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  Books   22 Jun 2024  Book Review | Patriots who were friends too

Book Review | Patriots who were friends too

THE ASIAN AGE. | JAYANTA ROY CHOWDHURY
Published : Jun 22, 2024, 12:10 pm IST
Updated : Jun 22, 2024, 12:10 pm IST

Independence. At the centre of the circle was perhaps the most modern woman in India of those times — Sarojini Naidu

Cover page of Circles of Freedom: Friendship, Love and Loyalty in the Indian National Struggle
 Cover page of Circles of Freedom: Friendship, Love and Loyalty in the Indian National Struggle

It was a charmed circle formed in pre-Great War London that traversed through Delhi, Hyderabad, Calcutta, and Bombay, to wade through battles against the British, Indian orthodoxy, and deteriorating Hindu-Muslim relations as India catapulted towards Independence.

At the centre of the circle was perhaps the most modern woman in India of those times — Sarojini Naidu, freedom fighter, poetess, and champion of Hindu-Muslim unity. Surrounding her as courtiers did in any Queen’s court were — Asaf Ali, a Delhi-based nobleman-turned-Congress leader, Syed Mahmud, barrister and architect of the Congress-League Lucknow pact, and Syud Hossain, journalist-turned-diplomat.

Describing this circle of bright, sophisticated minds, the author, T.C.A. Raghavan, who has earlier penned compelling books ranging from The Next Door Neighbour and Attendant Lords to The History Men, told this writer, “I have tried to delve into the wonderful companionship of these bright men and women — their feelings of love, friendship and loyalty.”

Of course, his book, Circles of Freedom: Friendship, Love and Loyalty in the Indian National Struggle, has been written in the backdrop of the bigger canvas of the freedom movement in which all these characters were larger-than-life players in epochal events ranging from the Khilafat to Quit India.

Raghavan’s book describes Asaf Ali’s friendship with Madan Lal Dhingra in London before he shot dead Sir William Hutt Curzon Wyllie, his transformation from an upper-crust, anglophile, who is at one stage vilified by accusations of having informed the British of the Ali brothers’ attempts to bring the Amir of Afghanistan to invade India, into an ardent freedom fighter and advocate of Hindu-Muslim unity.

It traces the careers of Asaf Ali’s friends and the friendship that each bore for the other, the one-sided romantic fealty that Mahmud displayed towards the older and far more mature-minded Sarojini Naidu and how the great leader and poetess handled him while bearing no ill will towards him for his infatuation.

On the outer circle of Naidu’s charmed “court” were the Ali brothers who led the Khilafat movement and at one time were close friends of Asaf Ali, India’s first Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru and his wife Kamala who were friends with all four of the inner circle and the founder of Pakistan, Muhammad Ali Jinnah, who too was at some stage friend, mentor and later, adversary of the ‘quad’ which remained wedded to the idea of a secular, democratic India.

Much later the circle was completed when the feisty young Aruna Ganguli joined Asaf Ali in a marriage that shocked Indian society both for the fact that it was an unusual arranged Hindu-Muslim wedding and the huge age gap between the two. One newspaper went so far as to castigate it as the “Vile Act Of Mr Asaf Ali!”

After the jailing of Congress leadership during the Quit India movement, Aruna, of course, emerged as the heroine who, along with others, led the struggle in the absence of the top brass, after going underground. “Police reports revealed that she was involved in creating widespread disturbances and carrying out acts of sabotage in the widespread agitation,” Raghavan has written.

Circles of Freedom: Friendship, Love and Loyalty in the Indian National Struggle

By T.C.A. Raghavan

Juggernaut

pp. 408; Rs 799

 

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