I shall Never Ask for Pardon: A Memoir of Pandurang Khankhoje

Author:   Savitri Sawhney
Publisher:   Penguin
Reviewer:   Ajay Mahurkar
Designation:   

 

Sawhney,  Savitri. I shall Never Ask for Pardon: A Memoir of Pandurang Khankhoje, New Delhi: Penguin, September 2008,  ISBN-13: 978-0143063766, 341 p

The National Movement in India comprised individuals of various hues. The attempt by the imperialist historiography to portray them as self seekers in the institutional openings created by British indeed needs to be critiqued. The biography under review depicts a man who exemplified commitment to the nation and its downtrodden. However this was no sectarian, narrow or chauvinist commitment. Khankhoje made a link between the downtrodden in India and the downtrodden across national boundaries. It was thus a transition from an armed revolutionary to an agricultural scientist of repute in far away Mexico was made. 

Khankhoje was what E.H. Carr has called a ‘romantic exile’. He left the country to explore avenues for training in arms and possibilities of a revolutionary overthrow of the British rule in India. This was at a very young age of 19 and after travelling through Japan, China and several other countries he reached the United States. Working as a labourer and restaurant waiter he studied at the Oregon University to earn a degree in agriculture. It is here that the foundations of the revolutionary Ghadr movement were laid. He depicted himself as a man of action and thus headed the ‘praharak’ (action) wing of the Ghadr movement. The casual way in which Khushwant Singh dismisses his association with Ghadr is not borne out by facts. Harish K. Puri in an article in Social Scientist in 1980 described Khankhoje as the head of the armed militant wing in the revolutionary organization of Ghadr. Similarly, his name comes up in the various accounts of the time. That he had to be low profile was a price he had to pay for organizing armed training and mobilization. Savitri Sawhney in her account tells us that he often disguised himself as a muslim and assumed names such as Pir Khan. She has done a signal service to the scholars of the national movement by bringing out an account based on Khankhoje’s personal papers. We get to know of Khankhoje’s trials and travails as he makes contact with democratic movements in China (where he meets Sun-Yat-Sen), Japan, Persia and Russia. The attempts at armed mobilization were not without danger as Savitri Sawhney tells us of the time when he was shot and wounded and was taken care of by a nomadic Persian tribe. 

Khankhoje turned towards the left revolutionary politics in the 1920s. Along with Virendernath Chattopadhyay, he met Lenin in Moscow in 1921 and submitted a thesis on the Indian question.

A revolutionary cannot be permanently plotting and carrying out armed revolution. Khankhoje in US had acquired degrees in agriculture at a US university. As Sawhney points out the inspiration to work on agriculture had initially come from his meeting with Sun-Yat-Sen. In his meeting with Lenin she tells us that Lenin had asked in detail about caloric and nutritional requirement of the Indian worker. It is these inspirations which fuelled Khankhoje’s research in agriculture when he took asylum in Mexico. His contribution in developing a new variety of corn is well documented in various histories of agriculture. 

Savitri Sawhney’s account is indeed a tribute of a daughter to her father. There is nothing to be apologetic about that. Indeed her sparkling narrative tells us of the happy memories of her childhood and her father. In spite of the stresses and strains of the revolutionary commitment he managed to give that to his family is indeed an achievement.

Ajay Mahurkar, Faculty of History, Indira Gandhi National Open University, New Delhi, Email: <ajaymahurkar@ignou.ac.in>. The review was first published in Author’s blog itihastak in 2008. http://itihastak.blogspot.in/

Publication Date:   Saturday, May 18, 2013
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