OPN Modi
India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi gestures before addressing the nation from the ramparts of the Red Fort during the celebrations to mark country's Independence Day in New Delhi on August 15, 2023 Image Credit: AFP

The story of our truncated sub-continent, with its partitioned independence, is much too well-known and traumatic to bear repeated remembrance at this time of the year. But what is less obvious, if far more vital, is that part of our collective consciousness remains undivided. Somewhat like the Veer-Zaara leitmotif oft recurring in our cinema.

The love between a man and woman as a symbol of the love between two hostile nations is, perhaps, an old, hackneyed theme. Remember Romeo and Juliet? Why, then, does it keep returning to haunt us as in Gitanjali Shree’s genre-bending Hindi novel, Ret Samadhi, translated into the Booker-winning Tomb of Sand?

As the Pakistani band, Junoon crooned a quarter century back, fifty years after separation, chain ek pal nahin, aur koyi hal nahin. As long as our soul is riven, the pain cannot be stilled.

Gandhi knew this. That is why when India’s first prime minister, Jawaharlal Nehru was ushering in freedom at midnight with his “tryst with destiny” speech as the clock turned August 14th, the day Pakistan attained to August 15, India’s independence day, Gandhi was nowhere in the vicinity of the national capital. He was away, in distant Kolkata, trying to stanch the wounds of murderous violence between warring communities.

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Greatness of India’s future

Gandhi never considered thePartition a settled fact. That is why he intended to cross the border to the other side after doing in Delhi what he has succeeded in Kolkata—bringing the communal violence to an end. But that was not to be.

He was assassinated on his way to his multi-faith prayer meeting on January 30, 1948, barely five and a half months after India’s freedom—and division. Today, thankfully, the demands of a unified subcontinent or Akhand Bharat are heard loudest in the ruling party and RSS circles.

When it comes to our painful Partition, Sri Aurobindo prophesied on August 14, 1947, in his address to the nation on All India Radio: “This must not be; the partition must go.” But when and how?

Sri Aurobindo continued, “Let us hope that that may come about naturally, by an increasing recognition of the necessity not only of peace and concord but of common action, by the practice of common action and the creation of means for that purpose. In this way, unity may finally come about under whatever form—the exact form may have a pragmatic but not a fundamental importance. But by whatever means, in whatever way, the division must go; unity must and will be achieved, for it is necessary for the greatness of India’s future.”

Formula to live in peace

India’s 75th birthday as an independent country coincided with Sri Aurobindo’s 150th birth anniversary. Both will end when this column appears, on August 15, 2023.

According to India’s prime minister, Narendra Modi, the nation will now embark on the next quarter-century leading up to its centenary as if entering a new golden age, an ambrosial time which he calls “amrit kaal.” But if this dream is to become a reality, we will have to reimagine our future collectively in this part of the world.

Indians, Pakistanis, Bangladeshis, Nepalis, and Sri Lankans, the Afghans and Burmese too, constitute the largest single mass of humanity, 2 billion strong. Imagine our strength and prosperity if we find the formula to live in peace.

Perhaps, that is why the colonial powers conspired to divide us. But whatever their designs, why were we beguiled or misled? Didn’t we unleash a bloodbath and transfer of populations unprecedented in human history upon ourselves.

Forget about the past; let’s move ahead from the blame game. What to do, how to mend the breach? Through music, perhaps, or through love? But that only happens in movies, in stories. On the ground, barbed wire fences and unending hostilities upend all hopes of lasting reproachment.

Common past, common present, common future

But, perhaps, we are looking at the wrong end of this broken relationship. Our common future is not something to strive for. It is our present reality. Because we have a common past, and a common present, a common future is an inevitability, not a dream.

And yet it is odd that this “truth” seems so strange, almost untrue to us. Instead, we usually start at the opposite end, assuming that there is either something inevitable or solid about the uneasiness and hostility of the past and the present, the distrust between these two neighbours, these two nations who were one not so long ago.

So the obscene and hideous lies that are behind this separation, this partition, this alienation must be countenanced with calm faces and level voices. We must continue to pretend that we can now work towards a common future.

I am reminded of what Sri Aurobindo said in The Human Cycle: “The nation or society, like the individual, has a body, an organic life, a moral and aesthetic temperament, a developing mind and a soul behind all these signs and powers for the sake of which they exist. One may say even that, like the individual, it essentially is a soul….”

If we care to rediscover this inner unity in the spirit and soul of the sub-continent, the way ahead, from discord and strife to accord and peace will present itself to us. That would be the nobler, spiritual significance of this Independence Day.