We will be celebrating the 73rd anniversary of our Independence this Thursday. One intends to compare people from two geographical regions with varied historical backgrounds. Coming from a native or princely state of Travancore, seeing the dawn of a free nation as a little boy is different from growing up and fighting for freedom from the Portuguese rule in Goa, liberated almost fifteen years after India became free. The ecstasy of a little boy celebrating freedom without understanding what freedom was and someone who really fought, went to prison and played a role in liberating his land from the shackles of colonial rule may not exactly be comparable. People of the second kind are part of lakhs of Indian youth who were ready to sacrifice everything, a large number of them have not even been recognized or acknowledged.
One’s memory, rather vivid, goes back to the 15th of August, 1947 as a kindergarten student in Kottayam, a small town in the erstwhile princely state of Travancore, now Kerala. Everyone at home appeared extremely happy and as the youngest of seven siblings one was really excited. A tricolor on a bamboo pole being placed on top of our residence near the CMS College High School was almost a ceremonial affair and we looked at the flag fluttering in the gentle breeze with pride. Earlier during the last months of the British rule one would rush to the gate to see slogan shouting groups of school and college students. The slogans were primarily against the unpopular and allegedly autocratic Diwan of Travancore, Sir. C.P. Ramaswamy Iyer, who otherwise did a lot for the development of Travancore. We kids too without knowing anything used to shout “C P Go back”. Students were angry as at least three students in Petta, Trivandrum were shot dead a month earlier, a matter of discussion among one’s elder brothers.
It was much later as a university student that one realized how Sir. C P was responsible for declaring Travancore as an independent state. In fact after Britain announced the partition of India on 3 June, 1947 and had given options to princely states like Travancore to either be independent states or be part of the Union of India. The Maharaja, Chithira Thirunal Bala Rama Varma used his Trivandrum radio station [now All India Radio, Trivandrum, housed in Bhakthi Vilasam, the official residence of Diwan Sir. C P Ramaswamy Iyer] to make the declaration of Independence of Travancore on 18 June 1947 at 8.45 in the night. He declared, “On and from 15th August I947Travancore will reassume its Independence and sovereignty in full measure”. But that was not to be.
A week later on 25th July 1947 there was an assassination attempt spearheaded by young K C S Mani [or K C Subrahamania Iyer] on Sir. C P while attending a music concert in Trivandrum.[ Mani was a follower of Socialist leader N.Srikantan Nair and Kumbalathu Shanku Pillai was also part of the ‘conspiracy’] It is said that CP was injured and soon resigned as Diwan and left Travancore. On July 31, 1947 the Maharaja Shri Chithira Thirunal Rama Varma in a letter to Governor General Lord Mountbatten informed his decision to sign the Instrument of Accession to the Indian Union. The Maharaja was later appointed the “Raj Pramukh of the newly formed state of Travancore- Cochin from July 1, 1949 to October 31, 1956 when states were reorganized with effect from 1 November 1956.
On 15th August 1947 one attended the celebrations of the First Independence Day as a child citizen of Travancore, a state of the Union of India at the Thirunakkara Maidan in Kottayam holding the hands of one’s youngest maternal uncle. There were high pitched rhetorical speeches [ which actually didn’t mean anything to this kid] often punctuated with slogans, “Bharat Mata ki Jai, Mahatma Gandhi ki Jai, Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru ki Jai, Vande Mataram”, etc. by the enthusiastic crowd; almost unknowingly one joined them. Looking back, one feels it was indeed heightened excitement of patriotism of being freed from the British! That excitement has not ebbed as we celebrate our 73rd Independence Day, the day after tomorrow! Doing running commentary on All India Radio on a few occasions from the ramparts of the historic Red Fort on Independence Day when our Prime Ministers unfurled the National Flag and addressed the nation were indeed inexplicable emotional experiences!
Years later in the 1960s one had the maiden posting in All India Radio in Panjim or Panaji. Goa was liberated from Portuguese rule on 19th December 1961. As one reached the capital city of Panaji, everything looked different from a normal Indian city. Portuguese influence was still evident, with people speaking the Portuguese language. Restaurants had European menus and the ubiquitous bars and ‘taverns’ served imported liquor, including port wine and of course, the local brews of Kaju feni [from cashew apple] and coconut feni [from toddy]. Alcohol was indeed cheap and almost everyone consumed it. Typical Portuguese melancholic and romantic songs - ‘Fados’ enlivened the atmosphere of those wine shops. Shops and markets closed before 6 in the evening, reminding one of the Portuguese days when a daily curfew was imposed by 6 PM.
The AIR station on the Altinho hills in Panaji was called ‘Emissora de Goa’ in Portuguese and looked like a European station. Most of the staff members were erstwhile employees of the colonial days. They were warm and friendly. One soon became close to our Konkani/Marathi announcer, Nagesh Karmali who was unassuming and often reticent to new people. One soon realized that he was an accomplished writer. He never said that he was a freedom fighter who faced brutalities of the repressive Portuguese rulers. It was the other colleagues who told us about this. It was for the first time that one was spending time with a freedom fighter. As we had long conversations I realized that he was involved in the struggle for the liberation of Goa when he was in his late teens. One remembers to have told him that unlike me who celebrated the first Independence day as a child, he had gone through the rigors and sufferings to fight a colonial Portuguese regime. He was a member of National Congress of Goa and was inspired by leaders like Dr. Ram Manohar Lohia and took up chores for senior freedom fighters. There were many young lads like him and his close friend Kelekar who were involved in the freedom movement and were under surveillance of the Portuguese police. Once Kelekar was arrested and put in jail Karmali was alarmed. In order to escape arrest Karmali, fled to Belgaum [now Belagavi]. During one of his walks home from Karwar to Canacona [the Karnataka-Goa border] in 1954, the Portuguese police arrested him and for the next five years faced imprisonment and Portuguese police brutality.
One poignant moment one shared with Karmali was when Mohan Ranade, who had spent 14 years in a Lisbon prison returned to Goa in 1969.There was a civic reception for him in Panjim which was hugely attended. I was at that very emotional reception with Karmali. He later confided that he was a socialist and though he admired Ranade he had differences of opinion with him as Ranade belonged to the militant Azad Gomantak Dal. In fact he was arrested during an attack on the Betim police station in 1955.; he was injured by the Portuguese police and after his recovery was tried and sentenced to 26 years of imprisonment in a jail in Portugal. Karmali said, “We both fought for the liberation of Goa but our means were different.”
Nagesh Karmali said that the Portuguese treated Goa like conquered land and wanted to virtually destroy their language, culture and traditions. As a lover of his mother tongue Konkani, he was proud of the heritage and was against the imposition of the language in the Roman script. He was really sad when he referred to a large number of Goans turning from Portuguese to English after the liberation of Goa in December, 1961. During one’s long stay in Goa my friend Karmali, a Konkani language zealot had problems with the language policy of the Maharahtravadi Gomantak Party [MGP] of Chief Minister Dayananda Bandodkar and later his daughter Shashikala Kakodkar who succeeded him. The MGP wanted Marathi as the official language of Goa. But as a faithful government employee he never openly agitated against Marathi. Instead he became one of the strong protagonists of Konkani language and literature and himself became a writer and poet of repute. In 1992 Karmali won the Kendra Sahithya Academy award for his collection of poems in Konkani, ”Vanshalakullachem Dennem [ Our Debt to Our Heritage]. He chaired the All India Konkani Sahithya Sammelan in Kochi in 1996.
Nagesh Karmali now 87 and was President of the Goa Freedom Fighters’ Association thrice. As a prolific writer and social activist he is still fighting for promoting the Konkani language and literature and of course for social justice! There have been plenty of such freedom fighters who never enjoyed political power but continue to be shining examples of fighting for the causes of others!
The facts and views expressed in the article are those of the writer.