about the Movement in which he did not participate. He was always dressed immaculately in a three-piece suit, be it summer or winter. His clipped accent resembled that of our English professors. While all of us abstained from our classes, he was the only one who dared to enter the college. Our efforts to dissuade him from doing so were in vain. The anger of the student community reached the limit when he started referring to the Mahatma as ‘Mr Gandhi’. The students who wanted to beat him up ran after him in vain. He gave them a slip and took shelter in the residence of J.C.Rollo, our Principal and Professor of English.

Many years later, our friend distinguished himself in academic achievements, became a principal of a college and also sat on the selection committees of the Union Public Service Commission. Likewise, many of my classmates rose to high positions in the administration, judiciary and the arts. Some others became ministers.

While India attained freedom in August l947, the princely state of Mysore retained its identity for sometime. Many of the states were not yet integrated in the political structure of sovereign India. The freedom movement had inspired the people of Mysore State to launch an agitation for Responsible Government with their Maharaja as the constitutional head. They began to demand a full-fledged elected legislature leading to the Mysore Chalo agitation when the earlier hostility of the police became even more manifest. Brutality, arrests and ill treatment of demonstrators became the order of the day.

I remember the strong-willed and much-loved freedom fighter, Thagadur Ramachandra Rao, who dared the police to snatch the tricolour he carried. But Thagadur had devised a novel method to puzzle the police. He wore a saffron cap, a white shirt and a green dhoti representing the colours, in that order, of the national flag. The innovative ‘walking national flag’ baffled the police who snatched away Thagadur’s cap and tore his shirt. But they did not remove his dhoti for obvious reasons.

The Movement for Responsible Government became so intense that it had to be ushered a few months after August l947. Some among the principal Congress leaders found ministerial positions. I remember photographing the first Chief Minister of Mysore, K. Changalaraya Reddy and his cabinet colleagues when they drove down to Mysore to speak at the mammoth public meeting held at the Subbarayanakere grounds. My first news photo coverage of this important event got published in India Magazine of Bombay that had just been launched.

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24 Responses to “Once upon a time, during the Quit India Movement”

  1. H.R.Bapu Satyanarayana Says:

    It is a poignant and moving account of the spirit of rebillion against the British to fight for freedom. Shourie’s example is significant that while nobody could expect a gentle soul like him would be in the vanguard of of a rebillious movement and the cheerful spirit of sacrifice that spread like wild fire embracing every sector of people from the students to the simple and unletered rural crowd living far and wide daring the lathi and bullet. It is also the lesson how the considerate police of Mysore can become brutalised. Of course the account has also its lighter side. It is remarkable that at this distant point of tie Mr Satyan is able to recall the events with such clarity and detail. It also comes as a sad contrast to the present day polluted political atmosphere that such spirit of love for the country has evaporated and now the fighting is for power and privilege and making tons of money defrauding the country to last for several generations of their family. The once revered white Gandhi cap now signifies all that is unsavoury. Instead of freedom fighters the country is crawling with moles. Yes, the sensex is piercing the sky and everybody is making money on the sly in frenzied fashioon. Not much has changed about the character of the police. Now the caste has become the ATM card to encash while the really the poor continue to languish and the polirticians are only making use of them to retain them as their votebank. just one example is enough to see the degradation to which India has sunk indicative of the fact still there are 6.76 lakh people engaged in manual scavenging. Amen
    P.S. It is only Mr Satyan who can express profound facts of history in his inimitable style, simple, straight and leaving a lasting impression

  2. rk Says:

    dear mr.satyan,
    a very well written article. for today’s youth, such articles highlight the importance of the freedom struggle.
    hats off to your memory. you put to shame many youths who say at the drop of a hat,”his name is at the tip of my tongue…..not able to recollect it that’s all”.
    thanks a lot for this post, coming just ahead of another independence day.

  3. PRASAD Says:

    Dear Sri Satyan,
    Can you tell us some thing about the 5 lights circle later named after late ramaswamy?
    Regards
    prasad

  4. jeevarathna Says:

    After reading such a moving account, it is beyond my wildest imagination that the same Sri. Sharada Prasad served Indira Gandhi during Emergency and later even under Rajiv ! What is real ? What you did in the flush of youth or when you are a veteran and wordly wise ?

  5. Mohan Says:

    jeevarathna,

    or perhaps the Gandhis (Indira and Rajiv) are really misunderstood and Sharada Prasad knows what they were really like as human beings? Just a thought.

  6. Prasad Says:

    The article is very well written with very small details explained very clearly. Looking forward to more such gems from Mr. Satyan.

  7. Vittal Says:

    Amazing article. I really didn’t know the story behind Rangaswamy circle. Your article brought back the memories of my stay in mysore. Hope you will write about Tatayya and Anathalaya too – I had many friends staying in that hostel.

  8. Ramanuja Says:

    Jeevaratna and Mohan,

    Perhaps a clever execise to rehabilitate Sri Prasad who was in the thick of
    everything in those dark days. Just think of two old stalwarts – JP Narayan and Morarji Desai treated like animals and thrown in a damp jail. Poor JP’s kidneys failed then and despite fine treatment, this gem of a man died. Or just think of my good friend who was a JanSangh volunteer, who gave up a glittering engineering career to do social work and who was hunted around by Mrs Gandhis secret service men because seeing the sufferings of the poor in Nagpur he spoke up saying India then was not a democrasy. Or just think of Sri Prasad as a close friend of R K Narayan who was so gentle that he would not hurt a fly.

    Years after the Watergate scandal and years after Nixon was digraced and designed. a clever public relations exercise tried( but failed) to build him as a statesman. Nixon merely lied but did nothing as serious as Mrs Gandhi and Sanjay Ganghi- remember him?!!!

    Just ignore me! i am a cynic!!!

  9. Ramanuja Says:

    Jeevaratna and Mohan,

    Perhaps a clever execise to rehabilitate Sri Prasad who was in the thick of
    everything in those dark days. Just think of two old stalwarts – JP Narayan and Morarji Desai treated like animals and thrown in a damp jail. Poor JP’s kidneys failed then and despite fine treatment, this gem of a man died. Or just think of my good friend who was a JanSangh volunteer, who gave up a glittering engineering career to do social work and who was hunted around by Mrs Gandhis secret service men because seeing the sufferings of the poor in Nagpur he spoke up saying India then was not a democracy. Or just think of Sri Prasad as a close friend of R K Narayan who was so gentle that he would not hurt a fly.

    Years after the Watergate scandal and years after Nixon was disgraced and resigned. a clever public relations exercise tried( but failed) to build him as a statesman. Nixon merely lied but did nothing as serious as Mrs Gandhi and Sanjay Ganghi- remember him?!!!

    Just ignore me! i am a cynic!!!

  10. Capt.A.K.Char Says:

    It is really pleasant to read about Maharaja’s college students contribution to the Freedom Movement in 1942 under H.Y Sharada Prasad. We have also heard of Sharada Prasad much during our college days in 1960′s.Recently( few years )a relative of mine-an elderly gentleman,friend of Mr Satyan- who knew Sharada Prasad very well in Delhi did tell me about the simple living of Sharada Prasad in Delhi though he was very close to ‘Powercenter’.When he became Press advisor to the information Minister Indira Gandhi in 1966,a special sanction was made to allot him a Govt. transport as he was travelling in DTC.

    During GunduRao regime,Sharada Prasad was offered a residential site
    in B’lore but he refused.And later even Ramakrishna Hegde had offered,but he refused.

    A person of that high thinking and standard,who was for free press and freedom of expression then why did he support Emergency of 1975?
    Ok He was press adviser to Mrs Gandhi good.But he was not a politician nor a career diplomat,then during his speech in the Maharaja’s college during those dreaded Emergeny why did he speak much in support of the Emergency?

  11. Ramanuja Says:

    If one reads history, during Nuremberg trial, the Nazis on the ‘dock’ including Keitel repated the mantra ‘ we were just servants of the Fuhrer and were following the Reich Chancellors orders, and do not know what happened to jews’. Goebbels , Hitler’s ‘media man’, the ‘press adviser’ in those days ( propagandist is the proper word) knew what he will be charged with by the Allies when Hitler committed suiciide in his Berlin Bunker, and coolly took his own life.

    Emergency was a shameful blot in Indian post-independence era. It is ironic that Sri Prasad who fought to end atrocities of kind in 1940s was a part of a regime that committed another kind of atrocities.

    The problem with us at that time, when Mrs Gandhi was thrown out during the general election ( she was pressurised by many well-meaning world leaders and this together with the pressure building within the country made her to call the elections) , the then leaders were busy fighting with each other and jockeying for positions of power. There was a talk of ‘Nuremberg style’ trial. It should have been conducted and the depth of atrocities should have been exposed. I know how my friends suffered-two died in jail, one is without his limbs and the other two were so shell-shocked by the beatings they received from the police, that they went mad and silent and died in misery.

    I also attened one or two lectures by Sri Prasad where his defence of the Emergency sounded pathetic ( he cited all sorts of conspiracies which were figment of his and Mrs Gandhi’s delirious imagination. The plain fact was she was a madame Fuhrer).

    Please do not try to ‘rehabilitate’ people associated with a regime which committed attocities. I would like to hear Sri Prasad’s apologies, the widows and chilren of my ‘dead friends, the victims of Mrs Gandhi’s maniacal regime’ would like to hear the apologies.

  12. Hakuin Says:

    Ramanuja,
    Your write up is poignant. I feel sorry for all those that died fighting the emergency. My 29 years of existence has taught me one thing: that nothing is worth dying for, especially silly notions of country and ideology, especially for quagmires like India, AND especially for the sons of bitches that run the country. I’m pained at the stories of your friends, I just wish that they had chosen to be wise instead of idealistic.

  13. Girish Hampali Says:

    Shall we conclude that Churumuri is Dead?

  14. Ramanuja Says:

    My friends who suffered in that shameful emergency period were not idealists and were not in anyway connected with politics and parties at all. They were honest officers who refused to carry out the orders of that dreadful
    person called Sanjay Gandhi whose only credential was that he was the son of that madam Fuhrer Indira Gandhi. The sins they committed were not to carry out orders that would have resulted in forceful sterilisations of women.

  15. ravi Says:

    “There was our lone college mate who had his crazy ideas about the Movement in which he did not participate.”
    I strongly guess that it is Prof. Sheikh Ali!

    amatay?(Amatay:Kunte Bille::Am I Right:Hopscotch)

  16. S.Narahari Says:

    If I may add the Ramaswamy of Ramaswamy circle is the cousin of the famous Master Hirannayya. The theater personality narrated the related incident on T.V. said that someone got confused Ramaswamy’s death was confused as Master Hirannyaa’s death and dashed telgram to the Senior who came rushing from a different place was relieved to see his son alive. This was Master Hirannayaa was studying in Junior inter.

  17. S.Narahari Says:

    To Jeeva Rathna,
    It is no surprise that H.Y.S.served two prime ministers who were mother and son, look at Deewan poornaiyaa who served three different masters Hyder Tipu,The Wodeyars and the British how about that!.

  18. S.Narahari Says:

    If I may add the Ramaswamy of Ramaswamy circle is the cousin of the famous Master Hirannayya. The theater personality narrated the related incident on T.V. said that someone got confused Ramaswamy’s death was confused as Master Hirannyaa’s death and dashed telgram to the Senior who came rushing from a different place was relieved to see his son alive. This was When Master Hirannayaa was studying in Junior inter.

  19. M.P.V. Shenoi Says:

    During the emergencey days my cousin Late Ananda Rao of Mysore was arrested and jailed. Even though it was shocking for all of us every dark cloud has a silver lining. Instead of brooding over it it seems he started administering Homeopathic medicine to one and all, convicts, jailors, police, and politicians. He came close to people like L.K. Advani who also became his patient. Of course Anand Rao did not take advantage of any of this.
    My own experience is my PA in E in C’s Branch was scared to go to Panipat daily from where he was commuting for fear of getting sterilised. I had to acommodate him with us for many days.
    Emergency was an aberration. The country was passing through anarchy of the type Gheraos where we officers were made helpless and some times beaten. The pendulum swung to another extreme. It also brought out the truth that India produces more numbers of Psychopants, boot lickers, majority of mute spectators and very few who dare on principles.

  20. charanya Says:

    I would like to begin by writing something that is in no relation to this particular article but is related to the man behind it.

    Dear Mr Satyan, i just finished reading your book Alive and Clicking and it has been nothing less than a journey for me.

    It is a wonderous journey, your book which has in it not mere photographs but the people in them and the soul behind them all.

    Every chapter has been as fascinating as the people it talks about. Your book has also opened up a window of imagination for me as you talk of a world that i have never seen and now i dont think i can ever. The one on Afghanistan was truly eye opening and your book has “activated my conscience”. What my eyes never could see, your words and my imagination has given form to them all.

    I have done my BA in economics and was nevre inclined towards science, actually physics in particular. However after reading the chapter on C V Raman, for the first time i realised my foolishness in wanting to be ignorant about a subject.

    The chapter on Dorayswamy Iyengar, the Dalai Lama, the time you spent in Bangladesh for sure piqued my curiosity. But the one i love the most is the chapter which has in it a man’s whose genius cannot be summed in words – R K Narayan.

    Thank you for this gift to us all Mr Satyan.

    Regards,
    Charanya Chidambaram.

  21. charanya Says:

    Now that I have read this article, and have realised that it has in it a bit of the Princely House of Learning from your book, I now cannot say my earlier comment is totally unrelated to the article.

    You write in your book how reading R K Narayan felt like siiting with the author while havin a cup of coffee, your article and writing in general has the some effect on me. To be able to write with such clarity just makes you feel a part of what you have written.

    This article definitely embodies in it the spirit of rebellion for a just cause and for a cause you believe in; be it Sharada Prasad and M.V. Krishnappa or the student who believed in his crazed ideas enough to enter the college.

  22. H.R.Bapu Satyanarayana Says:

    I know how hurt Satyan is for some bloggers straying from the spirit in which it was written in pointing out how the quiet Shourie was roused by spirit of rebillion for a good cause sweeping India in which everybody joined. Instead it appears the bloggers gave vent to carping criticism with personal villification which was not at all in good taste. We have lost the art to be graceful.Hope, from now onwards the bloggers will realise that there are some certain self-imposed guidelines that is necessary to ensure that this opening provided is used with restraint and to enlighten and learn not enter into vituperative dialogue which may spell the deathknel of bolgging

  23. Ramanuja Says:

    As far as I am concerned,in my comments, the criticisms were not aimed at Mr Satyan personally but at his unbalalnced view of his friend Mr Prasad which was bordering sycophancy. He would like to remember his friend Mr Prasad as some one who fought atrocities of one kind perpetrated by a ‘foreign power’ which subjugated Indian masses, but at the same time would like to forget ( and forgive or not acknowledge or worse deny?) that his friend after decades later was part of an ‘indigenous power’ which subjugated Indian masses perpetrating a different kind of atrocities. It is the strong undercurrent of sycophancy that is preventing India from becoming a great democracy.

  24. krishna Says:

    Ramaswamy circle is named after the martyr-student of Hardwicke high school,who was killed when police fired on the student rally led by Ramaswamy in 1947. It has been, time and again .stated nby some including historian Prof. Narasimha murthy that student Ramaswamy was killed by the pistol fired by the then duputy commissioner Nagaraj Rao . It is far from truth. It may be verified at the Archives of old news papers. There are still quite a few senior citizens with us who have literally seen and those who have read and heard about the violence at the circle on that fateful day. The death of Ramaswamy was caused because of the police firing on the orders of the deputy commissioner Nagaraja Rao who was present on the spot. I hope the truth would prevail.

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