Down memory lane

S.M. AAMIR (Hindu)

Making history: Satyawati, the oldest surviving freedom fighter, aged 104.

August 26, 5.00 p.m., 1942: It is Raksha Bandhan Day. Young Satyawati was in the famous Anarkali Bazaar in Lahore. It was to be her last free journey for some time. The Quit India movement was at its peak and the British forces were targeting Indians, often throwing them into prison for any act of defiance. Satyawati — and her daughter Subhadra Khosla and other members of her family — was arrested and sent to jail.

Rare duo

Subhadra, all of 13, would play on the guillotines, not knowing its sinister purpose. A rare mother-daughter freedom fighter duo, 104-year-old Satyawati Devi and her 80-year-old daughter Subhadra were in New Delhi recently to mark the launch of The Illustrated History Of The Freedom Struggle brought out by Penguin.

The 144-page volume attempts to chronicle, for the first time, the visual moments of the movement that changed the country’s history. The book is replete with photographs, maps, newspaper clippings and letters sourced from various archives, museums and libraries from India and abroad. The book launch sent the freedom fighter on a nostalgia trip.

Satyawati who used the charkha to spin khadi till about two years ago to earn her living by making about 35 metres of cloth, recalls, “Mahatma Gandhi asked my husband to join the freedom struggle. My husband Lala Hardev was a medical student from a very rich family. He sacrificed his comforts to take part in the freedom struggle. A very fashionable man, he burnt his 30 suits and many shoes as a mark of solidarity with the concept of Swaraj and Swadesi.”

Talking about herself, Satyawati recalls, “The Britishers imposed Article 114 and 115 besides others after arresting us. In the jail we kept our spirits up and tried to unite all Indians in there. We used to sing patriotic songs.” In the jail, Satyawati found a unique way of hoisting the National Flag. “We used to put one cot atop another, then another, make a pile and then hoist the National Flag in the jail.”

Vivid memories

Struggling to speak at length due to her advanced age, Satyawati’s full of anecdotes and incidents of the freedom struggle but can’t find words to express them all. Now confined to a wheelchair and too weak to sit for long, the mother of the late Vice President Krishan Kant is not quite happy with the way our country has shaped up after Independence. “Everything has changed since independence. Bharat pehle wala nahin raha, har cheez ko badalne ki zaroorat hai.” She recalls, “We were in Lahore when on August 14, 1947, the subcontinent got its freedom. I was staying at Lajpat Bhawan in Lahore with my daughters. We were scared for our lives. Fortunately we survived and came to India in October 1947.”

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