Tag Archives: colonial rule

Independence and A Rose from a dream

A Rose from a dream spans the decade 1942-52, a very special time in India, pre and post independence. I wrote about this particular era because for the present generation growing up in India and the US, freedom is sometimes taken for granted . They cannot even begin to understand the mindset of those who struggled and died so we could be free.

The book gives you a perspective from many angles:

Famous revolutionaries like Vanchinathan and Bharathiyar whose stories are legendary, known and recognized for their patriotic fervor  and the lesser known Swaminathan and Salih, ordinary folk who worked under the British yet longed for freedom.

The freedom movement was quite different in Bengal as compared to the south. In fact, young Kamu had no idea what was happening or that she was privy to a very special moment in time.  What  is refreshing is that for the first time you read about Indian History  from the perspective of the women of that time.

A Rose from a dream carries a piece of my heart: my love of country. Buy the book and walk through history.

Rose on Amazon


Here is a small excerpt

The atmosphere in the city was particularly festive. Thousands of people were in the streets, already holding paper tricolor flags and wishing one another Happy Independence Day, although that momentous event wouldn’t take place until midnight. Every government building in the city was lit up, the illumination particularly impressive against the darkening skies. There was a prediction of thundershowers and a collective hope that this wouldn’t dampen the festivity. In preparation for the grand moment, the entire street had been covered in a shamiana decorated with festoons of orange white and green. Tonight no one would sleep. It would be a night of celebration.

Rajam and Kunju had tears in their eyes as they watched the friends greet each other. They knew this day meant something really special to these folk. This was a group of people who had  fought for the freedom of the land with a passion. Perhaps never again would this spirit of patriotism rise in the nation against one common enemy. No one could ever understand the depth of feeling and the deep love for the land shared by this band of revolutionaries. Never again in their lifetimes would the longing for Swaraj (self-rule) inspire poetry that tugged at one’s heart strings making tears stream down one’s cheeks. These were very special people, this a very special time, and they were indeed privileged to live through it.

Cries of Jai Hind and Vande Mataram rang all around them, and then they stood, one nation, one voice. For the first time as free Bharat, they heard and sang Janaganamana, the melodic and evocative song written by Rabindranath Tagore, and adopted as the nation’s National Anthem. It was indeed a very special day, one of hope and of dreams as they stood together singing the national anthem. Every citizen, rich or poor, would have tears in their eyes, a combination of painful remembrance and visionary imaginings.

They were all in the streets greeting each other, laughing and cheering. The temple doors were open and people were pouring in to give thanks to the gracious God that had granted them the honor of this momentous day. Sweets were distributed and firecrackers lit the sky. The family was going to see the city lights, but for others, fatigue crept in and slowly the streets emptied and everyone found their way indoors, exhilarated yet exhausted from the emotional festivity.

As Swami lay down he couldn’t sleep for a long time. He led a sedentary life, and this was too much excitement for him. He thought about all the great martyrs who had died for this cause from Bhagat Singh in the north to Vanchinathan in the south, and he reminisced about his attempt to aid the struggle despite wearing a British uniform. For many, their minds had been kidnapped and brainwashed, leaving them with diminished self-esteem and questionable loyalty. Added to that was so much pain. The searing pain of communal riots and hatred, the partition of the land and the creation of Pakistan.. The nation had suffered, and it would take tremendous effort to begin the healing process. The scars of colonial slavery would take a long time to mend. But people had faith that the leaders were good and were ready to follow the guidance of stalwarts and erudite intellectuals like Nehru, Gandhi and Patel who would lead them from darkness to light. India would awaken to freedom and enterprise, to belief and tolerance, to hope and dignity.

The Brown Sahibs


A Brown Sahib according to Wikipedia is a term used to refer to natives of South Asia who imitate Western—typically English—lifestyle. It is also used to refer to those have been heavily influenced by Western—usually British—culture and thinking.

When the British came to India they were the rulers of the land and despite making several institutional changes, were unable to make a dent into the social structure. And so, they did what served them well: devious and insidious infiltration into the psyche of the colonized mind. They chipped away at local self-esteem demeaning the authenticity of anything native while simultaneously making “white life” and everything that went with it, enviable. They literally placed themselves at the pinnacle of the caste system, converting every educated Indian into a colonial slave, who longed to be white but was trapped in brown skin, unable to decide between loyalty to the crown and love of land. They imitated western ways and did whatever it took to blend in and be “as British as a Britisher,” but in the eyes of the white man they were always just “darkies”.

And so you have it: the legacy of the Brown sahib…

In “A Rose from a Dream,” Mahadevan fits in perfectly into the role of the classic Brown Sahib. I have also introduced hints of this mental tug-of-war in certain vignettes with Inspector Swaminathan who worked for the British police and faced this dilemma on a daily basis.

The following excerpt occurs after independence when Mahadevan truly examines the inner workings of his psychological conditioning and comes face to face with his own racist beliefs.

Mahadevan placed the medal back in the blue velvet container and sat down at his desk. He wasn’t really sure how he felt, but he realized he was troubled. For more than forty years he had worked as a civil servant loyal to the crown, and his allegiance to the British astonished him. The advent of independence resulted in an upsurge of many conflicting emotions within him, and it was unpleasant and disconcerting because he was customarily clear thinking, and was usually not swayed by his emotions. He wasn’t quite sure if he felt any national pride with the British leaving India. As soon as that thought popped into his mind, he felt guilt and shame, for every citizen in this land longed to be free from the British. Why was he feeling this sense of doom on their departure?  For so many years, by adapting to British ways, something within him remained comfortable and content. He loved his Johnny Walker Red label and Yardley talcum powder and hated bidding farewell to them in addition to the other host of British goods the family had used and enjoyed for so many years now. How foolish to give so much importance to trivia! After all, whiskey and talcum powder didn’t compensate for deliberate depletion of the country’s national resources. Even so, he could not shake off the melancholia that had attacked him like a slow and painful virus.

Slowly but deliberately, he had become a colonial slave. Somewhere deep within him was an acceptance of his inferior status and an admiration for the white skinned. This didn’t happen overnight. Over time they had chipped away at his confidence and placed themselves at the pinnacle of the caste system. The pride he took at being Brahmin paled in significance to being English. Speaking the language, hobnobbing with British officers, being included in the inner circle, had over time become paramount for his self-esteem. Every time he was insulted or humiliated by his British superiors, he silenced that little voice within him, muffling the protest. He could think of a dozen times he stood on the brink of throwing it all away and joining the fight for freedom, but the cowardice within him triumphed each time, never allowing him to act on his bold impulses. Yes, I am a second-class citizen in my own country. He could never allow that thought to manifest and take root within him because pandering to the British, and a deep need for acceptance by them, took precedence. Intellectually he knew he was wrong, but this was an intuitive choice he made without his own volition, and now here he was, wondering if the new India cabinet of ministers was good enough for him. He had turned into an intellectual snob! That was appalling! He cringed inwardly at this consideration.

For the first time in his life he reflected on the values that laid the foundation for his work ethic and wondered how he would adapt to the new way. Change was imminent, and he was the quasi-white-skinned-Britisher looking down on natives.

What were his choices? He could either remain utterly miserable working for those he believed were a cut below his caliber or he could adapt. Somehow the second choice was the prudent one. After all, transforming into a British bumsucker was his way of surviving within the system, and it had worked well for him. He just needed to change his mindset. Work was work. What difference did it make whom he reported to? He would silence the superiority dialogue in his head and move on. It was time for a reality check. The British had left. It had been good for him while it lasted, and now, he needed to ensure his mind was steady. No more audience to those ugly voices that longed for the past and were scared for the future. Just like Appanshayal always told him, he would bring it all back to the present. Now, now, now! That was all he had. And it wasn’t so bad. A great job, an accomplished wife, and three healthy children. Life was good. The mental shackles of colonial slavery needed to be released. Mahadevan sat at his desk and wrote three liberating words.

I am free.

An Excerpt from A Rose from a Dream


Mahadevan’s Dilemma

Colonial Rule has been controversial in many ways. Trying to make ends meet in the Pre-Independence Era resulted in being forced to make several tough choices. What I refer to as the “Babu Syndrome,”–the Brown Sahib complex or whatever…. had its downside. For many of the cerebral elite the choice was a tough one, which invoked walking the fine line between enslavement and revolution. Mahadevan is Dharmu’s husband, and through the book you see his mental anguish as he deliberates over his chosen path. Here is one instance….

The second shocker came when the Indian contingent went up to the top deck for dinner. Although they did not have to eat with the servants, who thankfully ate in a separate mess, they were all put together in two tables in one corner of the room. Mahadevan felt demeaned. All of this — sitting for the ICS, going to England — was in ardent pursuit for acceptance by the ruling class, to become part of the British elite. In reality, to the British he was nothing but another Indian, inferior to the British Brahmins. It was like climbing a steep slope and moving one step forward and three steps back. By dehumanizing the natives, the British rulers alienated large sections of the local population who fervently sought their expulsion from their land. Right now, Mahadevan was experiencing the very indignation and deep humiliation that gripped the land. But he recognized he was no Gandhi; he did not have the moral courage to languish in jail for a cause. Instead, he chose the path of least resistance, one that entailed mental enslavement to British colonialism, just like many Indian intellectuals all over the nation. He would become as British as the British. He would get into their minds and find what made them tick; he would show them that he was as good as any of them by becoming part of the cerebral elite.