Bhagat Singh: Food Vignettes From The Martyr’s Life
Image Credit: Punjab State Archives, via Wikimedia Commons. Bhagat Singh during his first prison stint in 1927.

IN 1929, Bhagat Singh went on an indefinite hunger strike, demanding better conditions in jail for his fellow Indian prisoners. The strike would last well over a hundred days. And while this feat entered the annals of history, along with his other revolutionary acts, there are a few food related anecdotes from the martyr’s life that also make for compelling glimpses into his persona.

For instance, it is reported that during his incarceration at the Lahore Jail, Bhagat Singh asked a Muslim sweeper named Bebe to prepare his last meal, ahead of his execution in March 1931. Bebe promised that she would bring him home-cooked food. However, the evening of his execution — along with Rajguru and Sukhdev — witnessed such crowds in the jail precincts, that Bebe was unable to enter and deliver the food Bhagat Singh had requested, in the resulting melee. 

Another story, recounted by Aparna Vaidik in ‘Waiting for Swaraj: Inner Lives of Indian Revolutionaries’ notes how Bhagat Singh may have prevailed on Chandrashekhar Azad to include eggs in his diet. Vaidik writes that Azad had grown up in an impoverished household where Brahminical edicts were strictly observed. When Azad moved to Bombay, he struggled to cook his own food, and finally resigned himself to eating in hotels, albeit remaining vegetarian. However, Vaidik also writes in her book of an occasion when: 

…Azad’s associate Bhagwandass Mahour was puzzled to find him eating eggs and asked him: “Panditji yaha kya?” (What is this Panditji?). Azad replied: “Ande mein koi harz nahi hai. Vaigyanikon ne ise fal jaisa bataya hai” (There is no problem with eating eggs. Scientists have likened it to a fruit).

Mahour knew that “egg is like a fruit” was Bhagat Singh’s argument. Mahour reparteed that if an egg was a fruit then a hen could be nothing less than a tree. Bhagat who was present at the time burst out laughing and commended Mahour on his wit.

When Bhagat Singh was hiding out from the police in Agra, a favoured post-dinner treat was a “kulhar of milk, with a layer of rabri on it”, procured at the neighbourhood milk shop after dark. Dinner itself was simple fare: dal and a sabzi, although Singh’s comrades — whose faces were not yet known to the authorities — would occasionally procure mutton from the local butcher and prepare that as well.

In Delhi, Bhagat Singh and other revolutionaries found a hideout above a halwai’s shop. Here too it was the comrades’ practice to have a glass of milk at night. In fact, a Delhi historian writes of a meeting between Singh and another revolutionary, Sarin Bhai, in Chandni Chowk’s Parantha Galli, when the former had stepped out for his nightly beverage. The meeting would have a profound effect on Sarin, who recognised Singh despite his disguise. He promised he would not rest until India was rid of the British, and courted arrest himself at a later date, in this quest.