Home > 2021 > Capt. Lakshmi Sahgal / Farmers Movement / Talat Mahmood / Nida Fazli | (...)

Mainstream, VOL LIX No 7, New Delhi, January 30, 2021

Capt. Lakshmi Sahgal / Farmers Movement / Talat Mahmood / Nida Fazli | Humra Quraishi

Friday 29 January 2021, by Humra Quraishi


27 January 2021

With focus on Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose, I recall my meetings and interview with his close aide, Captain Lakshmi Sahgal. This was in the summer of 2002 when she was named by the Left as its candidate to contest for the post of President of India. She was then around 88 years but looked much younger and fit. One of the reasons for this could be she was busy the entire day. She was vice - president of the All India Democratic Women’s Association. And as a trained medical doctor/ gynaecologist, she was busy treating patients all through the mornings. Evenings and afternoons she spent doing charitable work in Kanpur’s industrial areas. To the ‘why’ she had decided to settle down in Kanpur, she went ahead telling me details to the turns in her life. Daughter of activist Ammu Swaminathan and criminal lawyer S. Swaminathan, she completed her medical education in Madras before leaving for Singapore. That is where she met Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose in 1943. And that changed the entire course of her life. She quit her job, joined the Indian National Army, and she was captured and jailed in Burma…After she was released she married Prem Sahgal who was then working in the New Victoria Mills (Kanpur). And with that came a complete change in her life. Settling down in Kanpur, running a charitable clinic, looking after the industrial workers, mazdoors and their families. In fact, till the very end she was reaching out to all those who needed medical assistance and support.

During the course of the interview, I asked her to comment on the prevailing situation in the country and how Netaji would have reacted if he was amongst us. And she told me that he couldn’t have visualized we would be in this condition …She’d added, “he was totally against the Partition …dead against it. He was sure it would mean doom and would lead to further partitions. He had made his views very clear to Pandit Nehru and also to Mahatma Gandhi …But none of us would have ever imagined that we would be reduced to this mess where the poor have become poorer, and communalism and corruption have become rampant…looking at the terrible conditions prevailing in the country today, I can only say it is very unfortunate.”

Commenting on the then Right-Wing government at the Centre, she told me during the course of that interview that she was not keen to meet the then prime minister, Mr.Atal Behari Vajpayee, nor any of the key members of his cabinet. She had also stated that “unless the Bharatiya Janta Party is not stopped in its tracks, the future is not bright.”

She had also commented on the plight of the mill workers and mazdoors and also on the condition of women – “The new economic policy has been a tremendous setback for the women of this country. With the closure of mills, they are moving towards the unorganized sector, where they are the last to be hired and the first to be fired. One can see the steady decay all around. Obviously, all this will affect women. I really feel the middle-class stops sitting mute and starts reacting to the happenings around. Netaji really believed that women must be given full empowerment and that would be the only solution.’

On the condition of the minorities in the backdrop of the 2002 Gujarat pogrom, she’d hit out – “It was shocking. Look at the level of communalism in Gujarat, where people have to change their names to survive or to get medical aid. The way the minorities are getting treated there is shocking.”


In the context of the farmers’ mass movement and the violent incidents witnessed in New Delhi, on the country’s Republic Day, the farmer leaders are left bewildered cum shaken by the bizarre turn of events. Perhaps, they would be going through history books. Reading the relevant details to any mass movement or call it by any of the milder terms --- rebellion or revolt or agitation or uprising. Grasping the very basic vital core fact that hostile elements are planted to disrupt and discredit and much more along the strain!


The legendary singer with that beautiful voice with a melancholic strain to it, Talat Mahmood, was one of those Indians did not want to shift to the newly carved country, Pakistan. His father, Manzoor Mahmood, owned an electric fittings cum a gramophone shop in Lucknow, and he was known for singing at the Muslim League functions, Iqbal’s popular taranaa , ‘Chino Arab hamara/ Hindoostan hamara …’ At the time of the Partition, Talat was in Calcutta with his elder sister. And though his entire family migrated to Pakistan, he and his sister opted to stay back in India.
Mind you, this decision to be away from the family did affect him .As his niece, Rafia Hussain, had told me, “Temperamentally he could not adjust to the ways of the film world. Also, that initial shock that his entire family had migrated to a new country and would be settling down there, had affected him to a certain extent …he was far too sensitive, he’d internalized that pain. But till the very end he was sure that he would never leave his home country. After all, he opted to stay back.”


This distance which stretches
Between you and me
Eternal tale,
With no beginning
And no end
The agony of journey’s
Ring of every breath
You exist nowhere
Nor do I
The quest is tinted whim,
The caravans of movements
Fill the space
This distance which stretches
Between you and me
Is the quest
Is the prayer
Is the Lord.”

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