Occasionally one hears a story that is not just riveting but also very revealing. If, in addition, it happens to be historically accurate and sheds light on something you are curious about it can prove truly fascinating. I believe I stumbled upon such a story late last week. This morning I’m going to share it with you.
What follows is an eyewitness account of the last hours, hanging, cremation and disposal of ashes of Nathuram Godse and his co-conspirator Narayan Apte. Sadly — but for obvious reasons — I will not reveal the source. Our times are too troubled or, at least, too volatile to take that risk. But what I can state is that the person who saw it all was the person who told me. There was no third party involved. Furthermore, he was at the time part of the District Magistrate’s office at Ambala, where the two men were hanged.
Now in those days it was the duty of the DM and his staff to not only witness the hanging, verify the deaths, cremate the
bodies and dispose of the ashes but also record the last will and wishes of the condemned. This gave my source an invaluable first hand vantage point to witness everything. Even Nehru and Patel would have had to depend on what my source and his colleagues later told them.Godse and Apte were sentenced to death on the 8th of March 1949. Exactly a week later, on the 15th, in the early hours before dawn, they were hanged. It took place inside Ambala Central Jail.
Godse, I’m told, emerged from his cell looking somewhat shaken. In comparison, Apte appeared stronger. As they were taken to the scaffold, Godse, in a weak hesitant voice, called out
‘Akhand Bharat’. Apte completed the slogan with greater spirit and resolve, proclaiming ‘Amar Rahe’. But beyond that both
men were silent. No doubt they had other pressing matters on their mind.
The two were hanged simultaneously. Apte died instantly. Godse’s body seemed to wriggle and writhe for a while.
My source saw all this and was later part of the team of officials that certified both men were dead. As he put it : “It wasn’t easy to see. Witnessing a life being taken can shake you up for days thereafter.”
Godse and Apte were cremated within the hour inside Ambala Central Jail. The DM and his staff were under instructions from Delhi to ensure that the cremation followed immediately. (Later the site was ploughed over so no one could identify it). As soon as it was over the same team of officials took charge of the ashes. In weapon carriers, with a contingent of armed police forprotection, they drove towards the Gaghar River.
As my source tells the story, the convey proceeded in a deliberately haphazard and misleading fashion so as to throw off anyone on their tail. First they headed towards the Ghagar, then away from it, then back to the river. They drove upstream only to reverse and head downwards. Finally, when they were confident no one was following, they stopped and the ashes were hastily immersed.
“To be honest”, my source added, “I don’t think any of us could have found the place again. We had driven around in such a deliberately confusing fashion no one could be sure where we were or how we got there.”
Three things emerge from this eyewitness account. The hanging was swift (though in Godse’s case less than clinical) and was promptly followed by the cremation and disposal of ashes. This was done with precision and in a carefully calculated way to ensure no one could identify the location and thereafter build memorials. Third, for what it counts, Apte met his death with somewhat greater fortitude than Godse.
In the west my source could have sold this story for a small fortune. The tabloids — and, no doubt, television — would have competed for exclusive rights.
In India it remained buried in his memory for almost sixty years till one day, by accidental good fortune, I happened to
excavate it. And now, although I’m sharing it with you, it’s only after deliberately hiding all names and identities that I do so. However, in the west — even after six decades — it would be an acclaimed first person account and no one would see theneed to protect the source’s name. That’s the fourth point which emerges from this story. I believe it’s possibly the most important.