I feel very awkward writing to you. I mean, I realize it is rather presumptuous of me. I never paid any attention to you in all these years and today… suddenly… I want to talk to you like I have never wanted to talk to another human being in my life.
I remember the intense resentment my classmates and I used to feel when in grade 8 we had to study a THICK supplementary reader on your life and achievements. If someone had told me then, that I would feel towards you like I do today, I’d have thought him a raving lunatic. With all my heart, I feel sorry for my childish reaction… the fact that I was then clueless doesn’t excuse me. At 14, I had no right to be clueless.
From the supplementary reader to today, my education has continued- inadvertently for the most part I am sorry to say. Over the years, with the help of some facts and many insights, a clearer image of you has emerged. Now I know it was the supplementary reader I hated then… not you the man. The reader never introduced the man to us. All it gave was a factual account of the main events of your amazing life. It contained not a word of your rationale behind everything you did. It swept under the carpet every moment of doubt, of agony, of pain you went through. If we had been given a glimpse of that, you would have been real to us instead of a disembodied icon. I am sure, if we had seen your HUMANITY, we’d have loved you. Anyhow, that’s so much water under the bridge, and rather irrelevant now. I am writing to you today to ask you a few questions. Maybe I will learn how to deal with my questions if I learn how you dealt with yours.
You led the freedom struggle from 1915 onwards until India gained independence. All the years, while the struggle went on, the nation followed you. Lauded your principles… praised your ideas. The vast nation, whose conscience you unknowingly became, followed you unquestioningly. Of all the movements that you initiated, I have always loved the Dandi March the most. I don’t know why, but that one incident stirs me to my soul… it always has… and it always will. There was such a display of indomitable will in that simple protest. Silent, determined, zealous. It was a stroke of pure genius. But I digress, it is not about the Dandi March I am writing to you today.
The nation followed you for years. For years you were the strategist, the planner and the guiding hand. Nothing you said could be ignored… you were the genius… with the hand of God on you. Then the bubble burst.
In all the talks between Mountbatten and the Indian leadership on transfer of power to Indian hands, you were not there. When they decided to agree to the partition, your opinion was set aside. Overnight, you had become impractical and old-fashioned. You are too noble a soul to have felt personally insulted… though I know of nobody else who would have been able to bear the slight with the magnanimity you did.
The country was grasped by hands which were immature. Those hands belonged to people who did not have the deep love and intuitive understanding you had of the country and her people. It was like you had paid with your blood for rescuing a rare, beautiful and delicate bird from the jaws of death- and then gave it to a gleeful thoughtless child who sat pulling out her feathers to amuse himself. The fact that the bird was crippled with unuttered pain… that in no time at all the feathers were not pulled for amusement but avarice… only makes the crime more gruesome.
Here is my question Bapu- How could you bear letting a thoughtless bunch of kids play with your bird..? Did you value it so little..?
After independence, while the blood-bath went on in Punjab, people didn’t notice that you alone controlled violence in Calcutta. The violence which a 55,000 man strong Boundary Security Force was not able to quell in Punjab was quelled by your quiet voice in Calcutta. Even Mountbatten called you his one man Boundary Force in Calcutta. Had the passions of people broken lose… passions you held at bay with you love and compassion… the bloodiness of riots there would have surpassed those of Punjab.
Tell me Bapu- Why don’t people remember the Miracle of Calcutta today…? Are they even aware a miracle took place silently… the way miracles do… with no fanfare…? I know you will say it doesn’t matter to you that they have forgotten it. But Bapu, don’t you think that if that event was made much of, more people might have had the chance to learn something from it…? Why did they- then and now- talk about the horrors of Punjab but not of the peace of Calcutta..?
It is not an easy job being the conscience of a nation Bapu. In your defense I would say, you never asked for the mantle. Yet when it was thrust upon you, you did the best you could with your characteristic humility. You did more than the nation had the right to ask you… more than it had the business to expect. In the last few months of your life, for people to have turned on you… to have blamed you for the blood-baths… to have disrupted your prayer meetings… to have thrown stones at you… to have called you names… to have shouted Gandhi Murdabad… makes me mad with angry despair.
I will ask you just one thing. Bapu… why the hell didn’t you shrug and throw off the weight of that injustice… ???
You wanted independent India’s leadership to follow the principles which were the cornerstones of your life. You wanted them to live the lifestyle you had lived. You wanted them to have the spiritual strength you had. You wanted them to serve India selflessly like you had. You always practiced what you preached- and you wanted them to do the same. You wanted them to have a leadership of moral- not authoritative- power.
My last question Bapu. Tell me, how did you deal with your pain when you saw that the values and principles which had guided your life have been thrown aside and called impractical by men who found it easier to blame the strict clarity of your vision than to develop the moral fiber to live that vision…? How did you deal with the agony of watching your just principles take an unjust beating…?
I don’t know if my letter today will reopen your wounds… or whether they hurt only with the distant pain of a wound healed long ago. But one thing I know for sure… if you are the man who lived the life you did… if you are the one who did all you did… you died with more wounds than that of Godse’s bullet. Today, its been 62 years since that bullet was fired into your frail body. Its wound might have healed by now… but I don’t think all the time in the world has to power to heal the lacerations you suffered before that bullet ripped into you. I am grateful to Nathuram Godse. Had you managed to live for 125 years as it was your intention to, you’d have seen your India defiled. It would have brought a death far more cruel than the one you got at Godse’s hands.
I’ll write to you again some other day. I doubt if you receive many letters nowadays. The world that finds it easier to put you on a pedestal and not in their life, would rather not remember you.
PS: At 14, I didn’t know I’d say this some day or feel such a deep sense of reverence.
Bapu… you have made me proud beyond measure. Thank you.
Written on: 31st Jan 2010
This post also won the first prize in a writing contest on the topic of Mahatma Gandhi. The contest was conducted by Sulekha.com which was my first blog home.