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Freedom or Free-Doom!
Jun 25, 2003 09:33 AM 4085 Views
(Updated Jun 25, 2003 09:33 AM)



In each passing century there are a few defining moments of which it can truly be said: Here history was made.

Thus starts the preface to the 1997 edition of the book- Freedom at Midnight, and how true it is! Indeed, some events do mark the high points of every century. The Indian independence was one such event.


This book has been written by Dominique Lapierre and Larry Collins. There first work together was The fifth Horseman. This duo earned their place in the world of books due to their superb research and attention to minor details. Individually too, they are well accomplished writers, with Lapierre having The City of joy to his credit and Collins with his Fall from Grace. But by and far, this team of dedicated writers are recognized for their two major books- the first being Is Paris burning? and the other being the book under scrutiny- Freedom at Midnight.


The book begins with the foggy New year of 1947 in the heart of the British empire- London. The reader follows a distinguished passenger, riding in a black Austin, on his way to 10, Downing Street. A passenger destined to spearhead the transfer of power in India from the British to the Indians. He was Lord Mountbatten, who was slowly heading towards the prime minister's office- towards his new duties as the last viceroy of India.

As the book unfolds, we find that the job he finds himself in is not an easy task. He has a lot of people to be handled with care. He has in his own country an ex-prime minister named Winston Churchill, who is strongly against giving independence to India. In India, he is supposed to handle carefully one of the strongest leader of the Indian freedom struggle- a certain gentleman called Mahatma Gandhi. On one hand he has to tactfully deal with the leaders of the Congress- Jawaharlal Nehru and Sardar Patel, while on the other hand he has to try and pacify the ice cold Muslim leader Jinnah. Together, the dissent amongst the Indian leaders has led to the biggest event in the history of India- the partition. Unfortunately, God has chosen Mountbatten to take India over the painful threshold.

Lapierre and Collins carefully take the reader through this biggest event. The writers make the reader aware about everyone's stand before the story reaches the midnight of August 14.

And then starts the ugliest chapter of the Indian history- where her own sons stand against each other. The reader is introduced to the gory riots that shook the subcontinent in that era. An event for which so many Indian sons had died brought with it an unbelievable gift of death and torture.

The book chiefly deals with the three states- Punjab, Bengal and Kashmir.

The most affected state was of course- Punjab. Hindus and Muslims clashed with each other like never before- slitting each others' throats, ransacking each others' homes, raping each others' women, killing each others' children!

As for Kashmir, I felt that it would have gone to Pakistan but for Jinnah's blunder of trying to attack it in the dark of the night. This move of his opened India's chances of acquiring the crowning glory of India.

The explosive city of Calcutta, however, remained quite composed. What the whole army couldn't achieve in Punjab was achieved by a 78-year old man by his mere presence. When India was burning, the thin frail body was still performing miracles. Mahatma Gandhi was Mountbatten's one-man army.

As a reader, I could visualize the horror of 1947. The trains streaming in the stations with a loadful of corpses, the shrieks of the women and children being mercilessly slaughtered! In fact, it made me wonder if India should celebrate 15th August or mourn it!


On the outset, let me say that it is a well researched and well written book. However, I felt that the authors were too biased towards the Mountbattens. There was absolutely nothing wrong that the viceroy could do. Being fair to the authors, they did mention a decision of Mountbatten which would have spelt even more doom to India, had he not changed it after seeing Nehru's reaction to it.

One more point worth mentioning is that as we reach the latter half of the book, the subject focuses only on Mahatma Gandhi and his assassination. Being true to the topic, I would have liked to read more about the other events too. Like a detailed description of what happened to my brothers across the border! How did the other leaders handle it!(The authors clearly mention that Nehru and Patel were helpless and urged Mountbatten to take over again)

Though the authors have given a short insight into these things, the death plot of the Mahatma undoubtedly eclipses all of them.

The book should have had a detailed report- right till India became a republic. Instead, the book ends with the death of Gandhiji.


A few days ago, I was surprised to read some reviews criticizing the Mahatma. As for me, he was one of the greatest souls of the last century, and a very cunning politician. Going by all the books we have about him ( books can be wrong! But do you have any other sources? Say...a time machine?), it is evident that the only reason he died was because some fanatic Hindus thought that he is biased towards the Muslims.


I am Mahatma Gandhi. I fight all my life for a cause. And I fight on my own principles. I love both, the Hindus and the Muslims- because I was as much of the Muslims as I was of the Hindus. When I did achieve my goal of independence, I got it in a wrapping of blood and corpses. My two strengths- the Hindus and the Muslims, stood against each other, defying all my principles which brought in that freedom. In my part of India, the Muslims were weak and the Hindus were strong. Like any father, I tried to protect my weaker son. I was helpless- I loved Muslims as much as I loved my Hindus.

Then came the big issue of granting Rs.55 crores to Pakistan, which was rightfully theirs, and wrongfully held by my people. I knew that this would be a stigma on my India for years to come. So I forced my people to do what is right.

The only task that remained now was to see a unified India, with Muslims returning to their homes in India, and Hindus returning to their homes in Pakistan. I was sure I could do it with my tried and tested methods of love and non violence. But some of my Hindu friends thought otherwise. I was shot dead before I could set out to realize my final goal...

I died....I wonder when this goal of mine be realized! Maybe my methods were wrong, as many felt. Maybe their method was right! But the fact remains that after more than fifty years...still my India stands divided, with the knife of partition strongly engraved in her heart.

P.S.-All comments are welcome. However, controversial comments, if any, would be more appreciated in the form of an M2M, thereby avoiding a messed up comments section.

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Freedom At Midnight - Dominique Lapierre