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Monday, February 8, 1999

1942... a fighter's story

Rasika Dhavse  
It's been a long while since that night in August 1942. But 80-year-old Saad Ali's memories are fresh. Of being rounded up, of being imprisoned in a different city, of being a part of the historic Quit India Movement (QIM).

Pride writ large as he thinks of his association with the freedom struggle, his mind travels back to the year and a half that he spent in Pune from August 9, 1942, till April 1944. At the Yerawada Central Prison (YCP) along with other freedom fighters like Morarji Desai, B.G. Kher, Yusuf Meherally, S.K. Patil - all arrested by the British government for their participation in the QIM.

Now residing in Mumbai, whenever Ali visits relatives in Pune, the days of the struggle come flooding back. Born and brought up in Japan, he would visit India only occasionally. ``My father settled there before my birth. We had an export business in garments. I completed my graduation there in 1939. Sometime before that, my family had already moved to India, sensing the clouds of war. I followed soon, and as World War II progressed, there was no question of returning,'' narrates Ali.

As he settled down in the new environ, he began to connect with what was happening around. Attending various lectures, he was introduced to Yusuf Meherally, a Congress Socialist Party (CSP) member, and on meeting other CSP stalwarts like Jayprakash Narain and Ashok Mehta, he, too, got roped into the movement.

``Those initial years were not too active. But then the QIM happened. I chipped in as a volunteer, getting unions in engineering industries that produced war material to organise strikes. As the matter could not be resolved even with mediation from the defence minister's office, I became a `marked man','' he smiles.

Recounting the episode of his arrest, he says, ``The QIM call was declared at the Congress meet in Bombay. We'd heard that the police would clamp down heavily. So on the night of August 7, I did not go home. With that night and the next day passing peacefully, I went home on the night of August 8. In the wee hours of August 9, at 4 a.m., the police knocked, and I was taken directly to the Victoria Terminus. There was a huge crowd there - those arrested, well-wishers. A train had been specially scheduled to take us from Bombay. One compartment had been reserved for Mahatma Gandhi and his entourage, one carriage for the members of the Congress Working Committee (CWC) and the rest of us were bundled into the remaining carriages. On reaching Pune, Gandhi was made to get off at Chinchwad, to be taken to Aga Khan Palace. The CWC members were imprisoned at Ahmednagar, while we found ourselves at YCP.''

Being Class A detenues, they were well-provided for, says Ali. They could get food or clothes from outside through the prison officials and even spent time playing hand tennis! ``The Class B detenues and prisoners got a raw deal, and we'd smuggle food parcels across. Once I was caught red-handed, and punishment was imminent. But Yusuf Meherally and Raosaheb Patwardhan stepped in to claim responsibility, and Patwardhan was shifted to the prison at Dhule.

``Meherally was very popular. Beaten badly during the Simon Commission Boycott, he'd never really recovered, and I nursed him during a phase of ill-health at YCP. I remember he'd read out the daily news to us. Newspapers were easily available, but during the first few days of our sojourn there, we could not get them. So Meherally would get a little chit with the headlines scribbled from a fellow-detenue Soli Batliwala, a communist worker who'd been there longer. At lunch he'd read them out to us,'' he reminisces.

Ali's 25th birthday was celebrated at the YCP, and as a present he received hand-written wishes from his prison-mates - Kher, Desai, N.Y. Nurie, Patil, Raja Hutheesingh, Abid Ali, Ratilal Gandhi amongst others. From Yerawada, Ali was shifted to the Nashik Road Prison in 1944 for eight months, then on to Arthur Road Central Prison (Bombay) before being released on Jan 8, 1945.

Independence achieved, the post-partition riots dampened the euphoria. In 1949, Ali went to Japan to pack bags and return to India a couple of years later. Residing now in Mumbai, he has devoted his energies to the work of the Bombay Environmental Group, along with pursuing his 10-year-long claim for the Central Government's freedom fighters' pension. ``Many bogus applications have delayed the process,'' he says with a shrug, content to live with the pride of having done his mite to bring about a free India.

Copyright © 1999 Indian Express Newspapers (Bombay) Ltd.


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