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Mainstream, Vol XLVII, No 31, July 18, 2009

Remembering Aruna Asaf Ali on her Birth Centenary

Saturday 18 July 2009, by SC

Aruna Asaf Ali’s birth centenary falls on July 16, 2009.

Born as Aruna Ganguly in Barisal (now Bangladesh) on July 16, 1909, she emerged as one of the most striking freedom fighters especially at the last stage of our battle for emancipation from foreign yoke. Her dedication to the cause of liberation of the toiling millions remained undiminshed till the very end and she tirelessly worked in various capacities to realise the dream of an exploitation-free, new and radiant India she and her colleagues in the national movement had before them when they participated in the 1942 ‘Quit India’ struggle under the leadership of Mahatma Gandhi and guidance of Jawaharlal Nehru with Jayaprakash Narayan as a comrade-in-arms. With Arunaji’s death in New Delhi on July 29, 1996 one whole epoch—a glorious chapter in our chequered history—indeed came to a close.

Having seen her from close quarters and having worked for several years in the Link House as a journalist trained and moulded by her close friend, associate and compatriot, Edatata Narayanan, one finds it extremely difficult to write about Arunaji whose elegance, charm, simplicity, infectious youthful vigour, and incessant urge and impatience to help the poor and the dispossessed will forever remain etched in one’s memory. One can never forget her deep affection for her younger colleagues. One is ever proud to have been reared in an institution nurtured by such a personality; and at the same time one frequently feels a gnawing pain whenever one thinks of the tragedy that struck her in her last days—how she was unceremoniously thrown out of the Link House by the downright hypocrites and opportunists who had once promised to carry on her, Edatata Narayanan’s and P. Vishwanath’s legacy.

As a mark of tribute to her abiding memory we are reproducing here Jawaharlal Nehru’s observations on Aruna Asaf Ali in his Foreword to her Travel Talk (1947), her interview to Mainstream (published in this journal’s August 8, 1992 issue) on the occasion of the ‘Quit India’ struggle’s fiftieth anniversary since Arunaji was the virtual embodiment of that last battle for India’s freedom from alien rule. That was one of Arunaji’s last interviews to any publication, and it brings out her feelings, ideals and goals as well as what had motivated her to plunge into the public life of struggle for the welfare of humanity as a whole. We also reproduce an article by her that appeared in Mainstream (September 28, 1996) and a moving piece written by N.C. following her demise. S.C.

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