It only took one man to embarrass the British monarchy, one unassuming gentleman named Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi, and this unpretentious freedom fighter did it without any resentment and force. He simply, relentlessly, pressurised them to vacate India through a diverse range of peaceful protests. Described by his sister, Raliat, as “restless as mercury”, Mahatma Gandhi was truly the ‘Baap’ of Indian freedom fighters!
For the longest time, my grandfather paid tribute to Mahatma Gandhi by visiting Porbandar annually on January 30, 1948, the day he was born. It was a ritual, a fix… his way of serving humanity. He spent that day at the Sabarmati Ashram, interacting with people from all corners of the globe, and reliving the past with Bapu for the benefit of those born a century later, a generation that has little, sometimes twisted, idea about the Father of the Nation.
My dad says grandfather possessed a potpourri of incidents related to the Mahatma… rare, unrecorded anecdotes that provided a running glance into a life dedicated to the nation.
I wish I had the privilege to meet the man…
We’ve all grown up reading about the impact he created, consequently leading to India’s liberation from the colonial British Raj. He championed causes like the ‘Dandi March’, ‘The Swadeshi Movement’, ‘Quit India Movement’, and many more of such movements, born in defiance of the imperialists.
Forget the British, Gandhi had to endure the divisive and self-serving politics of Jawaharlal Nehru and Mohammad Ali Jinnah. However, his indomitable will to see India free from the clutches of the British Raj blurred everything else in comparison. Before India’s independence, nothing else mattered.
But who was this man? What spurred him on to take on an entire monarchy?
He wasn’t a politician, a ruler, a general, or a dictator. He wasn’t a mystic, or a motivational guru. He was an experimenter, a seeker of truth and harmony. In his constant search for truth, he delved into religion, spirituality, status of women, health, education, clothing etc.
There was purpose to his existence, and it was pure, unlike Nehru and Jinnah, who harboured political positions. While Gandhi upped the ante in the early 40s after the declaration of the Second World War, which stretched the British on multiple fronts, Nehru and Jinnah sensed political opportunities. It paid dividends as Nehru and Jinnah, both, became their countries’ first Prime Minister after India’s independence.
Gandhi could selflessly fight for the poor because he could identify with them, with their struggles and pains… and yet, among Gandhiji’s disciples were kings, royals, untouchables, rich, poor, foreigners, and women.
He was a complex figure whose opinions varied widely throughout his life. Until 1918, he was an admirer of the British Empire, and only came to advocate full independence after the Amritsar Massacre of 1919.
Congress, in its formative years, had rich members, including reputed lawyers and professors. The objective was to meet and discuss the issues among themselves, but having no real contact with the general public. When Gandhi announced himself into the scene, independence became a mass movement. Travelling in lowly third-class compartments, clad in dhoti with a walking stick, he symbolised humble living and hard work.
The creation of Pakistan triggered mass-scale religious violence, especially in Punjab and Bengal. A crestfallen Gandhi visited the violence-affected regions in an effort to offer hope and solace. He was so determined to see the end of in-fighting that he undertook multiple fasts unto death in protest against religious intolerance among Hindus and Muslims.
In early 1948, a 78-year-old Gandhi undertook one of his last fasts. The issue was paying out cash assets owed to Pakistan. His magnanimity was misconstrued, and many Indians though Gandhi was too accommodating. Nathuram Godse, a Hindu nationalist, held similar views. He assassinated Mahatma Gandhi on 30 January, 1948, by firing three bullets into his chest at point-blank range!
Gandhi’s last words, ‘Hey Ram’, still echoes in our minds, sometimes.