May 21, 2019

Ode to the autobiography of Martyr Ram Prasad Bismil

book review of English Translation of the Autobiography - Memoirs of a Martyr

Author – Ram Prasad Bismil
English Translation – Saket Suryesh ( @saket71)
Digital Version available on Amazon
Price: Rs. 50

The Ode

The name of Ram Prasad Bismil rang a distant bell in my school days’ memory- School history books had disposed the name with Kakori train Robbery, and Three Martyrs Hung – Ram Prasad Bismil, Ashfaqullah and Roshan Lal – yes this is all I knew of this brave Martyr.
A chance tweet about the book available on Amazon got me interested and reading the book has been one of the most intense experiences of late.

A famous saying Goes something in the vein of ‘memorials of martyrs never have mourning but festivals and fairs every year’ but tragically Many heroic Martyrs have been assigned to the Dungeons of history and’ Memoirs of a martyr ‘ is a brave attempt to bring the autobiography into its rightful place in the sun.

My Ode to the autobiography will start from the footnote of revolutionary Shiv Verma, who went to meet the mother of the martyr in Shahjahanpur on 23feb 1946, when Nehru was charting the course for his PM ship and the country for its ‘midnight tryst with destiny’
To quote ‘on one hand loud slogans of “Bismil Zindabad” and construction of Bismil gate just to catch some votes in the elections; on the other you cannot bear the burden of even the shadow of a martyr’s Family’ ….’On one side, donations of thousands of rupees in the name of Martrys, on the other, the death of a martyr’s sibling for the want of food and medicine! Is this what we call respecting the memory of the Martyrs?”

The autobiography is powerful and honest-it offers no respite to the reader,especially those fed on the water and milk writings like Discovery of India .

How can the memoir offer respite?- It was written in the death cell of Gorakhpur Jail- in the words of Bismil ‘this cell is worse than a bird’s cage, there is no shadow around. Since morning eight till eight in the evening the solitary cell smoulders in the sun.Nights are full of mosquitoes. I have to stay content with couple of hours sleep’

It is in this cell Bismil wrote his Autobiography and his evaluation of the freedom struggle and his revolution and Kakori train robbery.

The last words – The Final chapter he wrote on 17 Dec. 1927 – is his voice calling to Indians of today. He describes the Kakori robbery fallout, reasons for his actions, His disappointments, his message to youth to educate India, especially the villages before embarking on revolution. Even on death row, Bismil was proud that via his mercy petitions and trials he had proven the British government as an unfair one. Another startling point which was a victory for Bismil was- at a time when British were fuelling Hindu-Muslim divide. They were forced to declare Ashfaqullah as Ram Prasad Bismil’s right hand man- a Muslim was the right hand man of an Arya samaji!!

The memoirs deal with his early life- the grinding poverty which marked the lot of his family like majority of Indians. It throws a very deep light on the social and economic life of that period. From poverty, his family became stable via efforts and hard work. It throws light on how he had got spoilt as a young boy and how education, visiting temples and becoming an Arya Samaji changed him. Bismil speaks of the efforts to educate himself, the efforts of his mother to educate herself too. Bismil shows us the real history of the era- and the contribution of Arya Samaj in shaping the revolution. Of special  interest is his chapter on his Teacher Guru Somdev, and of Somdev’s deep brotherly relationship with the elder brother of Maulana Abul Kalam, a facet which I had never come across before.

Bismil describes in detail the prevailing political situations. The popularity of ‘Mahatma Tilak’ and the event where the congress president feared the popularity of Bal Gangadhar Tilak and hence planned his attending a congress meet without a procession,and how the youngsters foiled the plan and bought him to the venue in a procession are anecdotes that no history book teach.

The chapters dealing with Nationalism and Revolutionary life are heart rending. The revolutionaries had no access to funds, structured organisation, training, weapons – the funds were generated by asking family, publishing books and articles, doing odd jobs. People could not be trusted. Bismil writes about the struggle to procure weapons and the instances they were cheated by sellers, the challenge to set up networks, hiding weapons, treacherous partners and always the danger of being caught. He describes the grinding poverty and the lack of a national leadership to bind the revolutionaries. He describes the times when his family sold off everything and they nearly starved, how he build and rebuild networks, started a business just to fund the revolution. It is a miracle how Bismil schooled himself, build a revolutionary network, carried out the Kakori Train robbery with no help but his own endeavour. It is heart wrenching to read of the poverty, the gloom, the fear and the utter loneliness of these revolutionaries and the price paid by their families.

But the revolutions were important. Bismil describes a society which was left soul dead by failure of non co-operation, how youth were stunned into defeat. How the Idea of a Revolution stirred them to life.

The book also shows how society was hungry for education, how dharma inspired the revolutionaries, the youth identified the evils in society and sought to eradicate them and this knowledge came not from British education but their own religious books and Arya Samaj’s teachings and their own thought process.

The review of the Translation by Saket Suryesh :–

The translation is a loving work of labour with about 2200 + pages of the Autobiography having to be translated.

It is very readable. Saket has given his interpretations where required in brackets to make it easy for the reader. Where ever he has omitted anything he has explained the rationale.
The preface written by Saket explains the essence of the memoir. Saket has interred the Autobiography and the preface is a beautiful expression of his total empathy with Ram Prasad Bismil. In fact, the preface can be treated as an in-depth review of the autobiography.


Though reviews do not come with a conclusion but I would like to take this liberty. Saket has translated a magnificent work – an honest autobiography by one of the greatest men India has produced. The memoirs are Ram Prasad Bismil’s voice speaking to us through the mist of nearly a century. He deserves to be heard. Every school should teach his Abridged Autobiography, with critical analysis of his last words.

Every Indian should at least read this Memoir once- maybe a page a day, maybe a chapter on Independence day. Time to bring out our Martrys from the dungeons of History into their rightful place in the sun.


Picture Credit: Screenshot from Twitter


About Nidhi Bahuguna 36 Articles
Housewife, nationalist , loves reading and counter media lies with proof.
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