News East West
NEW DELHI: On the night of August 14, 1947, a group of Indian Boy Scouts was in France when the news reached them that their motherland has become independent.
Among them was a 15-year-old boy named Jasdev Singh from Jaipur who was to later become India’s most famous commentator.
“We were living in tents at the village of Moisson, about 80 miles form Paris, when we got this news on August 14, 1947, that India is becoming free tonight. There were 170-odd boys in the jamboree. On the night of August 14, I kept thinking what freedom means…I slept very little that night,’’ recalls 85-year-old Jasdev Singh who is based in New Delhi.
“The next morning when we got up, India was a free nation. The Indian high commission from London sent us the Indian flag and sweets. Some local people also joined us. We were overjoyed as we started celebrations at nine in the morning on Aug 15 in France,” reminisces Jasdev Singh.
But sudden they found that they had a big problem.
All the boys had set out on this world jamboree as Indians in June 1947. But now some of them had become Pakistanis because they came Lahore, Karachi and other places.
“We unfurled the Indian flag sent to us from London. But we had no Pakistani flag. So we got a green turban and turned it into a Pakistani flag and unfurled it. The Indian flag was very huge compared to the Pakistani flag that we had created out of a turban,’’ he says, laughing.
The Boy Scouts faced yet another problem.
“As Indians we sang the Jan Gan Man (though it was yet India’s National Anthem) as our national anthem. But Pakistan had no national anthem at that time. So we all sang Saare Jahan Se Accha Hindustan Hamara after raising the flags of India and Pakistan,’’ he recounts.
He smiles at recollecting how their leader G.J.J. Thaddeus (a stern Christian from Kerala) frowned when the boys who were now Pakistanis wanted to go straight to their places like Lahore and Karachi.
“He told them: You came as Indians, and you will return to India as Indians first, and I will ensure that you are escorted from Mumbai to your places in Pakistan. After a 16-day journey when our ship anchored in Mumbai, we said goodbye to our friends who were now Pakistanis. They were escorted to their places in Pakistan.’’
According to Jasdev Singh, who as commentator covered nine Olympics, eight hockey World Cups, and numerous Independence and Republic Days and became the first Asian broadcaster to win the prestigious Olympic Order in 1998, their Boy Scout Jamboree was only for ten days.
“We were among 6,000 scouts from all over the world who were invited by King George VI and Queen Elizabeth to London. We met the King on July 27, 1947. Our journey to London took 24 days, and but the return journey was only for 16 days. My parents gave me Rs 700 and the Maharaja of Jaipur had paid all my expenses,’’ he recalls.
India’s first Independence Day has a very special place in his heart and mind, says Jasdev Singh who was decorated with the Padma Shri and the Padma Bhushan for his services to broadcasting.