At Freedom's Door - A Ride Across Northern India in the Winter of 1946-47 on the Eve of Partition
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Countless books are written, yet few weather the passing of time save those which contain an enduring message. This is one such rare example in that it describes the timeless equestrian journey of a wise man in search of racial and religious harmony. On the surface Sir Malcolm Lyall Darling (1880-1969) would appear to have been another political tool of the powerful British Raj which ruled the Indian subcontinent with an iron hand. Nonetheless, though he was an exceptional Indian Civil Service officer, Darling had been raised in an intellectual family of English free thinkers. His education at Eton further undermined any dogmatic religious convictions, instilling instead a curiosity about comparative cultures and a belief that the Church of England did not hold a monopoly on truth. Thus, while the majority of his colleagues despised the Indian culture they were sent to rule, Darling sought to enhance his natural sympathy for the people. Such unorthodox views caused him to be socially ostracized, especially after he condemned a notorious massacre of Indian civilians by an imperialist British general. Yet it was thanks to Darling's skill as an expert on rural Indian society that the multi-lingual humanist was reluctantly tolerated by the English political class. In the winter of 1946-47, with the British set to partition the subcontinent into the separate nations of India and Pakistan, the cultural insurgent set off on a dramatic 1,400 mile ride to interview the people about to undergo this traumatic political upheaval. The result of his journey is the marvelous book, At Freedom's Door. Thanks to his tolerance and insight, Darling was able to describe far more than the dusty plains, great rivers and mighty mountains which the average traveller would have noted. Instead Rajput and Sikhs confided in him, while Muslims and Hindus provided him with shelter and secrets. Using his horse as the key to each village, Darling noted the size of the fields, as well as the fear of the future. For here was an India, still smiling, but eager for freedom. For five months he travelled, all the time being aware that his equestrian journey was akin to that of Arthur Young, who rode across France on the eve of that country's revolution. Unlike that journey, Darling's ride ended peacefully at the door of Mahatma Gandhi, where the noted sage reinforced what the Englishman had learned along the way: blood is the harvest of all wars and there is an eternal need to esteem humanity above all races, ranks and religions. Many years later people find themselves again afraid, caught up in events they don't understand. At such a moment, Darling's ride, and his eternal message, reassures us that all mankind comes from the same light and some journeys will never be forgotten.