'Our deterioration is so fast and total that I cannot think of
Indians living a normal life in my life time'
Partition must have been a traumatic experience for all
those who lived during that period. How was it for you?
It was a very painful experience for all of us. We saw people
coming in thousands from Pakistan, walking all the way with
whatever belongings they had. Exodus from India was on a smaller
scale. We saw riots, murder, looting, etc. But I have also seen
many Hindu and Sikh families give shelter to suffering Muslim
families. It is true that till the previous day they were friends but
under the new situation, a Hindu was not expected
to protect a Muslim or be the friend of a Muslim.
You spoke about the kind of devotion people of your generation
had for the country in those days. Do you feel unhappy about the
way things are moving now?
I am very, very unhappy about the present situation. This is
not the India Nehruji or Gandhiji dreamt of.
In fact, Netaji wanted India under a benevolent dictatorship for sometime
after Independence and then open the doors to democracy. He believed that
only then people would develop a strong national character. How true he
was! Unfortunately the devotion for the country was gradually
eroded because nobody had any clear vision about an ideal India.
Do you think the later politicians have been irresponsible?
Of course, the politicians are showing us the wrong way. But
our deterioration is so fast and total that I cannot think of
Indians living a normal life in my life time.
Are you so dissatisfied?
I am very, very dissatisfied. The dreams of all our freedom
fighters are shattered.
What are your dreams?
Would you believe it, I thought India would be the most prosperous
country in the world? Nehru and Gandhiji expected all of us to
work for the country with greater devotion. Unfortunately that
did not happen at all.
What went wrong?
Something went wrong with the thinking of the politicians and the
common man. Maybe because of illiteracy, people did not understand
the value of freedom. They thought that the government would cook
food and bring it home for them every day. They didn't realise
that in freedom lay an enormous wealth. Now
there is corruption at all levels. I blame people to a large
extent for the amount of corruption in our society. Why do they bribe
to get things done quickly? Again and again, I am reminded of Netaji's
Were you very much influenced by Netaji?
Not exactly. Netaji sounded a different call. He had a different
dream about free India. He wanted a very powerful character for
India. That did not happen at all. I admire the way he
led the INA.
I must tell you something.
My elder brother Somasundaram was in the Indian army then.
His unit went to Singapore to fight in the Second World War. In Singapore,
he was caught as a prisoner by the Japanese. But he and four others
escaped from the prison and my brother had to disguise himself
by growing a beard. He lived in Penang. It was difficult for him to find
a job. One day, he accidentally met an old friend and the
meeting changed his life altogether.
At his place he
heard over the radio that the Azad Hindu Radio run by the INA
needed people for broadcasters. He had a good voice, so he applied
for the job and got it. See the irony, when he was broadcasting
for the INA through Azad Hindu Radio from Bangkok, I was broadcasting
from Delhi, indirectly for the British through the All India Radio.
But he knew my voice and name, and recognised me when he
was in Bangkok itself. Finally we got united.
I will tell you one more thing. I have nothing but hatred for
the British. When I think of the way the British behaved, I cannot
but hate them.
Were you in Delhi when Gandhiji was assassinated?
Yes, I was in Delhi. I did not have a radio then. But my house
owner's radio was always on and I could hear it properly from
my room. That day also, their radio was on and I could hear the Tamil
programme for East Asian listens.
It was my sister who worked
for the external services of the AIR who made the announcement
in the middle of the music programme. I heard her voice saying
that Gandhiji had been shot by an Indian. Immediately, I took my
bicycle and rushed to the Birla House. I saw Nehru standing near
the gate and there were hundreds and hundreds of people outside
trying to rush inside.
Nehru was appealing to the people
to remain calm. He said it was a Hindu who shot Gandhiji
so that there wouldn't be any anti-Muslim feeling among people.
You recently said that in those days you saluted a Gandhi
cap whenever you saw one. What do you feel when you see a Gandhi
We had such respect and admiration for a freedom fighter then!
Every freedom fighter, however small or big had good intentions.
He was idealistic and unselfish. I don't have any respect for
today's politicians. I feel those politicians (with Gandhi caps)
must be kept out of Indian politics completely. See, I have lived
in those days, I have seen the freedom fighters but now I feel
disillusioned and pained.
As a person who has witnessed the freedom struggle, as a person
who is pained to see today's India, do you have any message for
We attained freedom through non-violence. In those days, the
minds of the Indians were receptive to good messages. It should
come again; at least in the minds of the generation that is growing up.
The youngsters must think about the welfare of the country at
heart. Even if they lead a normal life and have clear thinking,
the result will be fantastic.
Are you optimistic about that?
That's a very delicate question. I am not very optimistic
now. But we do not know what will happen tomorrow, and the day after.
I know that one has to be optimistic even in the worst of times,
so I would say that I am hopeful. I would like to see
a totally selfless leader leading the country
once again towards an ideal state. Let us wait for the day!
Poornam Viswanathan's photographs: Sreeram Selvaraj