National

How a photo cannot help Modi steal Gandhiji’s legacy

SIGNS OF THE TIMES

The latest shots of Khadi Udyog’s new year calendar casued widespread anguish and anger. Putting together several of the initial reactions: “Images associated with Mahatma Gandhi cannot be hijacked by Narendra Modi! Shocker! Can’t believe this! How can our Mahatma be ever replaced. Remember, Mahatma Gandhi is the father of this nation …he gave up his entire life for our freedom. Look what fascist times we are living in, when even Mahatma Gandhi is not spared!”

Don’t know how Mahatma Gandhi would have reacted to see his image plucked out from his charkha; not that he ever bothered about images or publicity stunts or any of the connected tamashas. His grandchildren are much too suave and sophisticated to hit out. And, perhaps, the masses well too aware of the destructive ideology of the RSS. After all, Mahatma Gandhi was killed by none other than Nathuram Godse.

In fact, if anyone should speak on the charkha and its significance it should be Mahatma Gandhi’s grand daughter, Tara Gandhi Bhattacharjee…I still recall that years back when I had visited her home in South Delhi, I was pleasantly surprised to see charkhas, hand-made dolls, hand-spun khadi spread out...Not only does she wear khadi all year round, she even spins it at home on the charkhas. She’d described the lounge as the mukt room “as in this room I’m free to do what I like. I read here, take my afternoon nap, make dolls or sit at the charkha with the takli and punee, spinning thread…”

And when I had asked her what had she inherited from her grandfather, she’d said “Everything of Bapu belonged to the nation. All I have is a little wooden box that my father (Devadas Gandhi) got as a wedding gift from Bapu.”

Any memories of Bapu? And here she’d paused whilst working on the takli and told me, “I was 13 when he passed away… I remember that day I had a lot of homework to do. Initially, when the news was broken to me, I couldn’t believe it had happened. Slowly, of course, it became clear. I could sense sara mulk aapke saath tha (the entire nation was with him). Leaders, various politicians, kept coming in and out of our home. For unlike today, all those people moved freely, without security guards or any of those security arrangements.” Recounting more along the nostalgic strain, she’d said, “Though most of my childhood was spent with Bapu and Ba, but as he kept a very tight schedule so saw little of him. In his conversations he stuck to some of the mulya (important) issues: value of time, to use postcards for correspondence as not just paper gets saved but it also ensures that no secrets are written. He’d also showed us how to lead a clean life aesthetically.The sense of aesthetics was so strong that someone so sophisticated as Rajkumari Amrit Kaur felt at home in our house….even today as I close my eyes all the images of our home at Birla Ashram come alive. I can actually hear my mother’s voice, Bapu talking. I never saw him angry or cranky. But, yes, he often looked sad and dukhi. In fact, whenever he was sad and upset he would stop talking and kept a maun or roza and stopped eating as well. He would sit at the charkha spinning. ”

And when I had queried somewhat further, along the strain that doesn’t she or her brothers and cousins feel inclined to claim Bapu’s belongings kept in the various ashrams which, according to news reports, are not kept in the best of conditions, she’d said, “They belong to the nation and if they are not being looked after, it just shows the decay of our times.”

Over the years I have being meeting her at the various functions and receptions and as always she keeps away from politicians and politics. Unchanging have been her views and stand. I still recall, during my first meeting with her way back in 1994, I had asked her the obvious: why doesn’t she join any political party. And she’d said, “I have purposely kept away from politics because I don’t believe in putting a political party above my country. Today’s political scenario is less of politics and more of a cleverness drive. How can I even think of joining any political party when I don’t meet politicians, especially those in power. What’s left in the politics of today!”

I have also interviewed three of Mahatma Gandhi’s grandsons - Rajmohan and Gopal Gandhi and also the late Ramachandra Gandhi …Though Rajmohan did briefly enter politics but gave up, to get back to academics. And in the different interviews with me, the three brothers had made it very clear that Mahatma Gandhi had adopted the whole of India as his family. To quote Rajmohan Gandhi on this, “My relationship with Gandhiji was a close one but not a leisurely one. As grandchildren, we didn’t have any special rights to his time since he belonged to the entire nation… He was the father of the nation. We accepted this position very happily. In fact, all royalty from Gandhiji’s publications and books don’t come to us, nor are we the heirs to our ancestral home at Porbandar. So he is as much your grandfather as mine… So it is the duty of the citizens of this nation to take care of his ashrams and institutions.”

Impact of Mahatma’s Philosophy on Mulk Raj Anand

Mahatma Gandhi’s philosophy had drawn hundreds and thousands to his ashrams. One of them was writer Mulk Raj Anand.

During the course of several interviews with me, Mulk detailed that he visited Mahatma Gandhi at the Sabarmati Ashram at a rather crucial stage. “That was the time I had finished writing ‘The Untouchable’ and when 19 publishers turned it down, I suffered a nervous breakdown. That was my second nervous breakdown and I was completely shattered. And in that condition I travelled to his ashram and met him… It is Gandhiji’s talisman which saved my life and it is this: Gandhiji told me whenever you are in doubt or when the self becomes too much for you, try the following, that is, recall the face of the poorest and the most helpless man who you may have seen and ask yourself if the step you contemplate is going to be of any use to him.”

Gandhiji had even allowed Mulk to stay in the Sabarmati Ashram but only after he had taken three vows—never to look at a woman with desire, never to drink liquor, and to clean the toilets. Though Mulk had taken the three vows but somewhere during his stay, he was attracted to an American lady typist who was also staying at the Ashram and when Gandhiji heard of that he asked Mulk to leave. To quote Mulk on this, “No, I wasn’t in a relationship with the American woman. Its just that we were friends and as she was a single mother so I used to look after her baby whilst she was busy typing but the other Ashram inmates couldn’t tolerate our friendship. They not just gossiped but concocted all those love tales …When Gandhiji heard all that he asked me to leave the Ashram. I had to leave but thereafter I continued meeting Gandhiji for he is the one who saved my life from destruction… He made me see sense and thereafter I undertook train journeys all over the country to know my country and my countrymen. I was a changed person and can never forget how Gandhiji’s talisman saved my life.”

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