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The Man In The Hat

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The Man In The Hat

September 28: The 110th birth anniversary of ageless youth icon Bhagat Singh

I hope nobody here is going to shoot me for being the last Indian to discover this interesting fact: Bhagat Singh was an excellent writer, and he wrote in English!

Okay calm down, I knew other things before I arrived at this. I knew all along that the slogan ‘Inquilab Zindabad’ was first spoken by Bhagat Singh.

I knew he was a revolutionary who went to jail several times for an assortment of acts, and organised significant hunger strikes for the rights of political prisoners.

Most of all, I knew his face. Remember those school charts with illustrated images of freedom fighters? You have to admit, the most striking face in there was this young man’s with a hat tipped on his head.

He looked sure and suave next to a whole bunch of spectacled uncles. Even today if you look at the original photo, the handsomeness stands out.

It’s an image that has gained as much popularity within India as perhaps Che’s iconic photo enjoys in South America (and Kerala, of course).

It features on t-shirts, pop art posters, mugs, wallets, coasters and a million other kitsch artefacts. But is that the extent of the famous shaheed’s influence in contemporary India?

It helps to remember that Bhagat Singh was in the same age bracket as millennials today when he sacrificed his life for a free India. He was 23, yet his lofty ideals can be heard loud and clear in his writings.

Take a look at his lucid essay Why I Am an Atheist to understand the vast knowledge and intensive reading that his beliefs and philosophy stemmed from.

Consider these words:

“One Genghis Khan killed a few thousand people to seek pleasure in it and we hate the very name. Now, how will you justify your all powerful, eternal Nero, who every day, every moment continues his pastime of killing people? How can you support his doings which surpass those of Genghis Khan in cruelty and in misery inflicted upon people?”

Enough films have been based on the enigmatic character (or ‘charismatic,’ as Wikipedia positions him at the very beginning of the page), but nothing quite captures the young man’s charm.

Nehru, apparently, wondered too, asking how “a mere chit of a boy suddenly leapt to fame”. Perhaps if he’d listened more intently, he’d have understood the “boy’s” vision of a united, poverty-free India.

There is another photograph of Bhagat Singh that surfaced in later years but dates back to his first arrest, before he cut his hair and donned the hat (a conscious political move that earned him immortality as a martyr).

It’s a candid image that shows him sitting on a cot in Lahore police station. He still looks tall, lean and handsome. And in his imprisoned yet impassioned state, he still inspires.

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Mineli Goswami is a 24-year-old Assamese-East Indian, which usually translates into pretty good weekend feasts. When she’s not at her desk struggling with poetry – more often than she’d like – she’s seen wasting time on an assortment of things such as lugging an antique SLR, breaking nails climbing boulders, and chasing turtles. She’s graduated in history and has an unofficial PhD in Bandra-style jiving.

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