Wednesday July 06, 2022

The radical kind of love

The human condition
Under the strains of revolutionary life, Sukhdev, the cold strategist of revo

May 11, 2014
The human condition
Under the strains of revolutionary life, Sukhdev, the cold strategist of revolution and Bhagat’s comrade in life and death, accused him of having been seduced by the beauty of a woman and getting too soft for tasks that demanded sacrifice. Bhagat is said to have met this shock with injured silence.
Kuldip Nayar in a lengthy, surreal description has suggested that Bhagat had developed a soft spot for his comrade Durga Devi, with whom he had made good his escape in disguise from Lahore and travelled to Calcutta to reignite the revolutionary spark in Bengal. Contemporary accounts are silent on this.
Whatever the truth, for Bhagat there could be no greater insult than being accused of cowardice towards the cause. Even as a boy he had run away from his home in Lyallpur to avoid engagement for marriage and ended up in Kanpur – the ‘revolutionary capital’ of India in the 1920s. Bhagat already felt wedded – to his cause. It had been quite an affair, with his return home made possible only through the intervention of Maulana Hasrat Mohani.
Sukhdev, as a comrade who was also Bhagat’s intellectual soul mate, knew better than to accuse him that way. Together, they had lived dangerously their dream of freedom and socialism. Often and for hours and days they had passionately discussed not only politics but aesthetics, art and literature.
In a letter of friendly rebuke that Bhagat sent to Sukhdev for his cruel rant, we find him reflecting on the “moral status of love”.
He says:
“It is in itself nothing but passion, not an animal passion but a human one, and very sweet too. Love can never be an animal passion. Love always elevates the character of man. It never lowers him, provided love be love. And I may tell you that a young man and a young girl can love each other, and with the aid of their love they can overcome the passions themselves and can maintain their purity.”
Just after this rather

idealistically puritan – some have said Gandhian – dive into celibate love, Bhagat takes a ‘radical’ dig at Sukhdev:
“One thing I may tell you to mark. We, in spite of all the radical ideas that we cherish, have not been able to do away with the over-idealistic Arya Samajist conception of morality. We may talk glibly about all the radical things that can possibly be conceived, but in practical life we begin to tremble at the very outset.”
If Rajguru – who walked to the gallows with Bhagat and Sukhdev – had been privy to this affair, Bhagat might have found an ardent supporter to his cause of love in him. Rajguru’s one little preoccupation on the side seems to have been the appreciation of beauty in all its forms. He once fiercely defended beauty against the onslaught of the HSRA commander-in-chief.
Chandrashekhar Azad got furious one day when he saw a picture of a girl in a bathing suit stuck on the wall of their hiding place and tore it apart. Rajguru – the man behind the distraction – was offended and taunted Azad for his inability to appreciate beauty. A frustrated Azad proclaimed that he would destroy all things beautiful, even the Taj Mahal.
“We are out to make the world beautiful. How can he talk like this?” said an anguished Rajguru. Azad soon realised the hurt he had caused and apologised, saying he wasn’t against beauty but that their situation demanded focus on the cause.
Was the illiterate Guru drawing the same inspiration from a form of beauty as the intellectual Bhagat was from the idea of love?
In his letter to Sukhdev, Bhagat had written:
“Man must have the strongest feelings of love which he may not confine to one individual and may make universal.”
Three decades after Bhagat had died for his love; it was Che Guevara who defined a revolutionary as someone guided by a great feeling of love. Another martyr to the cause of freedom and socialism, Che, according to Sartre, was “the most complete human being of our age” because he had attained total commitment to humanity.
How would Bhagat have defined his own soul? He would not have done so apart from his vision – for the society whose liberation and emancipation was the love of his life and of a world free from poverty and exploitation that he thought could be within the grasp of humanity. He was so intensely at one with that vision that his being would lose all its meaning without it.
Accused of vanity by old-guard revolutionaries when their efforts to win him back to the fold of religion failed even when he was awaiting death, he did not fail to move their souls with his words:
“I am going to sacrifice my life for a cause. What more consolation can there be! A God-believing Hindu may expect to be reborn a king; a Muslim or a Christian might dream of the luxuries he hopes to enjoy in paradise as a reward for his sufferings and sacrifices. What hope should I entertain? I know it will be the end when the rope is tightened round my neck and the rafters move from under my feet. To use more precise religious terminology, that will be my moment of utter annihilation. My soul will come to nothing.
“I see a short life of struggle with no such magnificent end as itself my ‘Reward.’ That is all. With no selfish motive of getting any reward here or in the hereafter, quite disinterestedly have I devoted my life to the cause of freedom, because I could not do otherwise.
“The day we find a great number of men and women who cannot devote themselves to anything else but the service of mankind and emancipation of the suffering humanity, that day shall inaugurate the era of liberty. They will challenge their oppressors, tyrants and exploiters, not to become kings, nor to gain any reward here or in the next birth or after death in paradise; but to cast off the yoke of slavery from the neck of humanity and to establish liberty and peace.”

* * * * *
His was a life lived with immense intellectual curiosity and brilliance, a fierce independence of mind and an intense love for the oppressed anywhere and of all communities. His was a soul that felt suffocated in the narrow confines of nationalism and communalism. This revolutionary in his early twenties could see “life in all its diversity and fullness. Extremists born from the womb of violence and hate can never dream of touching those heights.”
From the very beginning till now, the soul of this revolutionary has stood in danger of being reduced to nothing at the hands of official nationalism in India, the opportunism that has paraded itself as Marxism in the Subcontinent and later the purveyors of official and communal bigotry in Pakistan. His efforts to prevent that from happening began the very moment he exploded on the political scene of India with those non-lethal explosions in the Legislative Council and as he became a legend during the hunger strike which he observed the longest and bore the hardest.
He berated his own father for stabbing him in the back when an appeal was made to the colonial authorities for mercy in his case. It is not difficult to imagine him spitting in the faces of those in his ‘family’ today who can invite Modi the communal mass murderer to exploit the name and legacy of Sardar Bhagat Singh.
To be continued
This is the seventh part of a series on Bhagat Singh. The sixth part appeared on May 4.
The writer is editor oped, The News. Email: