The Caravan edits Jawaharlal Nehru’s ‘Tryst With Destiny’ speech

15 August, 2014

Hi JN: Thanks for this great piece of work. It's a good start, and I think we're on our way to a fitting welcome for a new country. I know time is of the essence, given how busy the transfer of power and allied activities must be keeping you, so let me run you quickly through some mild suggestions for tweaks and changes. Let me know what you think! Thanks again.

Long years ago we made a tryst with destiny

JN, are you sure about this phrase, "made a tryst"? I don't think you can "make" a tryst with anything. After all, it's not a synonym for "appointment." "Tryst" means "meeting." Perhaps you mean "pact"? "We made a pact with destiny" makes a lot more sense, I think—of course, even that requires the reader to grant you substantial poetic license, which they might be willing to do given the occasion. Then:

and now the time comes when we shall redeem our pledge, not wholly or in full measure, but very substantially. At the stroke of the midnight hour, when the world sleeps

I'm not sure about this. If it's midnight here, there'll be bright daylight in all of North and South America. Does your poetic license extend quite this far? Imagine the international embarrassment if independent India's prime minister's opening speech contained something so laughable.

India will awake to life and freedom.

Perhaps better to commit to whether you want to visualise India as an unborn baby ("awake to life") or a prisoner ("awake to freedom"). Otherwise this would be like wanting to have your cake and eat it too (an idiom I realise makes little sense in a country where "having cake" also means "eating cake." I digress.) The point is: pick, JN. Is India a prisoner or a baby? Moving ahead:

A moment comes, which comes but rarely in history, when we step out from the old to the new, when an age ends, and when the soul of a nation, long suppressed, finds utterance.

Some serious confusion of general with specific here. If you said "a moment comes every so often in history, when a new nation is born" or similar, that would be fine. Alternatively, you could say "A moment is coming—the sort of moment that comes but rarely—when we will step out from the old to the new" or such, which would be fine too.

It is fitting that at this solemn moment we take the pledge of dedication to the service of India and her people and to the still larger cause of humanity.

At the dawn of history India started on her unending quest, and trackless centuries which are filled with her striving and the grandeur of her success and her failures.

Looks like we're missing the rest of the sentence after the clause which begins… "and trackless centuries which are…" What about these trackless centuries do you want to say? I don't want to pressure you unduly, but someone needs to finish this sentence before midnight of 14 August.

(Actually, the bit after that is confusing too. How are you grouping these ideas? Do you mean "grandeur of her success" and "grandeur of her failures"? Or "grandeur of her success" and "her failures"? If former, fine. If latter, we need a comma after "success" so that the failure clause stands clearly separate.)

Through good and ill fortune alike she has never lost sight of that quest or forgotten the ideals which gave her strength. We end today a period of ill fortune and India discovers herself again.

If that was a book plug, it was subtle, but tacky. Suggest avoiding.

The achievement we celebrate today is but a step, an opening of opportunity, to the greater triumphs and achievements that await us. Are we brave enough and wise enough to grasp this opportunity and accept the challenge of the future?

Freedom and power bring responsibility. The responsibility rests upon this assembly, a sovereign body representing the sovereign people of India. Before the birth of freedom we have endured all the pains of labour

Wait wait. First India was a baby, then India was a prisoner, and now India is the mother giving birth to the baby and enduring labour pains? Suggest picking and sticking to one image through the whole speech, JN. Then, a bit later, you come to:

The appointed day has come—the day appointed by destiny—

Tripping a bit. "The appointed day has come, the day appointed by destiny, appointed, as it were, by the long-reaching arms of destiny" etc etc. Think we can safely lose the second part of this—the clause within the em dash–with literally zero loss of meaning. Then:

and India stands forth again, after long slumber and struggle,

If we were slumbering, how were we struggling? This evokes a peculiar image of a sleeping person tossing about helplessly, muttering to himself about wanting to be free.

Next few grafs are straightforward. No major edits per se. Except that parts of it ("history begins anew for us, the history which we shall live and act and others will write about," "A new star rises," "May the star never set" etc) sound a bit, well, Churchill, don’t you think? Is that advisable under the circumstances? Then:

On this day our first thoughts go to the architect of this freedom, the father of our nation, who, embodying the old spirit of India, held aloft the torch of freedom and lighted up the darkness that surrounded us.

We have often been unworthy followers of his and have strayed from his message, but not only we but succeeding generations will remember this message and bear the imprint in their hearts of this great son of India, magnificent in his faith and strength and courage and humility. We shall never allow that torch of freedom to be blown out, however high the wind or stormy the tempest.

Some might say that this is rather too much space to devote to MKG. I know you're unlikely to budge on this. I just don't want future historians to say years later that you were a fawning child who was kind of infatuated with him. But, your call.

After this, it's mostly smooth to the end: "unknown volunteers and soliders," "brothers and sisters cut off from us by political boundaries," "we have hard work ahead," "the verge of a bold advance" etc, right up to "Jai Hind."

Overall, I think the speech finds some rhythm about halfway in. The beginning, as you can see, is a right mess, with ideas and images clashing, and grammar and syntax scattered all over the place. But it's only 12 August today, so we still have two days. I'm sure you have a lot to do before the night of 14 August, but I'm sure also that you'll agree that this is quite an important task, one you should set aside some time for. This isn't just some rabble-rousing rant, after all; people will be looking for a speech to remember for centuries. We really cannot have independent India's first prime minister greet the nation and world with an ungrammatical phrase such as "we made a tryst with destiny."