CHENNAI: It was around 12.30 am on August 15 in 1947 when my father woke me up to say we got independence. It took me a few minutes to understand what had just happened. I ran to my window to see men in groups laughing loudly and women peeping through their windows, looking happy. The celebration had already kicked in and the Nilgiris never looked as pleasant before,” says 88-year-old Lalitha Ramamurthy, reminiscing the historic event.
A new dawn
“The next 24 hours, people celebrated all the festivals they were barred from during the British rule. Some burst crackers and distributed sweets, some performed traditional dances like Silambattam, Paraiyattam and Kolattam, puppet shows and street plays were organised and women drew large kolams outside their homes with Independence day messages. It was a sight to behold,” says Lalitha, shedding tears of joy, going back in time.
The following day, men gathered all the foreign-made goods and burned them in a bonfire. Everyone danced around the bonfire singing poems and songs on Independence, remembers Lalitha breaking into the song Aaduvome Pallu Paduvome from Naam Iruvar, which was a hit in 1947.
Ooty served as the summer capital of the Madras Presidency from 1870 onwards and it was primarily used to treat sick soldiers. So, Nilgiris had more men from the military than any other place, she recalls. “The uniform-clad White men were well-built and intimidating. They used to pass comments on all the women and followed them from their homes to wherever they went. Because of this, women and children were mostly locked in their homes.”
On the morning of the Independence Day celebrations in Ooty, across different venues, a common delicacy was being prepared — raw banana curry. “As it is a hill station, raw bananas could not be grown there and we had to get it from Mettupaalayam or Coonoor. During the British Raj, they stopped everyone from switching places after the revolt became severe, even vegetable vendors and raw bananas became rare. Just a month after Independence, vegetables and flowers slowly started coming in,” shares the octogenarian.
Importance of education
Independence heralded new beginnings. “We realised the importance of education and girl children started going to school, widow remarriages were beginning to get accepted and Dalits were allowed inside temples. Just five months after August 15, 1947, we saw a radical change. Years of suppression made everyone realise the importance of independence, not just as a nation but as an individual. But, years down the line, this August 15, 2019, how much importance is being given to independence? It is a thought to ponder upon,” she said.
Meanwhile, about 200 km away, a different kind of celebration was unfolding in a hamlet — Panjampatty near Dindigul. V Arockiasamy, a class 7 student from St Mary’s School, Dindigul was attending his regular classes when the headmaster received the information — ‘India has been declared as an independent nation’ —through a radio announcement. The news spread like wildfire among students and people in the district. People burst crackers on the streets, distributed groundnut barfi, sang and danced to Subramanya Bharathi’s patriotic songs. School teachers went the extra mile and narrated stories of the country’s freedom struggle and recalled names of freedom fighters to enrich students with history and instil a sense of pride.
“For kids of our generation who studied in Christian missionaries, the impact of British rule was felt through education. After listening to inspiring incidents about our heroes, it finally dawned upon us that we were free from the clutches of outsiders. We would soon have our law, governing members and rules. If not for our enlightened teachers, we wouldn’t have understood much about this at such a young age,” reminisces 85-year-old Arockiasamy who grew up imbibing the Gandhian school of thought.
The village housed heroes who served different armed forces. There were huge churches built by the European missionaries, a well-developed middle school and widespread green valleys.
Arockiasamy’s 80-year-old brother KV Lourdusamy recalls, “The soldiers or local heroes were in town for their annual two-month vacation. It was our church priest who announced that India got its independence. I remember the soldiers parading and donning their uniforms with pride. Our Panchayat Board Office’s president hoisted the flag. We all gathered, sang Tamil patriotic songs and had sweets. People performed traditional dance and art forms.”
Another unforgettable moment in his life, Arockiasamy says, is the 1948 annual school celebration. “On January 30,1948, our headmaster interrupted the drama performance and conveyed the news that Gandhi was shot dead. It took us a few minutes to process it. We were all speechless and upset. He truly is the father of the nation,” says the patriot who worked in The Gandhigram Rural Institute, Dindigul, for 37 years.
Lourdusamy, retired deputy director of Agriculture who continues to live in Dindigul gives us a glimpse of how the village functioned during the post-independence era. “The village housed avid newspaper readers. They purchased all regional language tabloids and updated us on the progress of events, especially the Indian general election in 1952. Gandhigram was also a Congress base. Political leaders kept frequenting the place so we got a glimpse of everyone quite often. All of us had many dreams for future India — better living conditions, celebrating culture our way and appreciating diversity. We had tremendous respect for our visionaries who made India an independent nation,” he shares.
New breaths of liberty
The following day, men gathered all the foreign-made goods and clothes, and burned them in a bonfire. Everyone, from kids to women and men danced around the bonfire singing poems and songs on independence, remembers Lalitha Ramamurthy breaking into the song Aaduvome Pallu Paduvome from Naam Iruvar, which was a hit in 1947.