New York, 1994
Anjali was excited since morning as Varun had promised to take her for the show of 1942 – A love story, the latest Bollywood movie that had released.
“Kaveri Amma, would you to join us for the night show of the new movie? By that time, Siya would be asleep too.”
Siya was the two-year-old daughter of the engineer couple, Anjali and Varun. Kaveri Amma was Siya’s nanny. The sexagenarian Kaveri Amma had come to the household two years back. She had worked at Anjali’s parental house from the time her husband had passed away in an accident.
When Varun returned home he looked disappointed. He knew that Anjali would be really upset but he had to tell the truth. The movie show was sold out for next one week.
Kaveri Amma came to his rescue and said ” Why not listen to a real love story of that time rather than the fictional one?”
“Really, a real one. We are in…”, they said in unison.
“Then, here you go…” Kaveri Amma excitedly pushed her chair closer to them and began her story.
Before she could even start narrating the story, she was dreamy-eyed and was smiling reminiscing the days gone by. She was nudged back to reality by Anjali, “Amma, please begin the story. We are waiting.”
“Oh, okay… okay… here it is,” Kaveri amma smiled at the child-like enthusiasm of Anjali.
“She was like a fresh morning bud. Wherever she would go, she would bring with her an air of freshness. She never forgot to wear one thing before leaving her house and that was her wide smile. Such was the aura of Latika.
The struggle for freedom was gaining momentum. It was the month of April, 1942. While the World War II was going on, the Indian leaders were considering it the right time to raise their voices strongly for the British to leave. While Latika would go daily for the meetings of Nari-Swaraj, a small group that was created in the years following the Dandi March, she would notice a bunch of youngsters who would just sit outside the college doing nothing.
One day she decided to go and talk to them in a bid to persuade them to attend the other significant meetings that were held in different parts of the city. After all, the nation needed the energy of the young blood.
Their group leader was Raghu, who was the Naib’s son.
“Namaste. I have been observing you all since weeks. You all come here, chat, sip your tea and wail your time.” Lalika was poised and calm. The group of boys was quite miffed to have been confronted like this.
Raghu was quick to respond, “And who gives you the right to lecture us? Are we breaking the law?”
“Listen. No one sent me here with an agenda. I just wish to suggest something…” before she could speak further, she was interrupted by another young boy in the group.
“Suggest something…”, he teased.” These days most people come with suggestions only…kyun, Raghu bhai?”
Instead of responding to him, Latika turned to Raghu again, “every day, I see you all here wasting your time smoking, chit-chatting and wasting your time when the nation needs you the most. Why don’t you all get together and …”
Just then Raghu interrupts her and asserts, “the nation doesn’t need us. There are already so many leaders who are doing such a fine job. Nowadays every other person has become a self-styled leader. And by the way, whatever we do, confronting the British is not a child’s play. What wrong did Munna do? His father succumbed to his injuries after a lathi-charge. And what about Sunni’s sister? She was daily harassed by a British police officer. Nothing ever came of that. And what about Gurdas? His whole family was wiped out in Jallianwala Bagh massacre. We couldn’t do anything then. We can’t do anything now. So keep your suggestions to yourself.”
“But, listen to me once…”
“There she goes again” another member of the group spoke.
“There is no harm in listening and moreover you are free to act and do as you please,” Latika continued speaking to Raghu.
“If everyone starts thinking that they cannot do anything and sits with their hands folded then we shall remain slaves to the British all our lives,” Latika was now looking straight into Raghu’s eyes.The unwavering confidence in her stance and voice was enough to appeal to anyone.
Raghu was adamant though, and replied, “We have tried every possible way, violence or non-violence. Did we achieve anything so far? No! We don’t want to fight we just want to have a normal life. That is all.”
“This is the fight for freedom, not something which we will attain overnight. Persistence is the key. One day we will be free. And which normal life are you talking about? This life as a slave of the British?” Saying this, Latika paused briefly to gain their reaction and then left fuming, Few weeks passed and then one day she met Raghu…
Raghu stopped her midway. “Latika ji, I am sorry for the other day. I raised my voice and lectured you unnecessarily.”
“That is okay,” said Latika and walked away.
Raghu called out again and walked towards her, “Latika ji, listen please. I was thinking of joining the freedom movement.”
“I am glad you thought about it. What made you change your mind?”
“Just looking at the conviction with which you spoke the other day, made me rethink.”
Joining the freedom struggle is not cakewalk. You don’t decide one day and join in. It is not a club, for sure.” Latika tried to test the waters. She was quite unsure that Raghu meant well.
“I understand Latikaji. And that is why I am here in front of you. I want you to help me and I assure you that I will not disappoint you.” Raghu’s eyes shone with a commitment that was enough for Latika to give him a chance and so she said, “come with me, then. I will ask the head of our association about his opinion?”
“But there is a condition,” interrupted Raghu.
“I do not want anyone to know about this, please. I can help in making flyers and hoardings. You see, I like writing.” Raghu said it all in one breath.
Latika stood there gazing at him in bewilderment. Usually the work was assigned in an organization to a comrade assessing his/her skills. But if Raghu wanted to have a low profile, she did not want to argue.
But she was glad that her words had made an impact on him somehow. The boy who was vehemently opposed to her ideals that day, was talking about joining the movement. She congratulated herself secretly. As they reached a closed down dilapidated school she said, “Let’s go to the office first. I will introduce you as my friend. You can observe the ongoing activities with me and let me see what you can do.”
As she said this, another thought flashed her mind. What if he is… Should I trust him blindly and take him to office?
Latika took Raghu to the office, though in her heart she feared that if Raghu turns out to be a traitor then she may land her whole group in trouble.
Latika had liked Raghu from the day she had met him. There was something about him which attracted her attention. Maybe it was his poise and confidence or maybe it was his knowledge. Maybe it was the way he spoke… She was undecided as to what the quality that attracted her to him.
Keeping her fingers crossed she accosted him to their office which was made in the backyard of the school, where they worked secretly. No one had any idea that besides giving education there the other alternative work which went on there was for rebellions.
‘Wait for me here. I’ll be back in a minute,’ she said pointing to a chair.
“Latika, what are you doing? Why did you bring that hooligan here? These kinds of people should not be trusted. He can tell the police about this place. His father is a naib,” her best friend, Kaveri, expressed her concern.
“Kaveri, I understand your concern but my heart says he has changed for good. He and his friends can be of good help in spreading awareness among people and including more and more of them. Every head counts.
“Since when did you start listening to your heart instead of using your mind?”, fumed Kaveri.
“Ever since Prakash left me alone on that tragic day when the police opened fire on protesters, I promised myself not to listen to my heart. But today after such a long time, my heart tells me to listen to it.”
Over the period of next few days…
Latika and Raghu worked hand in hand. Raghu understood how roles and responsibilities were assigned and took his responsibility seriously. He also spent a lot of time with the other members of the team, building a rapport with each of them.
Soon he became a core and dedicated member of the team. Latika also started liking him. Behind the rough exterior, was a sensitive and sincere person who gave his all for the cause he had committed himself to. On the other hand, the movement was gaining momentum day by day. The government had declared an emergency and all the leaders, spearheading the movement, were being arrested.
The brouhaha about Sikhs declining to join the army, that was required to be sent to war in Europe, spread like wildfire. Now the cause of self-reliance was strengthened. People flocked in dozens to stand like a wall against the British. Gandhiji was by now finding it difficult to uphold non-violence as the masterstroke. Cripps Mission further added fuel to fire. Satfford Cripps was sent to negotiate with the Indian National Congress and seek their support in World War II. The British were only interested in making an offer of limited dominion-status to India that was wholly unacceptable to the Indian movement. The rage was enough to fuel a full steam revolt now.
And there was a similar one brewing between Raghu and Latika. Though they never confessed with each other. But, Kaveri was witness to a new wave of affection blooming in her heart. The times were not conducive for any sort of alliance at that time.
On the one side it was a non violent crusade of a few against the British while on the other Azad Hind Fauj was gaining momentum in the country as the foremost choice of the youth to rise against the British. Soon Raghu joined the latter movement and never returned, but left a part of him in Latika
Latika never knew that she wouldn’t see him again. Daily after the evening prayers, she would wait inside the kitchen hoping he would drop in for dinner someday. Food took no sides after all! Kaveri would find this girls’ profound interest in the kitchen affairs quite peculiar. She thought of asking her once, but did not wish to disturb the calm waters.
The void left bby Raghu in her life, gave Latika a new direction in working even harder and soon she was appointed leader of the ‘Nari Vahini’.
One day Latika decided to visit Raghu’s house. She thought maybe they would have some information on him. His father was completely furious at meeting her. “Are you the one who brainwashed my son into joining the fauj? It is only because of you that he is not with us today here.”
“Babuji, I am his friend and well-wisher. I just wish to know if he has contacted you at all. It has been months since I have heard from him. If you have any information on him, please let me know.”
His father could no longer tolerate her presence and left the room. His mother came forward and said, “Beti, you must be Latika. He used to talk a lot about you. Though a mother has lost her son but I am just glad that the motherland found her son. Because of you he found a purpose in life and also the love which he never found in his aggressive father or his mother who devoted her life to the household. Ever since the Quit India movement started, he wanted to join it. One day in July he left home without saying a word, never to return. As a mother my heart believes that he would be alive, somewhere in a far off place. Like you, I wait for him every day. But for now, we have no news about him.”
Heartbroken, Latika left the place.
It was now time for her to lead the nari vahini, as her little battalion was called over to Bengal. After Shyama Prasad Mukherjee wrote a letter to the British Government and elaborated on his plan to not participate in the Quit India Movement, he aligned his actions with Fazlul Haq, the Governor of Bengal to stop the movement from taking its roots in the province. This was much to the displeasure of the freedom fighters and nari vahini was also assigned to collect the dispersed groups and join the movement.
With no support coming from the local parties and the princely states, this was a challenging task. Amidst the whole antagonism, Japan-led war had reached Burma. Troubled times lay ahead, but Latika was not one to give up. She had a cause to live for and die for.
Latika and her troops reached the rural Bengal where she noticed that the local peasants were displeased with the newer taxes and were willing to join the movement. Her associate, Kaveri, was the one who helped her liaise with some locals who could help them. The movement picked pace in that small part of the province but the target was to mobilize as many as possible. Kaveri suggested that the peasants at the Burma border were the ones who were suffering the most from both sides of the border and so they head out to their next destination.
On the way, they stopped at a small village just short of the last village on the border to establish their den. This seemed like dangerous terrain. There were often talks of cross-border infiltration and sometimes, the patrolling officers would be the one to loot. One night, Latika heard some rustling just outside her window. She called out in a hushed voice, “who is it?” No one responded and the sound halted briefly. Latika got up from her bed to light a lantern when someone pounced on her.
The lantern fell from her hands spilling the kerosene on the ground. The darkness was filled in only by the beam of moonlight. Latika ducked behind the pillar to avoid getting assaulted by the stranger. Holding her breath so that she doesn’t get caught she peeped from behind the pillar to see the intruder. Her heart skipped a beat when she saw his face in the moonlight.
Latika came forward when she recognised Raghu. She was completely in daze. Disheveled hair, torn uniform and a limp in the leg. She was aghast to see his condition.
“Did I scare you, Latika?” Raghu said as their eyes met.
There was a moment of silence. They both couldn’t believe that they would be reunited this way. For the first time they held each other’s hands and gave a tight hug never to be separated again. Latika narrated the story behind the course that she had chosen over time while Raghu told her how he was separated from his troops and was chased away by the enemy in Burma. His story about how he reached Bengal was hair-raising for Latika to hear. But she was just too glad to have found him again.
They both were united by the common cause to free the nation. He knew the terrain very well and told her that he and his group will provide all the necessary support to take their movement forward.
The imprisoned people were freed in 1945 and in 1947 India saw the light of freedom. Raghu didn’t survive to live the dream that he saw with Latika. They had a son whom they named Azad, a name popular in that time.”
Kaveri Amma sat in a trance. She knew the couple so well having witnessed their lives from such close quarters.
Anjali placed her hands on her shoulders, as she returned from nostalgia. Thinking of Latika and Raghu after so many years had made her relive the old days all over again. Rendering the story of her dear friend Latika and her love, Raghu brought tears to Kaveri’s eyes.
Anjali and Varun sat dumbfounded, not knowing what to say. This was another story from the history which did not have a record but such incidents proved to the people around them that even in the times of adversity, it was love that sailed people through.
Anjali and Varun were teary-eyed too. They realized that people had to pay a big price for the free India that we live in. In fact, they were so glad that they didn’t get the tickets for the movie because in that case they would have never got a chance to witness the real story of love, sacrifice and freedom. It was truly 1942-A Love Story.
Contributed by- Sonali Prasad, Shristee Singh, Kajal Kapur, Shweta Agarwal, Anjali Sharma, Meera Barath, Sheetal Ashpalia, Shilpee Prasad, Amruta Wadekar
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