Gandhi: Light That Represented The Living Truth

November 3, 2010 at 9:15 PMNov (Cinema, Letter, Media, Music, Poetry)

Flowers, money and tributes came, but there was nothing but agony in his heart. Many of his friends, then, wished him a life of 125 years. But he had lost all desire to live long, let alone 125 years…

Gandhiji wrote in a letter on that day (02 October 1947): And if I had the imperitence openly to declare my wish to live 125 years, I must have the humility, under changed circumstances, openly to shed that wish. I have done no more, no less. This has not been done in a spirit of depression. The more apt term perhaps, is helplessness. In that state I invoke the aid of all embracing Power to take me away from this ‘vale of tears’ rather than make me a helpless witness of the butchery by man become savage, whether he dares to call himself a Mussalman or Hindu or what not.”

One day, while walking, Gandhiji stumbled; his toe was cut and started bleeding. He told Kasturba who was with him, to go and get some cloth and oil, and bandage the toe. Kasturba said, “You claim that you are not afraid of death, or suffering. SO why are you so alarmed with a small bleeding?” Gandhiji said, seriously, “Ba, this body belongs to the people. My carelessness should not result in an injured toe making me incapable of working for seven or eight days. Would it not be a loss for the people? Should we not respect the trust of the people in us?”

Gandhi the man who saw his body as an instrument of service, on his last birthday was wishing for an early death looking at the communal violence that surrounded him. He was constantly trying to combat the communal violence.

Few months prior to his last birthday he spent a month and a half in Noukhali and there one morning during the prayer Gandhi asked the congregation to sing in refrain with a little change. The first time it was “Vaishnav janato tenay kahiyay..” after singing one verse the refrain was sung as “Christian janato”, the next time it became “Paarsi jan-,” and again “Sikh jana,” and “Muslim jana.” And when his march commenced from Noukhali he walked barefoot and with his one arm on Manu’s shoulder and a stick in the other hand, he is said to have sung Tagore’s song “Ekla Chalo Re…”

Yes Baapu walked all alone, though there were plenty with him. Even when India got its freedom and when the famous “tryst with destiny” speech was made Gandhi was at Beliaghata, in the then Calcutta which was buring with communal violence. There he appealed for peace on August 14 and asked people to observe the Independence Day with fasting and prayers. His presence brought peace in the city. “Gandhiji has achieved many things, but there has been nothing, not even independence, which is so truly wonderful as his victory over evil in Calucutta,” exclaimed Rajaji. And Lord Mountbatten wrote to Gandhi saying, “In the Punjab we have 55,000 soldiers and large scale rioting on our hands. In Bengal our forces consist of one man and there is no rioting. As a serving officer, as well as an administrator, may I be allowed to pay my tribute to the one man boundary force.” Yes Baapu was alone… one of the lines in Tagore’s song reads, “O tui rakta maakha charan taley ekla dalo re…..” meaning “Oh unfortunate one tread upon the thorns of the way alone, with your blood-smeared feet.” And he walked all alone with his blood –smeared feet.

From Calcutta he came to Delhi on his way to Punjab. On one day at Delhi some fundamentalist attacked his prayer meeting and asked why he was not opposing, questioning and fasting against the Hindu victims in Pakistan. It appears like a valid question. But what Gandhi answered to them, is important and gives an insight into his philosophy and politics. He said “if given a chance I would like to go to Pakistan and conduct prayer meetings there and question the people as to why so much of violence was being inflicted on Hindu minorities in Pakistan. But how will I show my face to them when I have failed in ensuring the security of Muslims in India?”

On a personal note, of all his politics, what I like the most about Baapu is that he argues against himself to find a higher truth. In the sixth chapter of Hind Swaraj (Incidentally this is the 100th year of Hind Swaraj) writing about Civilization Ganhid writes, “We rarely find people arguing against themselves,” which is true. And one of the most remarkable things about Gandhi was his arguments against himself. If one is to look at the text of Hind Swaraj, it is in the format of a conversation between an editor and reader. My good friend Pattabhi says that it is not an editor and reader but Gandhi and Gandhi. Pattabhi looks at Hind Swaraj as an argument of Gandhi with himself a conversation with the self and a debate with the self.

Once a calf in Gandhi’s ashram had a serious injury and was suffering because of the injury. Gandhi after trying all sort of medications finally passes an order to kill the calf. The disciples of Gandhi protest yet Gandhi stands his ground and the calf is killed. Then a meeting is called by the disciples of Gandhi in the ashram of Gandhi to where Gandhi is put on trail and questioned “How could you who pearch ahimsa and non-violence get down to killing an inncoent calf?” Gandhi says “I couldnt see it suffer so i had to kill it.” The disciples take the argument further and ask “So if a man is suffering will you kill him too?” to which Gandhi says “Man can atleast voice his suffering but the calf couldnt even voice its suffering. It was suffering silently,” and the meeting comes to an end. But Gandhi’s argument within himself doesn’t come to an end with the end of the meeting. The argument extends itself to Young India where he write about the incident under the title “Test of Fire.” This incident again is a mirror to the fact that he argued with himself.

This act of writing and thus unveiling the self before the public was also a political act of Baapu who believed that personal is politics. He also wrote about Kasturba visiting, without his knowledge, to the Jagganath temple where Harijans were not allowed.

The incident of mercy killing also reflects the certain amount of violence within the non-violence of Gandhi. His act of asking a Harijan of Bolagar in Orissa to quit meat eating also has some amount of violence in it, looking through my eyes. G.A. Natesan, a journalist publisher friend of Gandhi once referred to Gandhi as a cruel husband looking at Kasturba. This again is a reflection of the “costliness”, to use my friend Sudipto’s language, of Gandhi’s attempt to negotiate with the poor. Gandhi’s relationship with his son Harilal is also a reflection of the violence within his non-violence. The incident at Katni railway station where Harilal was trying to overpower the slogan “Mahatma Gandhi ki jai,” of the crowd, all alone with his slogan “Kasturba ki hai,” is a heart quenching image of the violence of Gandhi.

There was another side to Gandhi too, i.e. the light hearted face of Gandhi with a great sense of humour. In 1927 Gandhi was in Shimogga and Jog was near by. One Kalelkar proposed to Gandhi, “let us visit Jog,” to which Gandhi replied saying “I cannot do anything for the sake of enjoyment. You may go.” Kalelkar tried to persuade Gandhi by saying, “It is one of the wonders of the world and taller than Niagara Falls. Here water falls from 960 feet.” To this Gandhi relies with a question, which reflects his sense of humour. He asked, “From what height does rain water fall? I have seen rain drops fall.”

When Gandhi returned from South Africa he was invited by Tagore to Shanthi NIketan and decorated a room for Gandhi to stay. Looking at the decorated room Gandhi exclaimed “It looks like you have prepared a honeymoon home for me.” Tagore: “Bapuji, remember you are in the hands of a poet now.” Gandhi: “Alright. Then let me have a look at the bride.” Tagore: “You are being welcomed by Shanthi Niketan, the eternal maiden.” Gandhi: “The bride is an eternal maid, but I am a toothless old man. Will she deign to loo at me? How will love awaken in her?” Tagore: “Shanthi Niketan devi is a devotee of truth. She loves truth. She has a large heart.” Gandhi: “So you say this old man may yet hope to marry?”

It is the same Tagore who gave the title of Mahatma to Gandhi. He also referred to him as “living truth,” and compared him to Buddha, an icon of peace and love. Romain Rolland in his tryst with Madeline (who later came to be known as Mirabehn) makes a mention about Gandhi and when Madeline asks who Gandhi was Romain Rolland says, “You haven’t heard of him? He is another Christ.”

Later Bob Dylan in his song They Killed Him also compared Baapu to Christ. The song goes like this:

My God, they killed him
There was a man named Mahatma Gandhi
He would not bow down he would not fight
He knew the deal was down and dirty
And nothing wrong could make it right away
But he knew his duty and the prize he had to pay
Just another holy man who tried to be a friend
My God, they killed him!
There was a man named Mahatma Gandhi
A man named Martin Luther King
The only Son of God Almighty
The only one called Jesus Christ
On the road to glory where the story never ends
Just the holy Son of Man we’ll never understand
My God, they killed him!

Yes, they killed him. 30 Januray 1948. Friend Feroze Abbas Khan (who made the film Gandhi My Father) said that people who were elder to Gandhi also cried, that day, saying “mera baapu mar gaya.” Giving this piece of information Feroze Bhai said “Gandhi had transcended his age. People elder to him also felt that they had lost their father.

That night in the Birla house no food was prepared. Everybody was stricken with sorrow and shock. The goat that supplied milk for Gandhi’s diet, that night, wandered into the kitchen and ate up all the dough that was there, uncared for. The goat died later that night. It was as if the goat gave up its life, since there would be no need for its milk anymore. Yes they killed him and the goat too…

The sacrificial lamb brought for the festival,
Ate up the green leaf brought for the decorations.
Not knowing a thing about the kill,
It wants only to fill its belly:
Born that day, to die that day.
But tell me:
Did the killers survive?
Oh Lord of the meeting rivers?
– Basavanna (Translation A.K. Ramanujan)

“I am unable to think of what to say,” said Nehru when asked to broadcast the news of Gandhi’s assassination. But he went on to make a historic and memorable speech. In a chocking voice he said, “The light has gone out of our lives. There is darkness looming everywhere. I do not know what to tell you and how to say it. Our beloved leader, whom we called Baapu, the father of the nation is no more. I said the light has gone out. And yet I am wrong, for the light that shone in this country was no ordinary light. And it shall shine for many more years, and a thousand years later that light will still be seen in this country and the w world will see it and it will bring peace and solace to the countless hearts, for that light represented the living truth.”

After his 24 day stay at Beliaghat Gandhi was leaving for Delhi, when an admirer approached for a message. Gandhi, in Bengali, wrote, “My Life Is My Message.” Who else in history could dare say so? It requires a lot of moral courage to say so. And Gandhi had it. And it is hard to find anyone else in history who had it. Possibly that is exactly why Albert Einstein: Generations to come, it may be, will scarce believe that such a one as this ever in flesh and blood walked upon this earth.

02 October 2009

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