I was 12 years old at the time of Partition, living in Bombay where the earlier secular environment began to be polluted by aggressively assertive hordes of Gandhi-capped, lathi-wielding youths parading in the streets, shouting slogans of proud Hindu nationalism. What should have been a time of celebration when the British flag came down, turned to a time of trouble: at the centre of the new tricolour that went up was Ashoka’s chakra, which, being associated with the (originally) Hindu Emperor Ashoka who had ruled some 200 years before the Christian era, symbolically consigned such other empires as the Mughal and the British into a national amnesia.
We were now invited to be proud of our real heritage. The pollution worsened, the air filled with cries of Bharat mata ki jai (long live Mother India). For me, Independence was a loss of freedom, a trauma so severe that much of my writing, even to this day 70 years later, has the subtext of exile, the pain of being cast out of Paradise.
What that early experience of personal loss revealed to my mind was that religions, which lured followers with such fantasies as salvation or an eternal afterlife or reincarnation, were despotic tyrannies that preferred the populace to march in step as an unthinking stupid mass. For them, the intellectual individual was a threat and was to be ostracised by being branded with a scarlet letter that showed him to the world to be a heretic or an atheist or a blasphemer.