Bapu: Stark simplicity laced with truth

By Humra Quraishi. Dated: 10/2/2013 10:59:15 PM

Filing this column on this Gandhi Jayanti and for the last couple of days been reading, rather re-reading, several books on the Mahatma. And the very crux of his philosophy was stark simplicity laced with the truth. No, nothing complicated or complex. And definitely not layered. Subtle and yet direct. Probably that is why you and I can relate to his relays.
And stretching this still further, each time I had met Mahatma Gandhi’s four grandchildren - children of his son Devadas Gandhi - I got the same sense of the uncomplicated holding sway. Yes, each time I’d sat interviewing Ramchandra Gandhi, Rajmohan Gandhi, Gopalkrishna Gandhi and Tara Gandhi Bhattacharjee, I got the feeling of genuineness in their words, views and offloads. And when I’d visited the homes of Tara and Rajmohan what struck was the sheer simplicity. No, nothing gaudy or frilly; but as though they are living each single day with the bare basics.
In fact, the late Ramchandra Gandhi had never owned a home and had lived in a rented annexe and survived all those years in absolutely tight financial conditions. I used to meet him at the IIC and I still recall that during a heated discussion on the Partition, Ramchandra’s voice came through from the packed auditorium, words along the strain - why don’t we even now, at this stage, hold the British responsible for the havoc in this subcontinent. Yes, even after all these years we ought to say that they were the main villains to the mess and destruction, which we are seeing to this day. We ought to seek an explanation from the British.”
Moving ahead, the minute I entered Tara’s South Delhi situated home, I could and see it was a home which stood out as ‘different’. Huge, hand-made dolls stood tall, as though peering at you. There were charkhas and khadi and those weaves in different hues. And when I had asked her about her grandfather she’d said, “I was only 13 when Bapu passed away ….I still remember that day. I had a lot of homework to do and whilst I was trying to complete it, this news had come in …in fact, when the news was broken to me I couldn’t believe it had happened. Slowly it all sank in and then various politicians kept coming to our home; for unlike today all these leaders moved about freely with no security arrangements and none of those body guards.”
Tara also spoke of the influence of her grandfather on her,” As Bapu kept a very tight schedule so we couldn’t interact for hours at a stretch, though I’d spent most of my childhood with him and Ba. In his conversations with us he spoke only on the ‘mulya’ (important) issues …he taught us to value time, to focus on ‘buniyadi usuls’ (fundamental values) …Even today as I close my eyes all those images come alive. As though I can actually hear my mother’s voice, can hear Ba and Bapu talking. No, I never saw him angry or cranky. But, yes, very often he’d looked sad…In fact, whenever he was upset he’ d stopped talking and then kept a fast/maun or roza and with that stopped eating. Whenever upset he would sit at the charkha spinning for hours at a stretch.”
And Rajmohan Gandhi, during the course of an interview given to me, had detailed further - “Yes, I do remember Gandhiji …even the day of his assassination …I was in school - New Delhi’s Modern School on the Barakhamba Road - and that particular day I was held up as my school house had done well in some function, so I’d left school only 5 pm. Our home was situated close by, as my father was the editor of The Hindustan Times, and we’d lived in an apartment in the Bombay Life Insurance Building, housing the office of the Hindustan Times on the Kasturba Gandhi Marg….at the foot of the building I saw my father’s secretary, Kali Prasad, standing. He immediately took me to the Birla House where I came to know that Gandhiji was no more. In fact, from the September of 1947 to January 1948, Gandhiji had been living in Delhi and though he didn’t stay with us but we met him every single day …”
Rajmohan described his relationship with Gandhiji as – “a close bond but not a leisurely relationship…As grandchildren we didn’t have any special rights to his time. He belonged to the entire nation …At that time I was a child so couldn’t understand but later realized that the family had to pay a heavy price to achieve the goal of freedom. Looking back, I think even then I had some sort of an inkling that why we, his grandchildren, couldn’t spend much time with him. He was either in jail or traveling all over the country, quenching communal fires...In fact, he used to conduct multi -faith prayer meetings at 5 pm everyday at the Birla House and we children would attend all those meetings and be there till they ended. Then we’d go home and after dinner and home work spend about half – an - hour or so with him. It was during this time we would sit and talk …” Rajmohan recounted those values he had inherited from his grandfather and father, “My father Devadas Gandhi brought us up on those same values - that money making was not to be the purpose of life, that service was to be part of life and here it was emphasized that any service ought to be totally unconnected with personal advancement, he always stood for the freedom of the Press and told us how important it is for the Press to be free.”
Commenting on the present day mess, Rajmohan had said, “Gandhiji had adopted the whole of India as his family. And we, his grandchildren, accept that he was the father of this nation, so every citizen has the same rights and responsibilities as we have,as far as his legacy is concerned …He is as much your grandfather as mine. He is not our property but your property. So it is the duty of the citizens of this nation to take care of his ashrams and institutions …”
And if you were to hear Gopalkrishna Gandhi narrate those incidents from the life and times of his grandparents - Ba and Bapu - you would sit in a daze. This winter during the release of Professor Mushirul Hasan’s book on Gandhi, Gopalkrishna spoke and narrated those touching incidents …one after another. In fact, he should get them published so that this generation of Indians know those values and principles that Mahatma Gandhi lived for …
Space constraints come in way, but I have to offload this thought - I wish Gandhi’s grandchildren had joined active politics; perhaps, with that, the situation in the country could had been somewhat better.
In fact, during the course of that interview I had asked Rajmohan Gandhi exactly this - why doesn’t he enter active politics (in fact, once - upon - a -time he did join the Janata Dal but was so disillusioned with the politics of the day that he moved far, far away from any of the political strains; going back to academics). And this is what he had to say - “today political parties have hardened their stance on questions of caste and religion. My inability to do that prevents me from finding a strong voice in any political party …As far as the Congress is concerned the refusal of the parry to fight out corruption keeps me away from it. The BJP is out of the question because of its ideology …I’m too old to start a new party or movement. I would have done it years back but not now …today I find my skull too fragile!”
In fact, on the politics of caste, he had detailed, “Today the national mood favours fragmentation in politics. Caste rallies are being organized in UP, caste and religious walls are getting thicker and bridges fragile. In fact, I still remember when I had joined politics I used to get special invitations for ‘bania sammelans.’ People used to come to me and say ‘aap bania hain, to hamare sammelan mein zaroor aeyaiga (You are a bania, so you must attend our bania sammelan). Believe me till then I didn’t even know I was a bania!” he’d exclaimed.
*(Humra Quraishi is a freelance columnist based in Delhi and is currently a visiting Professor in the Academy of Third World Studies in Jamia Milia University).



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