His love for books is legendary like him. As per some estimates, he read nearly 50 books during his schooling (1913-21), about 200 from his college days to the day of his arrest in 1921, and, approximately 300 during his imprisonment of 716 days from April 8, 1929, to March 23, 1931. He was exactly 23 years, five months and 25 days old at the time of his execution, and had by then had studied hundred of books — a record of sorts.
Throwing some light on Bhagat Singh's thirst for books, a well- known librarian of Dwarka Das Library (Lahore, now in Chandigarh) Raja Ram Shastri, once told Shiv Verma, "Bhagat Singh literally used to devour books. He would read books, makes notes, discuss with his friends and critically examine his own understanding in the light of new knowledge, rectifying the mistakes that came to be discovered."
Bhagat Singh always moved with a small portable library. According to his nephew, Prof Jagmohan Singh, "Bhagat Singh established a library of 175 books by around 70 authors at Agra where the Assembly bomb plan was finalized.
Bhagat Singh's collection of books, the heritage of our great freedom struggle that was confiscated and used as evidence to award him capital punishment, is still lying in a state of neglect in a lower trial court of Lahore."
His love for books endured till the very end. Pran Mehta, Bhagat Singh's lawyer was allowed to meet him on March 23, 1931, just a few hours before the hanging. Bhagat Singh was then pacing up and down in the condemned-cell like a lion in a cage. He welcomed Mehta with a broad smile and asked him whether he had brought him Vladimir Lenin's book, "State and Revolution". As soon as he was handed the book, Bhagat Singh began reading it as if he was conscious that he did not have much time left. Soon after Mehta's departure, Bhagat Singh was told that the time of hanging had been advanced by 11 hours. By then, he had finished only a few pages of the book.
Manmathnath Gupta, a close associate of Bhagat Singh, writes about those moments, "When called upon to mount the scaffold, Bhagat Singh was reading a book by Lenin or on Lenin, he continued his reading and said, 'Wait a while. A revolutionary is talking to another revolutionary.' There was something in his voice which made the executioners pause. Bhagat Singh continued to read. After a few moments, he flung the book towards ceiling and said, "Let us go."
(M M Juneja is a former head of the history department at Chhaju Ram Memorial Jat P G College, Hisar. He has written 16 books, including two on Bhagat Singh)