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Of Cataclysmis Times

Sohail Hashmi

By Anis Kidwai Translated from urdu by Ayesha Kidwai
Penguin, 2011, pp.382, Rs.450.00

VOLUME XXXV NUMBER 8-9 August-September 2011

Anis Kidwai belonged to the illustrious Kidwai family of Barabanki family that has made more than a signal contribution to the making of India, not only in politics and governance but in diverse fields of creative endeavour. This short piece, though, is not about her or about her family but a most remarkable record of the unfolding tragedy in the capital of India and in its surroundings in the aftermath of Independence and partition. Anis Kidwai, though extremely politically aware with sharp and clear views on what she saw happening, was not a political activist and would have probably continued to lead a well settled, almost sedentary life in Mussoorie, had the unthinkable not happened. Her husband, Shafi Ahmad Kidwai, the administrator of the Municipality, who had almost single- handedly tried to keep peace in Mussoorie when everyone else had either given up or joined the rioters, was murdered. A distraught Anis eventually reached Delhi and in the hope of finding solace went to meet the Mahatma, everyone seemed to be running to him and he had something for everyone. He listened to her and said, 'go and work among those who have lost everything, working for them will give you a reason to live.' Anis began working at the Purana Qila Refugee Camp, shifting later to the Humayun's Tomb Refugee camp and then fanning out in the city with young students from Jamia, trying to prevent people from fleeing, trying to stop riots that threatened to break out every moment. She worked with Sushila Naiyar, Subhadra Joshi and many others in a desperate fight to restore sanity among a whole people who seemed, suddenly to have taken leave of all decency and compassion. Throughout all this she kept a diary of her daily experiences, the madness, the cruelty, the greed, the depravity, the unspeakable horrors that humans inflicted upon other humans. She also saw and recorded instances of great love, great courage shown, great sacrifices made and great risks taken by ordinary unarmed people to help and save others like themselves. In Freedom's Shade (Aazaadi ki Chhaon Mein), originally written in Urdu is based on those diaries—a recollection of what she saw and also a record of her observations between 1947 and 1949. The book written in 1949 was eventually published by the Quami Ekta Trust run by D.R. Goyal and Subhadra Joshi in 1974. The National Book Trust published ...

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