T.S. SATYAN writes: I was in the first year of my BA class at the Maharaja’s College in Mysore, when Mahatma Gandhi launched the Quit India Movement in 1942. Students boycotted classes, poured into the streets and went in procession shouting patriotic slogans. They were in the forefront of the struggle.
Those who led and inspired us then were my college mates—H.Y. Sharada Prasad (who went on to become a well-known journalist and Information Advisor to the Prime Minister) and M.V. Krishnappa (who became a minister in the central government).
I also remember my affable friend, Abdul Gaffar, whose inspiring speeches in Kannada are still ringing in my ears. Our English teachers, J.C. Rollo and W.G. Eagleton, were surprised that their favourite student, the suave and brilliant Sharada Prasad (then the Secretary of the University Union), had been chosen as our undisputed leader in the Quit India agitation.
“Showrie”, as we affectionately called him, was a soft-spoken, frail and mild-mannered young man and no one credited him even with an iota of aggressiveness. The compulsions of any occasion, it is said, throw up a leader and Showrie was one such. He came from a family, which valued Gandhian ideals. Always dressed in khaddar, he was self-reliant and an idealist, qualities he inherited from his parents.
Sharada Prasad’s speeches electrified the students who willingly courted arrest, and filled the only jail in Mysore. Talking about those days, he says: “There were not many to advice us to device plans and programmes. Some elderly lawyers told us that it was the turn of the young to show the way to the old.”
Showrie conceived a novel idea—the Cycle Brigade. Bicycle squads not only went round the streets of Mysore but also fanned out into the surrounding villages, shouting Quit India slogans and exhorting people to join the Movement. The students picketed government offices and courts.
The news of Showrie’s arrest spread like wild fire and his name became the talk of the town. Many of his followers marched behind him when he was taken to the Court of the First Class City Magistrate. The tense gathering inside the Court waited for the judicial worthy to pronounce his order. The judge shuffled his papers, picked up one and held it aloft to pronounce his judgment. He began saying, “The All India Congress Committee met in Bombay on 7 and 8 August, l942 and passed a resolution to quit India.” The assembled crowd burst out in laughter. The magistrate corrected himself and, after reading the charges against Showrie, sentenced him to eighteen months of rigorous imprisonment.
Recalling his entry into jail, Showrie says: “A convict-warder who led us to our barracks gave us a piece of sound advice: ‘Take good care of your things. This place is full of thieves.” He was himself doing his eighth term for house-breaking!”
Writing about his jail days in his lyrical prose laced with some anguish. Sharada Prasad says: “The outside world suddenly seemed so far away. It was as though we were encased in a capsule of silence, cut off from the aching joys and dizzy thrills of the Movement. But, within a couple of days, the world began flooding in through the walls. Students were brought in by the dozens and scores. Then there were groups of villagers from far and near. I remember the cheerful face of a village elder who had a forearm with a bullet embedded in it. They took him to hospital to have it removed.”
Showrie also recalls with a tinge of anguish how, one day, after a minor dispute with the prison authorities, the reserve police were called in and a fierce lathi charge was ordered. “There were scores of students with broken bones and bad bruises. We were locked up without food. Word came that a high school student, Shankarappa, was so badly injured that he later died in hospital.”
Along with Showrie there were some six hundred political prisoners. “The jailers sought our help in dealing with them and keeping order. We also set about holding literacy classes for the unlettered villagers. For the younger students we organized classes of political education and introduced them to important political books.”
The police force in Mysore was rather mild earlier in treating the young ‘law-breakers’. However, in order to demonstrate their loyalty to their British officers in Bangalore, they hardened their stance as the Movement gained momentum and the agitators were taken aback by their aggressiveness and brutality. Among them was a once-charming sub-inspector who transformed himself into a sadist. He wielded his baton with gay abandon and took the credit for arresting the largest number of demonstrators.
The City Magistrate of Mysore did one better than the police officer. Earlier, he had earned a reputation for being gentle, educated and highly cultured. He was also known for his philosophical bent of mind. Many in Mysore were surprised to find that even he allowed himself to be provoked by the agitating students. Pressured by his senior officers in Bangalore, he ordered the police to shoot at the demonstrators when a student named Ramaswamy got killed. Five years later, when India won freedom, the government gave official recognition to the popular sentiment of the people by naming the road junction near the Maharaja’s College Hostel in Mysore as Ramaswamy Circle.
There was a comic angle to the agitation. There was our lone college mate who had his crazy ideas about the Movement in which he did not participate. He was always dressed immaculately in a three-piece suit, be it summer or winter. His clipped accent resembled that of our English professors. While all of us abstained from our classes, he was the only one who dared to enter the college. Our efforts to dissuade him from doing so were in vain. The anger of the student community reached the limit when he started referring to the Mahatma as ‘Mr Gandhi’. The students who wanted to beat him up ran after him in vain. He gave them a slip and took shelter in the residence of J.C.Rollo, our Principal and Professor of English.
Many years later, our friend distinguished himself in academic achievements, became a principal of a college and also sat on the selection committees of the Union Public Service Commission. Likewise, many of my classmates rose to high positions in the administration, judiciary and the arts. Some others became ministers.
While India attained freedom in August l947, the princely state of Mysore retained its identity for sometime. Many of the states were not yet integrated in the political structure of sovereign India. The freedom movement had inspired the people of Mysore State to launch an agitation for Responsible Government with their Maharaja as the constitutional head. They began to demand a full-fledged elected legislature leading to the Mysore Chalo agitation when the earlier hostility of the police became even more manifest. Brutality, arrests and ill treatment of demonstrators became the order of the day.
I remember the strong-willed and much-loved freedom fighter, Thagadur Ramachandra Rao, who dared the police to snatch the tricolour he carried. But Thagadur had devised a novel method to puzzle the police. He wore a saffron cap, a white shirt and a green dhoti representing the colours, in that order, of the national flag. The innovative ‘walking national flag’ baffled the police who snatched away Thagadur’s cap and tore his shirt. But they did not remove his dhoti for obvious reasons.
The Movement for Responsible Government became so intense that it had to be ushered a few months after August l947. Some among the principal Congress leaders found ministerial positions. I remember photographing the first Chief Minister of Mysore, K. Changalaraya Reddy and his cabinet colleagues when they drove down to Mysore to speak at the mammoth public meeting held at the Subbarayanakere grounds. My first news photo coverage of this important event got published in India Magazine of Bombay that had just been launched.