Date: 18 Aug 2007


Nehru's extempore "Tryst with Destiny" speech 
F ew of the current generation know the words of India's first prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru's speech at the birth of the Indian nation at midnight, Aug. 15, 1947, let alone the extraordinary circumstances in which the speech was given. 
They are worth knowing, because that speech, beginning with the words announcing India's tryst with destiny, was the fountain from which all the great political events in India in the subsequent 60 years flowed, including the smooth transfers of power, the successful conduct of general elections with an electorate larger than the entire population of the United States, and the elevation of a former so-called untouchable and a woman to the highest office in the land. 
It is not generally known that Nehru gave his speech extempore; how come that Nehru never wrote out his speech? He did not have the time or the heart to write an elaborately planned and crafted speech because of a long-distance call he had received earlier on Aug. 14. 
The story is told by Larry Collins and Dominique Lapierre in 'Freedom at Midnight'."At 17 York Road, Jawaharlal Nehru had just...sat down to dinner when his telephone rang. His daughter Indira and his guest Padmaja Naidu could hear him in his study shouting to make himself heard over a bad line."According to the authors, both women gasped at the sight of him as he emerged from his study. He collapsed without words in a chair, clasping his head in his hands. After a while, he opened his eyes, glistening with tears, and told them that the call was from Lahore. 
"The water supply in the Old City's Hindu and Sikh quarters had been cut. People were going mad from thirst in the terrible summer heat yet women and children coming out of their mahallas to beg a pail of water were being butchered by Moslem mobs. Fire was already raging out of control in half a dozen parts of the city." 
Nehru reportedly said in a choked voice, "How am I going to talk tonight? How am I going to pretend there is joy in my heart for India's independence when I know Lahore, our beautiful Lahore, is burning?" India did not have a John Trumbull -- who immortalized the Second Continental Congress that signed the Declaration of Independence in his great painting -to paint its first Constituent Assembly. 
Collins and Lapierre sought to repair the lack with words, "Ranged on the packed Assembly benches facing Nehru, in saris and khadi, princely robes and dinner jackets, were representatives of the nation to be born this night. The people they represented were an amalgam of races and religions, languages and cultures of a diversity and contrast unmatched on the globe." 
Of the two nations carved out by the June 3 plan by Lord Louis Mountbatten, great grandson of Queen Victoria, what distinguished one from the other? The first, obviously, was that one was based on the call for 'Direct Action' which led directly to August 16 of 1946, to the 'Great Calcutta Killing,' -- and the other was successor to the 'Calcutta miracle' wrought by Mahatma Gandhi that brought the killing in Bengal to a stop. 
Second, the two nations were distinguished by the conceptions voiced at the birth of their nations by Mohammed Ali Jinnah and Nehru. The 'Tryst with Destiny' speech voiced India's humanistic and democratic values; Jinnah's remark to Mountbatten augured the making of a despot. 
"In Pakistan," Collins and Lapierre quote Jinnah as telling Mountbatten, "I will be governor general, and the prime minister will do what I tell him to do." 
On the other end of the moral and political plane was Nehru. At the approach of midnight, Nehru rose to speak. Collins and Lapierre paint with words a picture of that assembly. "Indeed to those tense, expectant men and women filling the benches of a Delhi assembly hall, it might well have seemed, that August night, that problems were the only heritage being left by their departing colonizers. No such melancholy conjecture, however, animated their gathering. Instead, its keynote was the good feeling with which India's former rulers were regarded, and a touching, if naive, belief that somehow their departure was going to ease the terrible burdens under which she agonized." 
"The man upon whom those burdens would now weigh most heavily rose to speak. After his phone call from Lahore, Jawaharlal Nehru neither had the time nor the inclination to write a speech. His words were extemporaneous, heartfelt."Note, Nehru didn't once mention Lahore! 
Text of speech 
"Long years ago we made a tryst with destiny, and now the time comes when we shall redeem our pledge, not wholly or in full measure, but very substantially. At the stroke of the midnight hour, when the world sleeps, India will awake to life and freedom. 
A moment comes, which comes but rarely in history, when we step out from the old to the new, when an age ends, and when the soul of a nation, long suppressed, finds utterance. It is fitting that at this solemn moment we take the pledge of dedication to the service of India and her people and to the still larger cause of humanity. 
At the dawn of history India started on her unending quest, and trackless centuries are filled with her striving and the grandeur of her success and her failures.Through good and ill fortune alike she has never lost sight of that quest or forgotten the ideals which gave her strength. 
Challenge of Future 
We end today a period of ill fortune and India discovers herself again. The achievement we celebrate today is but a step, an opening of opportunity, to the greater triumphs and achievements that await us. Are we brave enough and wise enough to grasp this opportunity and accept the challenge of the future? 
Freedom and power bring responsibility. The responsibility rests upon this Assembly, a sovereign body representing the sovereign people of India. Before the birth of freedom we have endured all the pains of labor and our hearts are heavy with the memory of this sorrow. Some of those pains continue even now. 
Nevertheless, the past is over and it is the future that beckons to us now. That future is not one of ease or resting but of incessant striving so that we may fulfill the pledges we have so often taken and the one we shall take today. 
The service of India means the service of the millions who suffer. It means the ending of poverty and ignorance and disease and inequality of opportunity. The ambition of the greatest man of our generation has been to wipe every tear from every eye. 
That may be beyond us, but as long as there are tears and suffering, so long our work will not be over. And so we have to labor and to work, and work hard, to give reality to our dreams. 
Those dreams are for India, but they are also for the world, for all the nations and people are too closely knit together today for any one of them to imagine that it can live apart. 
Peace has been said to be indivisible; so is freedom, so is prosperity now, and so also is disaster in this One World that can no longer be split into isolated fragments.To the people of India, whose representatives we are, we make an appeal to join us with faith and confidence in this great adventure. 
This is no time for petty and destructive criticism, no time for ill-will or blaming others.We have to build the noble mansion of free India where all her children may dwell. The appointed day has come -- the day appointed by destiny-- and India stands forth again, after long slumber and struggle, awake, vital, free and independent. 
A new star rises 
The past clings on to us still in some measure and we have to do much before we redeem the pledges we have so often taken. Yet the turning-point is past, and history begins anew for us, the history which we shall live and act and others will write about. 
It is a fateful moment for us in India, for all Asia and for the world. A new star rises, the star of freedom in the East, a new hope comes into being, a vision long cherished materializes. May the star never set and that hope never be betrayed! We rejoice in that freedom, even though clouds surround us, and many of our people are sorrowstricken and difficult problems encompass us. But freedom brings responsibilities and burdens and we have to face them in the spirit of a free and disciplined people.On this day our first thoughts go to the architect of this freedom, the Father of our Nation [Gandhi], who, embodying the old spirit of India, held aloft the torch of freedom and lighted up the darkness that surrounded us. 
We have often been unworthy followers of his and have strayed from his message, but not only we but succeeding generations will remember this message and bear the imprint in their hearts of this great son of India, magnificent in his faith and strength and courage and humility. We shall never allow that torch of freedom to be blown out, however high the wind or stormy the tempest. 
Our next thoughts must be of the unknown volunteers and soldiers of freedom who, without praise or reward, have served India even unto death. We think also of our brothers and sisters who have been cut off from us by political boundaries and who unhappily cannot share at present in the freedom that has come. They are of us and will remain of us whatever may happen, and we shall be sharers in their good [or] ill fortune alike. 
The future beckons to us. Whither do we go and what shall be our endeavor? To bring freedom and opportunity to the common man, to the peasants and workers of India; to fight and end poverty and ignorance and disease; to build up a prosperous, democratic and progressive nation, and to create social, economic and political institutions which will ensure justice and fullness of life to every man and woman. 
Redeeming of pledge 
We have hard work ahead. There is no resting for any one of us till we redeem our pledge in full, till we make all the people of India what destiny intended them to be. We are citizens of a great country on the verge of bold advance, and we have to live up to that high standard. All of us, to whatever religion we may belong, are equally the children of India with equal rights, privileges and obligations. 
We cannot encourage communalism or narrowmindedness, for no nation can be great whose people are narrow in thought or in action.To the nations and peoples of the world we send greetings and pledge ourselves to cooperate with them in furthering peace, freedom and democracy. 
And to India, our much-loved motherland, the ancient, the eternal and the ever-new, we pay our reverent homage and we bind ourselves afresh to her service. Jai Hind."

Source Desitalk Toronto