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Mainstream, VOL LIII No 30 New Delhi July 18, 2015

July 16, 2015 marks Aruna Asaf Ali’s 106th birth anniversary

Monday 20 July 2015

Born as Aruna Ganguly in Barisal (now Bangladesh) on July 16, 1909, she emerged as one of the most striking freedom fighters especially in the last stage of our battle for emancipation from foreign yoke. Her dedication to the cause of liberation of the toiling millions remained undiminshed till the very end and she tirelessly worked in various capacities to realise the dream of an exploitation-free, new and radiant India she and her colleagues in the national movement had before them when they participated in the 1942 ‘Quit India’ struggle under the leadership of Mahatma Gandhi and guidance of Jawaharlal Nehru with Jayaprakash Narayan as a comrade-in-arms. With Arunaji’s death in New Delhi on July 29, 1996 one whole epoch—a glorious chapter in our chequered history—indeed came to a close.

Having seen her from close quarters and having worked for several years in the Link House as a journalist trained and moulded by her close friend, associate and compatriot, Edatata Narayanan, one finds it extremely difficult to write about Arunaji whole elegance, charm, simplicity, infectious youthful vigour, and incessant urge and impatience to help the poor and the dispossessed will forever remain etched in one’s memory. One can never forget her deep affection for her younger colleagues. One is ever proud to have been reared in an institution nurtured by such a personality; and at the same time one frequently feels a gnawing pain whenever one thinks of the tragedy that struck her in her last days—how she was unceremoniously thrown out of the Link House by the downright hypocrites and opportunists who had once promised to carry on her, Edatata Narayanan’s and P. Vishwanath’s legacy.

As a homage to her abiding memory we are reproducing here Jawaharlal Nehru’s observations on Aruna Asaf Ali in his Foreword to her Travel Talk (1947), her interview to Mainstream (published in this journal’s August 8, 1992 issue) on the occasion of the ‘Quit India’ struggle’s fiftieth anniversary since Arunaji was the virtual embodiment of that last battle for India’s freedom from alien rule. That was one of Arunaji’s last interviews to any publication, and it brings out her feelings, ideals and goals as well as what had motivated her to plunge into the public life of struggle for the welfare of humanity as a whole. We also reproduce a moving piece written by N.C. following her demise. S.C.

Aruna Asaf Ali

Jawaharlal Nehru

It is easy to criticise any set of views in this complicated world that we live in. And Aruna Asaf Ali often says and writes something that is liable to criticism. But that criticism, however justified, would be poor stuff, for it would deal with some superficial aspect of a living, vibrant and challenging personality, who has shaken up many a sleeping person and become in many ways a symbol of these changing times.

Symbols are often disturbing and challenges are disconcerting. And so Aruna is both a disturbing and disconcerting individual to many. She does not fit in easily into the usual pattern, and perhaps she deliberately avoids doing so. She feels that she has a mission and is anxious to live up to it. The real crusaders are always few in number and there is something of the crusader, to a cause to which she is passionately attached, about her.

A crusader produces varying reactions on different people. The very force of personality and will attracts, and charms, and compels attention. And yet many people, afraid of this very compulsion of a personality or feeling uncomfortable because they are continually reminded of the crusade which might have the effect of upsetting their lives, do not like this impact. They prefer the normal routine of their lives.

Most of us go through that routine untouched and uninfluenced by external events or by the attraction of a great purpose. Some feel that attraction intellectually and try to work to that end, though without upsetting the even tenor of their lives. Yet others, few in number, feel in addition to the intellectual attraction a powerful emotional urge which drives them incessantly to action. That emotional urge comes usually not by the reading of books but by the impact of events.

During the last quarter of a century or more events have often moved fast in India bringing in their train shock and surprise, frustration and exhilaration. Many among us have been so affected by this shock of events that our lives and even our inner being have undergone a transformation.

That was the effect in 1919 and 1920 on a very large number of persons as a result of Gandhiji’s leadership in the national movement. Ten years later another wave passed over the land sweeping thousands of men and women and influencing millions. Yet again, in the early forties India was convulsed and out of this convulsion new symbols arose, stern and unbending and with something of iron in their souls. Aruna Asaf Ali was no newcomer on the political scene. But 1942 transformed her and made her different from what she had been. She stood out as an extraordinarily courageous fighter for India’s freedom and because she was a woman and daughter of India, she struck even more the imagination of the Indian people.

Among the many strange things that have happened in India during this quarter of a century, perhaps the most notable is the emergence of Indian womanhood. Large numbers of Indian women have played an important role in our struggle for freedom. Many of them have stood out by their ability, capacity for organisation and self-sacrifice for a cause. Some of them can be ranked very high in any assembly of women all over the world. This fact, more than any other, demonstrates the renaissance of the Indian people and the strong foundations on which we have built our movement for freedom.

[Foreword to Travel Talk by Aruna Asaf Ali (1947)]