‘Pick up the phone please..pick up..somebody pick up!’ Sailen Chatterjee looked at the dial on his watch. 5.30 pm. He was sweating profusely. His being was shaken by his heart’s thump. The hand that held the reciever shaking. Friday evening was peak hour at his Delhi office. But somebody must pick up. Finally a voice at the other end spoke ‘Associated Press…’
He screamed ‘Sailen here. Get me Boss. Now!’. This time the new voice came immediate. Sailen blurted what he had to tell. As the phone was pulled off from him, he managed to finish off with his last five words. The seasoned editor of Associated Press, listening in on the other end, just had those five words.
But it was enough. For now. And also the first.
Bob Stimpson was the one who yanked the phone from Sailen. He couldn’t help it. It was the only phone in the compound and he had to call his local bureau office to relay the emergency telex. Bob had come in the afternoon to submit a set of questions as part of a scheduled program for the BBC. For some reason he hung on. And now the only thing that mattered was to get this message to London.
Vincent Shean, standing 10 feet behind Bob was still in a daze. Shean had reported extensively in WW2. He had seen the horrors of violence – up, close. He had come to India with a purpose. To find some true meaning and solace amidst the violence and bloodshed. After a long trip to Amristar, he had to come to Birla house in the evening where he met Bob. Shean heard it and called it first. And then zoned out. He was just recovering as he saw the paled out figure of Bob walking back towards him.
Both their eyes now fell on the tall, well built American man who was sitting in a hunch with his head bowed low. Herbert Tom Reiner Jr was the new Vice Consul of the American Embassy. Reiner had written to his parents a day earlier that he was excited to get his first experience of the evening at Birla house. He had come in early and was waiting. As it was just getting set, he heard some sharp voices above the din. And then the sound of three dull explosions. Followed by a few moments of daze and silence. Reiner then saw the stocky man in khakhi dress with a gun in hand. He rushed towards him, yanked the gun out and pinned his neck and shoulders back with the help of some officers of the Indian Air force. They held him tight until the police got hold of the man firmly.
Robert Turnbull of New York Times was standing a few feet away from Reiner when this unfolded. Now, he had his arm wrapped around the young man. Robert’s started thinking of the story that will take the entire front page the next morning. Herbert Reiner Jr’s act would also got prominence.
Few yards away, standing alone with his equipment and tears finally streaming from his eyes was K.D.Madan from All India Radio.He was a regular to Birla house every evening. Recording and broadcasting the speeches for the 8.30 pm program.
For the next sixty two years, it would be this one moment Madan would be asked about the most. Until he decided to speak no more. KD Madan continues to be the only living member from those who were present that evening on Jan 30th, 1948 at the Birla House.
Those five words?
‘Gandhi Shot. Worst is Feared’
On that fateful evening when humanity succumbed – a lot more happened then what’s remembered most often. Every character who was present at that moment was desitined to be there. I just mentioned a few of them.
History is always told and believed from one perspective. I’ve held the beleief that once in a while, it is important to shift the gaze. Get a different angle. And see it from a different lens.
Herbert Reniner Jr story in detail could be read here
The Last Glimpses of Bapu written by Manubehn Gandhi who was one of the ladies holding Gandhiji on his final walk to the prayer meeting.
Vincent Shean detailed account can be read here
Shri MK Madan remained steadfast in his silence on the happenings of that evening.
The full blown wiki on the happenings of Jan 30th, 1948