It is 2nd October and we all should be relaxed since it a national holiday. But then there is so much to do on the day we get free; friends to talk to, homes to search, books to read, catch a flick in theatre, take wife out for dinner, sleep, eat and be merry. These days’ holidays are busier and stressful than your average working day. Nonetheless we look forward to a day off and every year on this date we thank heavens the fact that Mohandas Das Karamchand Gandhi was born on this day if it falls on a week-day and wish that he would have born on some other date if 2nd happens to be a weekend (a holiday wasted). Gandhi Jayanti is more importantly a holiday for us than anything else. Were it not so, how many would really bother when Mahatma was born?
It’s not that we dislike or detest Gandhi. In fact most of us respect Gandhi; after all he is the father of the nation the one who got us freedom from the foreign yoke, his garlanded photo adorns every government office, his statues are spread across Indian cities and towns, every city will have at least one MG Road, he is smiling at us from the numerous postage stamps, he is present in textbooks, on every currency note, on trains, in museums, almost everywhere.
Some years back, I had visited Gandhi’s Samadhi at Rajghat in New Delhi thanks to a colleague who had come from the UK and was very eager to visit Gandhi Ashram and Rajghat. It is a sad irony that these days, it is the people coming from abroad that are keen to know more of Gandhi then we do. I was disappointed and saddened by the opulence that confronted me at Rajghat. A huge piece of prime land with well manicured lawns for dignitaries to sit on, a white platform with words “Hey Ram” embossed on them and of course the light that burns all the time. All this for a man who lived most of his life in a loin cloth, ate just enough to sustain his body. Somehow from the little that I know of Gandhi from his works, I am sure that he would have completely disapproved of the way modern India has treated, made him a figurine and completely forgotten for the things that he stood for.
Bapu, as he was fondly called, was a fanatic humanist; in his eyes all were equal, the discarded and the downtrodden were especially dear to him. He staunchly stood up for what he believed and would not baulk even in the face of fiercest opposition. There are so many instances of Bapu standing firm on what he assumed to be right, even though everyone around him was telling him otherwise. I have seen the film Gandhi by Richard Attenborough several times, as a student when it was a compulsory screening and found it to be boring and too lengthy, to now when I stop flicking the remote when I see it being screened on any channel. In the film towards the climax scene, when the partition takes place and the whole subcontinent flares up amidst Hindu-Muslim riots, Gandhi decides to resolve the crisis in his inimitable way, he goes on a fast till all the madness has come to an end. And the best thing is that it does, the rioting actually stops. It was as if people though they may love or hate Gandhi, respected him nonetheless. Simply by walking hundreds of kilometres or by giving up food, Bapu could bring about a change that was not imaginable earlier. He never bothered about political correctness, compulsions or anything.
Sixty and more years have passed since the Britishers left in their ships and we Indians started on our tryst with destiny. In the years that have gone by we might have achieved quite many laurels on the world stage but continue to be hollow from within. Even now, there are communal riots in different parts of India, religious places are desecrated, bomb go off in busy marketplaces, there are caste wars, populations fighting over water, land, etc. Even after so many years, we are not Indians, but Hindu, Muslim, Brahmins, Baniya, UP, Madrasi and so many more. I wonder if that was the journey that we had set out to on August 15, 1947.
And when I think of all this, I just wish so strongly that the face that adorns the 50 Rupee note just comes alive. That Bapu comes to this land again and sets things in order. He would admonish us for what we have become, chide us and then show us the right path. The path that we should have taken, but didn’t. He would come and unite us as Indians, tell us what humanity is, what righteousness is. Simply by living with us, he would change us all. Bapu would awaken the national spirit within us. I never knew or saw Bapu, but yet I miss him dearly. Or maybe it is just that I am being a tad more sentimental since it is 2nd October today and is Bapu’s birthday. It could be that I am not as busy as I should be on any typical national holiday and so have more time to ruminate. Or probably, the film Gandhi has affected me so. Tomorrow will be a different day with loads of work and stuff to do. I will remember Bapu again, hopefully before 2nd October 2009 (which thankfully is a Friday, so a long weekend). His death anniversary falls on January 30th, but then it is not a holiday so won’t have time to indulge in such thoughts. While I am at it, let me conclude with a quote from Albert Einstein on Bapu; a thought that I think has already become a reality, at least for many like me.
“I…regard Gandhi as the only true great figure of our age…generations to come will scarce believe that such a one as this ever in flesh and blood walked upon this earth.”