Freedom's Long Shadow

Ayesha Kidwai, my colleague in the School of Language, Literature and Culture Studies at JNU is a distinguished linguist, and one with diverse interests. She has recently translated her grandmother Anis Kidwai's Azadi Ki Chhaon Mein into English, and this book (from Penguin) will be released at the India International Centre, New Delhi, on 24 February.

In Freedom's Shade is a memoir of the national movement and of partition written in 1949 but only published (in the original Urdu) in 1974. Anis Kidwai was born in 1906 in Barabanki, Awadh, into an impoverished but cultured zamindari family. The murder of her husband, Shafi, in Mussoorie in October 1947 catapulted Anis into an activist’s role. That very month, she came to Delhi and offered her life to Gandhi; she wanted to live out the rest of her years in service to the nation. In just a few months, working alongside Subhadra Joshi, Anis became closely involved with the efforts for peace in Delhi’s neighbourhoods and surrounding rural areas; and with Mridula Sarabhai she helped in the recovery of abducted women.

In Freedom’s Shade is both a personal memoir of the first two years of nascent India as well as an activist’s record that reveals both the architecture of the violence during Partition as well as the efforts of ordinary citizens to bring the cycle of reprisal and retribution to a close.

Beginning from the murder of her husband in October 1947, with a rare frankness, sympathy and depth of insight, Anis Kidwai tells the stories of the thousands who were driven away from their homelands in Delhi and its neighbouring areas by eviction or abduction or the threat of forced religious conversion. Of historical importance for its account of the activities of the Shanti Dal, the recovery of abducted women and the history of Delhi, In Freedom’s Shade also has an equal contemporary relevance.

In part a delineation of the roots of the afflictions that beset Indian society and in part prophetic about the plagues that were to come, Anis Kidwai’s testament is an enduring reminder that memory without truth is futile; only when it serves the objective of reconciliation, does it achieve meaning and significance.

In our Biography and History sections, 408 pages with 44 photographs, Rs 699. ISBN: 9780143416098

The IIC release- by Subhashini Ali- promises to be interesting. Ayesha Kidwai, the translator, and in a sense her grandmother's biographer as well will speak, as will the Urdu scholar C M Naim. The translation has been supported by the New India Foundation. Ram Guha says Begum Anis Kidwai's memoir captures the social anguish of Partition and its aftermath far better than any novel or academic study... This landmark should be read by every thinking Indian.

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