‘You are free!' Three words uttered by Premier Kher of Bombay from the balcony of the Government Secretariat, as the National Tricolour went up to replace the Union Jack of imperialism, exactly at 12 midnight—the 'zero hour' of the birth of Freedom! Three words—but they made history. Three words that were greeted with the loudest burst of cheering that I have ever heard on any single occasion, to the accompaniment of screaming ship and factory sirens and the tooting of electric car-horns.
'You are free!' This, then, was the keynote of the day on which you all were born. It was the theme-song of the Festival of Freedom that was inaugurated so dramatically and in such a blaze of lights on the midnight of August 14/15.
'You are free!' 'You are free!' The sirens seemed to scream and the car-horns seemed to screech and the gay crowds in the streets on that historic night seemed to answer back: 'We are free! We are free!'
'You are free!' The millions of lights that twinkled all over the city seemed to spell out the three magic words across the sky in a blaze of fire. Palaces and palatial hotels, huts and chawls, banks and offices, shops and stores, offices and restaurants, aristocratic Marine Drive and Parel slums were all ablaze with festoons of lights, illuminated flags, searchlights and floodlights. Midnight had been turned into midday and the gay crowds surged in the streets with new-found joy on their faces—talking, laughing, greeting and embracing one another. This was a new Diwali, a new 'Id, a new New Year—it was all the festivals of this land of festivals rolled into one. For this was the Festival of Freedom.
But the midnight festivities proved to be but the prelude to the real celebrations that began on the morning of August 15. Again it was not the outward manifestations that were so significant—the early morning prabhatpheris, the flag salutations, the meetings, the several billion flags flying all over the city, the processions, the fireworks, the illuminations, the crowds in the streets. It was, again, the spirit of the people that mattered—the gay, irrepressible, democratic spirit which seemed to sweep and surge across and over the entire metropolis.
The most striking and spectacular demonstration of this spirit was the procession that marched in the afternoon from Gowalia Tank, the birthplace of the Congress, to the Oval in front of the Secretariat. The Beginning and the End: from a meeting of a handful of agitators in a classroom to governmental power, democratically acquired through the votes of the people. A million and a half crowded the streets to watch the procession. I did not see this procession because I was in the procession, one of the half-million who marched with this Caravan of Freedom. But I can tell you that never has such a procession been taken out in the whole history of India. Never has such a procession been taken out anywhere else in the world. For only we, hot-blooded Indians, can give vent to our feelings of joyful ecstasy in such a rousing and tempestuous manner.
It was not a political procession. It was a People Procession. And the people participated in it not like sheep or goats following the leaders—the traditional conception of the 'dumb, driven masses'! We, the humblest of us, marched that day with our heads held high, with pride, with the sense of achievement, with the feeling of triumph. And we marched neither in solemn silence nor with tutored slogans on our lips. These were no tame hirelings of a political machine; these were the organizations of the People; conscious of their new-won Freedom. And so we marched with flags and banners, pipe and drum and flute, shouting and singing and dancing, all along the five-mile route.
It was a colourful, variegated procession—with flags carried on cars, motor cycles, horses, bicycles and decorated bullock carts—combining the mechanical inventiveness of modern India with the traditional picturesque pageantry of rural India. And as the three-mile procession slowly wended its way through crowded streets, airplanes of the Indian Air Force dived in roaring salute. (And tears of joy came into the eyes of many when they recalled that not long ago, these very planes had been used by the enemies of our freedom to bomb the brave Pathans of the Frontier, to machine-gun the revolutionaries of 1942, and generally overawe the people with the might of imperialism!)
Here was a cross-section of Indian humanity—Congress volunteers, Deshsevikas, with their traditions of heroism in non-violent 'warfare'; the All-India Women's Conference and other women's organizations; Nationalist Muslim volunteers from the working-class area of Madanpura; students' associations; the Friends of the Soviet Union; athletes and sportsmen from gymnasiums and clubs; taxi-drivers and domestic servants. Nor were the 'brain-workers' absent from this historic gathering of the people. Writers and artists of the People's Theatre and National Theatre and the Prithvi Theatre, the Progressive Writers and the Gujarati Lekhak Manch—they were all there! And it was an inspiring sight to see a famous poet like Josh Malihabadi, a film celebrity like Prithviraj Kapoor with his film star son Raj, a dancer of international fame like Zohra Sehgal, and a front-rank writer like Krishan Chander, singing and dancing in the streets to celebrate this happy occasion. In the past they had written about the people, depicted the life of the people in their poems in their books and their plays and their films. Today, they had come in the midst of the people, as singers of their songs, not to sing about the people, but to sing with the people; not to dance a symbolic representation of life on the stage, but to dance the dance of freedom with the people in the streets.
Zohra Sehgal (who toured the world with Uday Shankar) has danced on the de luxe stages of London and Paris and New York. But the improvised dance she danced for five hours on the streets of Bombay on August 15, to the accompaniment of hand-clapping, amateur drumming and rhythmic intonation of Quami Na'ra—Jai Hind, Inquilab Zindabad and the ecstatic reiteration of Gai Ghulami—Aiyee Azadi! surely must be the most memorable, most thrilling, most inspired occasion of her career. And when an unknown working class youth stepped out of the crowd and started dancing with her, then a roar of delight went up from the crowd—for then were the barriers dividing Art and the People finally completely removed! This (and its auxiliary, the other procession that simultaneously marched from Parel to Shivaji Park) was no mere procession. It was India on the march! For the first time one lost one’s individuality and merged into the national consciousness.
This memorable experience, this unforgettable spectacle, this glorious vision, we pass on to you, the heirs of your country's freedom.
(From The Last Page, August 24, 1947)