For someone who contributed as much as he did to the freedom struggle, it’s quite disheartening that Bhagat Singh has been relegated to a footnote in the official history of independent India. Thankfully, that’s been changing over the last few years.
In 2013, the BJP leapt at the chance to claim the martyr’s legacy by agreeing to release his prison diary in the form of a book, and we were given an insight to his revolutionary’s thoughts. And one of the things we found out was that Bhagat Singh really, really liked to read. The man was a prolific reader and was well-versed with a spectrum of genres and authors.
These are just a few of the books mentioned in The Jail Notebook and Other Writings by Bhagat Singh.
Iron Heel, Jack London
Widely considered the first modern dystopian novel, Jack London’s Iron Heel is set in the San Francisco Bay Area. A first-person narrative from the point-of-view of the female protagonist, Avis Everhard, it tells of the rise of an oligarchy (Iron Heel) in the United States between 1912 and 1932. The introduction of the book tells us that Everhard, who becomes politically involved, is doomed to die, but it hints at the possibility of her living on in the memory of the people as a hero. Sounds familiar, doesn’t it?
Emile, Jean-Jacques Rousseau
A treatise on the nature of education and on the nature of man, and one of Rousseau’s most important works, a section of this book caused a huge scandal when it was first published. Copies of the book were burnt in public across Paris in 1762, the year of its publication. Yet today Emile is regarded as the first complete philosophy of education in Western culture. Using the device of Emile and his tutor, Rousseau philosophises on how one might educate a child so as to retain his or her innate goodness while he/she remains part of (what he considered to be) a corrupting society.
Crime and Punishment, Fyodor Dostoevsky
The epic novel follows the moral dilemma of Rodion Raskolnikov, who kills a criminally-inclined pawnbroker for her money. However, Raskolnikov spends the entire novel trying to defend this act (and other questionable decisions made over the course of the book) by stating that it would be possible to use this stolen cash to perform good deeds for the benefit of society, thereby balancing his karma. But the central theme of the novel is one that seems to have resonated with Bhagat Singh – that murder is acceptable if it’s committed in the name of a higher cause.
The Rights of Man, Thomas Paine
Paine was a vocal supporter of the French Revolution of 1789 and this book, which comprises 31 of his articles, postulates that a people-led political revolution is permissible when the government doesn’t have its citizens’ best interests in mind. Upon its release in 1791, the 90,000-word book sold a million copies and was devoured by the working class of England before finally making its way into the hands of Singh, who would go on to be greatly influenced by Paine’s ideas.
State and Revolution, Vladimir Lenin
One of the greatest books on political theory to ever be released, State and Revolution is perhaps Lenin’s most important work. Here’s something we have to admit, though – Singh never actually got to read this book. On March 23, 1931, Singh met with his lawyer, Pran Mehta, while he was in jail awaiting his execution. He had asked Mehta to bring him a copy of State and Revolution. Knowing full well that he only had a few hours left to live, Singh began devouring the book as fast as he could. Unbeknownst to him, however, the authorities had advanced his execution by 11 hours. Even as he stood on the scaffolding of the executioner’s noose, it is claimed that he continued to read and said: “Wait a while. A revolutionary is talking to another revolutionary.” After a few more moments of feverish reading, he threw the book up into the air and said, “Let’s go.” What an inspiring man!
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Cover Image Courtesy: Wikipedia Commons; Social Media Cover Image: The Legend of Bhagat Singh (2002)