The old man’s hands tremble when he holds the bugle with his shrivelled hands, but the musical blow continues to bear a steady air of pride.
No official function with a patriotic theme is complete in Allahabad without Bhagwat Prasad Bhartiya. Braving the vagaries of age and weather, the 90-year-old freedom fighter is once again readying to blow the simple brass instrument he received as a gift from Pt Jawaharlal Nehru. For, Monday is the country’s 70th Independence Day.
The nonagenarian was 15 years old—and extremely thrilled—when he received the bugle from the freedom-fighter stalwart who was to become independent India’s first prime minister. Nehru gave him the instrument on his birthday at the family’s famed residence Anand Bhavan on November 14, 1941.
Since then, Bhartiya has been blowing the bugle. Initially, it was to rouse freedom fighters. Post 1947, he blew it to remind his compatriots of the great sacrifices made to win freedom.
“I started visiting Anand Bhavan as a kid. Out of curiosity,” he winds back. “I would accompany my classmate, whose father was a gardener there.”
The two-storey mansion with a dome, constructed in the 1930s by Jawaharlal’s father Pt Motilal Nehru who was a lawyer and leader, was a vital centre for the fight for Independence.
“That provided me opportunities to meet national leaders and listen to their inspirational speeches,” recalls Bhartiya at his home in Ashok Nagar. “They encouraged me to take part in social activities and rallies—all aimed at winning freedom.”
Pleased with the boy’s commitment to the cause of an Independent India, Nehru, then 37, presented Bhartiya with the bugle in the presence of national leaders, including Mahatma Gandhi, Lal Bahadur Shastri, Vijay Laxmi Pandit and Chunnan Guru (Chandra Mohiley).
“That was a great moment for me,” Bhartiya notes. “Nehruji chose me among other five youngsters for blowing the bugle during rallies.”
The aim was to spread anti-imperialistic messages such as ‘Bharat Bachao, Angrez Bhagao’, ‘Apne Desh Mein Apna Raaz’ and ‘Sab Ek Samaan’. “For doing that, I was sent to Malaka jail (located in the premises where now SRN Hospital stands),” says Bhartiya. “I was kept there for a few months for participating in a mass rally taken out in Civil Lines in support of Quit India Movement of 1942.”
Since then, Bhartiya has kept blowing the bugle on momentous days in his country’s calendar: Republic Day, Independence Day and Children’s Day, besides at functions of patriotic fervour.
This year, too, will be no different even after over 75 years.
The old freedom fighter, though, is sad about one thing. Neither the district administration nor the state government has come forward to provide financial assistance the Sangam City’s only surviving freedom fighter.
“In 1978, I requested (late prime minister) Indira Gandhi for monetary help. That proved to be in vain,” Bhartiya says.
Even as recently as in February this year, he wrote to President Pranab Mukherjee for pension. The letter was forwarded to the district magistrate office through the state government and he was asked to approach the official with documents. “I have not been able to meet him,” adds Bhartiya.
His two sons work as newspaper hawkers to earn a living for the seven-member family.