Thoughts on Indian Independence

by Michelle

Secundra Bagh after the slaughter of 2,000 Rebels by the 93rd Highlanders and 4th Punjab Regiment. Albumen silver print by Felice Beato, 1858.

Although I’ve been amiss with keeping my blog this month, I’ve been writing furiously. I’ve had some poems published and my short story “Disappearing” will be appearing in a forthcoming issue of Etchings, a beautifully produced Melbourne-based journal edited by Sabina Hopfer of Ilura Press.

August is the month of India’s Independence Day and I was most fortunate to have been invited to a special celebration in Eltham organised by Meera Govil, the proprietor and Events Manager of Eltham Books. I read poetry with Susan Hawthorne and Prakash Govil at Machan restaurant to a full house. It was wonderful to experience the exchange of cultures in this close-knit community of book lovers. Meera’s recollections of her grandfather’s memories of Independence in 1947 and Prakash’s sung eulogy were quite emotional for me, as one deracinated. Independence Day is a time for me to reflect on the anti-imperialist uprisings which canvassed social, democratic and economic reforms. Aside from a non-violent revolution there was a protracted century-long history of bloodshed, wars and mutiny. Freedom fighters were incarcerated inhumanely and tortured in the Andaman Islands at Kālā Pānī (black water), the cellular jail constructed in 1896 by the British.

Independence is also a time for me to consider the many women activists who made important contributions to the movement. One of these women was Bhikaji Cama, a Parsi woman from Mumbai who was influenced by the sufragette movement and who designed one of the earliest Indian flags. Another was Lakshmibai, the Rani of Jhansi, who led the great uprising in 1857. Here she is much like the embodiment of Durga, both beautiful and fierce…

Rani of Jhansi

It was wonderful to read poetry within the context of these broader discussions and indeed to be a part of Meera Govil’s
community cultural sharing. Like the daawat: the palak paneer, aloo zeera, fish tikka we enjoyed, poetry, it seems, can be appreciated by writers and readers alike in a variety of ways.

And later this year I’m invited to celebrate the 50th anniversary of Goa’s Liberation as a Portuguese colony. This conference: Goa 1961 and Beyond is organised by the IIAS, Goa University and Coimbra University. I’m sure it will be confronting and exacting, inspiring new directions for my work, as well as being enjoyable. I’m looking forward to relaxing and eating some great food.