Keeri who loved humans

Keeri who loved humans
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Thursday, 26 July 2012

Lakshmi Saghal

Lakshmi Saghal - she died this week at the age of ninety-four. What a woman!


  Took me back to that day in August 1949, when she came to Thalassery. Harvest was over but the field known as Konor Vayal was still untidy. Dry tufts of rice stuck to the soil. So the clods were turned over very quickly - and sloppily - for the big meeting on her behalf. 
   
     She would address the crowds in our little town. The objective was to raise money for the forthcoming general elections on behalf of the Congress Party. Because the ground was uneven, reed mats were brought in and rolled out over the soil,our version of the red carpet.  (Where did so many come from?) They could not sit flat because the mud was all over the place.


     Mani and I , like many other children, were given little cardboard boxes, with a slit at the top, and instructed to collect donations from the crowd. I remember stumbling over the mats as I went from line to line of people sitting on those mats. Nobody really had any money those days, so the haul was meagre.


     We were allowed to wear our best dresses - shiny cream frocks with silver thread running through it. Naniechi tied my hair up in two big bows on the left and right of my face - I felt perfect.


     As payment for our efforts we were allowed to meet Lakshmi later, after the speeches and the felicitations. She was accommodated overnight in the house of a lawyer near our house and she met all of us in his sitting room upstairs. My impression was of grace and confidence.


     I remember her as young and very pretty. She had curly hair in a short bob, which was unusual in our little town. Bobs were for white women and the Anglo Indians, not for Hindu women. And Lakshmi was definitely neither Anglo Indian nor White.


     I had read much about her - she was known as Captain Lakshmi Swaminathan. Apparently she was a pilot in Netaji Subhas Chandra Boses's notorious Indian National Army. She was all those distant things, which were on my unreachable horizon.


     Of course the INA got a bad name because of its association with the Japanese army. Quite rightly too. But Gandhi and Nehru knew full well the dangers that the INA would lead India into and they made their voices heard.


     Bose split from the Congress party and went away. But it must be said that Gandhi's strategy of non-violence worked only in part. Violence broke out all over the North of India in 1947. The concerted punishment meted out to those caught rioting against Britain was terrible. The War was the excuse for this lack of moderation. And many Indian men and women believed that retaliation in kind was the only way India could persuade the British to get out.


     In retrospect I still believe non-violence is the most effective form of protest if ordinary men and women can sustain it under severe pressure. Last summer's riots in London are a case in point. Would it have been better for the protesters to lie down on the roads and take what came their way? Certainly the looting and running amok achieved little. Perhaps strong and intelligent leadership was missing.


I followed Lakshmi's life wherever I could find information about her. I rejoiced when she married Saghal, one of Bose's triumvirate. I am sorry to see her go, but she had a full and interesting life. What more can you ask for?


     


     


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