If you walk into Suraj Colony in Azadpur village in northwest Delhi and ask for 84-year-old Chaudhary Ajit Singh, anyone will tell you the way to his home.
An old man in knee-length dhoti, the kind Mahatma Gandhi wore, answers the doorbell.
Inside, the plain interiors of the modest single-storey house seem striking.
The only indicator of his past, a photograph with former Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, is discreetly tucked away in a corner. “He does not like showing off his photographs with big leaders, or talking about his involvement in the freedom movement,” says Nirmal Chaudhary, daughter-in-law of Singh — a member of the first legislative assembly of Delhi in 1952.
Reluctant to talk at first, Singh starts off with a warning.
“If you want me to say nothing has happened after years of struggle, I will not speak. That’s what all young people want to believe. I am more than satisfied with the development. Can you believe — in 1947, only two schools in Delhi offered higher science and mathematics that was mandatory for courses like engineering?”
Singh never went to school.
“I went to jail when I was 16. When I was released five years later in 1946, a fellow revolutionary told me, you will grow old uneducated. I studied on my own and got a matriculate certificate from Punjab. After Independence, I enrolled in Khalsa College at Anand Parbat for my BA degree.”
In jail, Singh was lodged with another young revolutionary who went on to become a Gandhian — Shashi Bhushan.
Bhushan served as Member of Parliament from Madhya Pradesh and Delhi between 1967 and 1978 and was known as one of the Young Turks during the Indira Gandhi era.
Today, Bhushan leads a quiet life in a South Delhi DDA flat.
Both boys had run away from home to participate in the freedom struggle and had inadvertently become arms experts for their outfits.
“I used to buy weapons from the black market in Gwalior and supply them to revolutionaries,” Bhushan (85) says. “In those days, the distinction between a Gandhian or a violent revolutionary were not so sharp. Anybody against the British was fine as far as I was concerned.”
He had escaped from his Gwalior home in 1941 to meet Subhas Chandra Bose in Calcutta. He could not meet Bose who was plotting his escape to Europe, but was brought back to Rohtak — another hotbed of protests — by Lala Moolchand, a financier for the movement.
“In Rohtak, I met Aruna Asaf Ali and was drawn into active struggle. I started protesting against the statues of the Queen at city squares. I said these should be replaced by Bharat Mata’s.”
But the pivotal point for both the boys came in August 1942.
“In August 8, 1942, Gandhiji made the Karo Ya Maro (Do or Die) call from Gwalior Tank in Mumbai. He was arrested; the others who escaped spread the slogan,” remembers Singh, a Mahipalpur lad. Singh and a band of diehards from Delhi and around decided to stop trains carrying supplies for soldiers. "I was a Gandhi follower. But I was not a jhandawala. I was more into violent revolution.”
Singh’s eyes gleam with glee as he recalls his first attempt at attacking a railway station. “We walked into the Ashram station... our pistol was giving trouble, so we ran away after setting the furniture on fire.”
But another attempt to attack a station at Hansru Garhi station ahead of Gurgaon proved costly. Singh and his friend were caught up in an ambush. "I still have a bullet lodged under my right eye," said Singh.
Both men eventually realised the non-violent approach was the best, but say people resort to violence, if there is no redressal. “Terrorists are from among us. Agar aap madad nahi karenge to kaise hoga — haalat ke shikaar hain (You have to help them. They are victims of circumstances)," sums up Singh.