Date: 14th August, 1947
Time: Midnight 12 O’Clock
Place: Raj Bhawan, Central Headquarters of Communist Party of India, Sandhurst Road, Bombay.
In the Common Room situated on the 2nd floor of the building was a vast gathering of leading poets, writers, political and tread union leaders. A grand Mushaira was in progress. Participating poets including Josh Malihabadi, Majaz Lucknawi, Sahir Ludhianvi, Ali Sardar Jaffri, Majrooh Sultanpuri, Kaifi Azmi, Niaz Hyder and many more. Among the writers were Sajjad Zaheer, Krishan Chander, Rajendra Singh Bedi, Sibte Hasan and others.
Facade of the building was decorated with flags and festoons. On the road below a vast concourse of people had gathered carrying large posters depicting important scenes of our freedom struggle specially prepared by artists Chittaprasad and Jambhekar. In the forefront of the crowd were the member of the Central Squad of the IPTA and the members of the Marathi Squad (Lal Bavta Kalapathak). They were standing on the spot where a little over a year ago during the uprising of the Royal Indian Navy Ratings, the British has mounted machine guns to shoot down the general public who had demonstrated their support to the revolt. This very Sandhurst innumerable processions of patriots on their way to attend political meetings on Chowpati sands.
The crowd on this particular day had swelled to reach the length of road almost up to Prathana Samaj crossing. They were all listening to the eve of Independance Mushaira going on inside the Raj Bhawan on loud speakers.
At 12 O’clock in the night when the siren heralded the dawn of a new era the Mushaira broke off and a tumultuous ovation rent the air which continued for quite some time. In the midst of this ovation Shahir Amar Sheikh’s stentorian voice rose above the tumult when he began his new song written for the occasion:
Hind Sangha Rajyachya Vijayi
Atmya Ghei Pranam
Paradhin Jagatachya Vijayi
Neta Ghei Pranam
Members of Marathi squad was joined by hundreds in full throated singing of this song. Yet another song rent the air this time sung by Prem Dhawan of the Central Squad of the IPTA:
Jhoom Jhoom Ke Naacho Aaj
Gaao Man Ke Geet
which also was written for the occasion. Members of the Central Squad joined by poets and writers and hundreds of others took up the refrain and began dancing on the road. After a while led by the two squads of IPTA-singers and dancers, the whole crowd went round the city in the mighty procession till the early hours of the morning.
For IPTA this event was a land-mark in its glorious history. It was an occasion to rejoice. During the course of the last few years its members had traversed the country with their songs and dances rousing the people for united struggle for freedom, for defending the interests of the people and for achieving communal unity.
It had all began from the eastern region of the united Bengal. Faced with an imminent danger of Japanese invasion a few patriotic youth in Rangpur district led by Benoy Roy banded together to rouse the people against the danger:
Benoy composed his famous song:
Hoi Hoi Hoi Japan Oi!
Aiche Bujhi Amar Tarit
Bero Gayer Guerilla Jawan!
In the Sylhet area of East Bengal Hemango Biswas composed a series of patriotic songs and organised a group of singers. His songs spread in the whole region. One of them I remember was:
Kastatare Diyo Jore Shan
Kastatare Diyo Jore Shan!
These and many other songs echoed in the villages of Bengal awakening the people to unite and defend the country.
The powerful song movement reached Calcutta. The strains of “Hoi Hoi Hoi” sung by Benoy Roy attracted Batukda (Jytindrindra Moitra, a poet and composer trained in classical music and Rabindra Sangeet) to the group which was singing selected patriotic songs of Rabindranath Tagore and Kazi Nazrul Islam. The group was joined by well known singers like George Biswas (Debabrota Biswas), Hemanta Kumar, Suchitra Mitra, Salil Choudhury and others.
Came Bengal Famine, the greatest man-made human tragedy. Seeing the death and destitution in the streets of Calcutta where thousands has migrated from the famine stricken villages, Batukda composed his well known opera NABA JIBANER GAAN, an inspiring musical composition exhorting people not to give in to despair but to face and fight against the calamity. Led by himself and Suchitra Mitra a group of singers were to perform this opera all over Bengal and outside.
Benoy Roy’s group took up an Urdu poem, an inspiring call to the countrymen to come to the rescue of the famine stricken people of Bengal written by Wamiq Jaunpuri:
Suno Hind ke Rahanewalo
Tum Hindu Ho, Ya
Aurat Mard Amir Faqir
Sabhi Suno Suno
Azadi Ka Jhanda Jisne
Uncha Rakha Hai
Dushman Ke Muqabil Jisne
Maidan Liya Hai
Vo Hindustan Ke Purab Duare
Bengal Ke Insan
Bhook Se Ladkar
Kar Rahe Hain
Suno Suno Suno Suno!
The group was soon to travel round the country with this song as its special number and collect thousands of rupees for famine relief. I distinctly remember a performance by this group in those days at the Sport Maidan near Charni Road Station in Bombay. Hundreds of people had gathered to witness the cultural programme. A soulful rendering of the song by Reba Roy (now Roychoudhry) in her mellifluous voice had brought the large audience to tears. And then the well known Thespian, Prithviraj Kapur had got up from the audience. Spreading his shawl he went round collecting contributions! Wamiq’s other poem “Bhooka Hai Bengal Re Sathi” was also sung by the group.
Another fighting song of this group was the one on the hanging of the four young kisan leaders of Kerala. Mandathil Appu, Kunhambu Nair, Chirukandan and Abu Bakar, despite the countrywide campaign for their wrote the song:
Phirayiya De De De Moder
Malabarer Krishak Santan
Tara Krishak Sabhar
Amar Hoiya Rohibe Tara
Desher Desher Antare
Expressing the anger for not being able to save their lives the song concluded with a clarion call to build a mass movement which will throw up thousands of fighting heroes like the Kayyur ones.
In Punjab a series of patriotic songs were written by Sheila Bhatia who also organised a group to sing them. Sarala Gupta (now Sharma) organised a mass singer group in Delhi. In U.P. Khem Singh Nagar in Hathras, Rajendra Raghuvanshi in Agra, also organised singing groups. Similar Groups sprung in Andhra, Kerala and other areas centred round the struggle of peasants and workers. In Bombay Suhasini Jambhekar taught a Group of singers patriotic songs composed by her brother Harin Chattopadhyaya. This was the group to which poet Makhdoom taught his new composition:
Yeh, Jang Hai Jange Azaadi
Azadi ke Parcham ke Tale
Ham Hind ke Rahnevalonki
Azadi ke Matavalonki
Dehkanon ki Mazdooronki
Yeh Jang Hai Jang-e-Azadi
This was soon to become the song of the whole nation.
Another group the Marathi squad known as the Lal Bavta Kala Pathak was formed in Bombay under the leadership of Amar Sheikh, a poet, composer and a singer of exceptional tenor. The members of this group included gifted poets and artists like Anna Bhau Sathe, Gawankar and Usha Urdhwarshe. They toured cities and villages in Maharashtra and also various places out side rousing people for fighting for their demands along with their fight for freedom.
In course of time all these Groups jointed the IPTA movement. A landmark in the Cultural movement was the formation in Bombay of what came to be known as the Central Squad of IPTA. With Binoy Ray as its leader, Shanti Bardhan as its dance-director and Pandit Ravi Shankar as its music director, the squad had as its rich repertory of powerful dance and music numbers toured the length and breadth of the country. It may be mentioned here that what is now a National Song. Poet Iqbal’s composition ‘Sare Jahan se Achha Hindustan Hamara’ was set to music by Ravi Shankar for the Central Squad and as such widely popularised by the IPTA long before we attained freedom. Priti Sarkar’s (now Bannerjee) rendering of this song still unequalled.
The significant contribution made by IPTA movement to the cultural renaissance in the country and its impact on the present day cultural scenario has been acknowledged by historians. However adequate stress has not been laid on the role played by it in our country’s struggle for freedom. A casual look at the programmes that the Central Squad presented during freedom struggle will convince everyone hoe sensitive the IPTA movement was to the burning issues which confronted the people at various stages. Apart from mass singing of patriotic songs which again was IPTA’s contribution to the country’s Cultural movement the Central squad had gone round the country with the following Ballets, the very titles of them speak for themselves.
The Spirit of India
Grow more Food
Kashmir State Peoples’ Struggle and
RIN Mutiny, etc.
The last one had highlighted the significant role played by the unsung heroes of Naval uprising who had risen in revolt against the British in 1946. Was it not a fact that when ‘Quit India Movement’ of August 9, 1942 had resolved into negotiations it was the revolt of the Naval Ratings hoisting on their ship the flags of Congress and League along with the Red Flag that, forced the British to finally quit India?
Thus the saga of the glorious role played by IPTA during our freedom struggle will inspire us to re-dedicate ourselves to fight against divisive and destructive forces rearing their heads in our country even after forty years of our independance.