Sunday, January 18, 2009

A tryst with destiny

As we all get ready for Jan 20th, the big literary question around the inauguration is: What will Barack Obama say? As Jon Favreau and team write up the speech that will likely be etched into history, they will have a lot of sources for inspiration. And given their track record through the campaign, I am looking forward to a memorable speech that will put an exclamation mark on a history making event.

As speculation about the content and tone of the speech reaches fever pitch, it appears that every Western speech worth its name has been unearthed and analyzed to death. But the speech I most recognize as an emphatic historical marker is not often talked about. To me, and probably to most Indians alive, that historical landmark is the speech delivered by independent India's first Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru at midnight on the 14-15th of August 1947, on the eve of India's independence from the British.

So on the eve of another great moment of our times, here is remembering that great orator, Nehru. Here is 'A tryst with destiny' -

Long years ago we made a tryst with destiny, and now the time comes when we shall redeem our pledge, not wholly or in full measure, but very substantially. At the stroke of the midnight hour, when the world sleeps, India will awake to life and freedom. A moment comes, which comes but rarely in history, when we step out from the old to the new, when an age ends, and when the soul of a nation, long suppressed, finds utterance. It is fitting that at this solemn moment we take the pledge of dedication to the service of India and her people and to the still larger cause of humanity.

At the dawn of history India started on her unending quest, and trackless centuries are filled with her striving and the grandeur of her success and her failures. Through good and ill fortune alike she has never lost sight of that quest or forgotten the ideals which gave her strength. We end today a period of ill fortune and India discovers herself again. The achievement we celebrate today is but a step, an opening of opportunity, to the greater triumphs and achievements that await us. Are we brave enough and wise enough to grasp this opportunity and accept the challenge of the future?

That future is not one of ease or resting but of incessant striving so that we may fulfil the pledges we have so often taken and the one we shall take today. The service of India means the service of the millions who suffer. It means the ending of poverty and ignorance and disease and inequality of opportunity. The ambition of the greatest man of our generation has been to wipe every tear from every eye. That may be beyond us, but as long as there are tears and suffering, so long our work will not be over.

And so we have to labour and to work, and work hard, to give reality to our dreams. Those dreams are for India, but they are also for the world, for all the nations and peoples are too closely knit together today for any one of them to imagine that it can live apart Peace has been said to be indivisible; so is freedom, so is prosperity now, and so also is disaster in this One World that can no longer be split into isolated fragments.

We have to build the noble mansion of free India where all her children may dwell. The appointed day has come-the day appointed by destiny-and India stands forth again, after long slumber and struggle, awake, vital, free and independent. The past clings on to us still in some measure and we have to do much before we redeem the pledges we have so often taken. Yet the turning-point is past, and history begins anew for us, the history which we shall live and act and others will write about.

It is a fateful moment for us in India, A new star rises, the star of freedom in the East, a new hope comes into being, a vision long cherished materializes. May the star never set and that hope never be betrayed! We rejoice in that freedom,

The future beckons to us. Whither do we go and what shall be our endeavour? To bring freedom and opportunity to the common man, to the peasants and workers of India; to fight and end poverty and ignorance and disease; to build up a prosperous, democratic and progressive nation, and to create social, economic and political institutions which will ensure justice and fullness of life to every man and woman.

We have hard work ahead. There is no resting for any one of us till we redeem our pledge in full, till we make all the people of India what destiny intended them to be. We are citizens of a great country on the verge of bold advance, and we have to live up to that high standard. All of us, to whatever religion we may belong, are equally the children of India with equal rights, privileges and obligations. We cannot encourage communalism or narrow-mindedness, for no nation can be great whose people are narrow in thought or in action.

To the nations and peoples of the world we send greetings and pledge ourselves to cooperate with them in furthering peace, freedom and democracy. And to India, our much-loved motherland, the ancient, the eternal and the ever-new, we pay our reverent homage and we bind ourselves afresh to her service. Jai Hind.


  1. I had never heard/read this entire speach though I have heard parts of it earlier.

    Also made me think- did Nehru give his speech in English on the night of independence? As opposed to Hindi.

  2. To Ashley: He gave it in English.

    This, in part, was probably a political calculation as, like the US, India is a federation, where no one region is supposed to dominate. At the time of independence, the use of Hindi over say Tamil, Punjabi, Marathi, Bengali, etc. could have led to extreme chagrin suggesting that Nehru ws partial to a particular region,

    Other reasons may have been that it was just as much a message to the rest of the world as to Indians, and besides, Nehru was more comfortable in English.

  3. Another speech that is quite famous in India, particularly for its first sentence, is Vivekananda's address to the World's Parliament of Religions, Chicago 11th September, 1893. It began with the words, "Sisters and Brothers of America,"

    You can read the speech here: