On the upcoming Gandhi Jayanti it is important to stress on the fact that Mahatma Gandhi left an impact on all those who came in touch with him. One of them was country’s leading writer and commentator, Mulk Raj Anand. Mulk told me he had decided to travel to the Sabarmati Ashram, to meet Mahatma Gandhi and perhaps also find abode there: “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 in that condition, I travelled to his ashram and met him… Gandhiji allowed me to stay in the Sabarmati Ashram but only on three conditions – never to look at a woman with desire, never to drink liquor, and to clean the toilets.”
During the course of several interviews with me, Mulk had told me that though he’d taken the three vows but somewhere during his stay at the Ashram, he got friendly with the American lady typist who was also staying at the Ashram and when Gandhiji heard of that he asked Mulk to leave. “No, I wasn’t in a relationship with the American woman. It’s just that we were friends and as she was a single divorced mother so I used to look after her baby whilst she’d be typing but the other Ashram inmates couldn’t tolerate our friendship… carried all those tales to Gandhiji. With that he asked me to pack my bags. I had to leave but I continued meeting Gandhiji, for he is the one who saved my life from destruction. He told me that I undertake train journeys all over the country, to know my country and my countrymen. I was a changed person after seeing the real India. And how can I never forget Gandhiji’s talisman: Gandhiji told me whenever you are in doubt or when the self becomes too much for you, try the following — 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.”
And the Aligarh based academic-parliamentarian Professor Jamal Khwaja and his spouse Hameeda Durreshahwar Akbar Khwaja, had told me that way back in the ‘50s they named their four children with a double name! That is, a combination of the Hindu and Muslim names.
Hameeda detailed that Jamal Khwaja’s father, Abdul Majeed Khwaja, was a close associate of Mahatma Gandhi. In 1920, Gandhi had even stayed in their ancestral family home in Aligarh. And she and her husband were so taken up by Mahatma Gandhi and Jawaharlal Nehru’s call for secularism that they decided to break the traditional and name their four children with combination of Hindu and Muslim names – the eldest Jawahar Kabir, the second Gita Anjum, the third Rajan Habib, the youngest Nassir Navin.”
If The Not-So-Related Were Left So Very Impacted, By Mahatma Gandhi So What Would Be the Impact on His Own Grandchildren?
Each time I met and interviewed Mahatma Gandhi’s four grandchildren – (children of his son Devadas Gandhi) – 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 Gandhi Bhattacharjee and Rajmohan Gandhi what struck was the simplicity. Artistic. Nah, nothing gaudy or frilly. In fact, it gets relevant to focus on the fact the late Ramchandra Gandhi had never owned a home and had lived in a rented annexe and survived all those years in tight financial conditions.
Years back I had visited Mahatma Gandhi’s Tara Gandhi Bhattacharjee’s South Delhi situated home, for an interview for a national daily, I was more than pleasantly surprised to see charkhas, hand-made dolls, hand-spun Khadi spread out and dotted in her artistically done up home… More surprises; as not only does she wear Khadi all year round, she’d 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.”
I recall one of my first queries to her was: Any memories of Bapu? 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.”
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.”
On 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.”
I still recall, during my first meeting with her way back in 1994, I had asked her: why doesn’t she join any political party. This is what 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!”
And Rajmohan Gandhi, during the course of an interview given to me, had detailed; “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.”
Rajmohan described his relationship with Gandhiji: “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…With him it was 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 every day 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 homework 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.”
Rajmohan had also commented, “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. 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. …He is as much your grandfather as mine. He is not our property but your property. So, it is the duty of all the citizens of this nation to take care of his ashrams and institutions.”
During the course of that interview, I had asked Rajmohan Gandhi – why doesn’t he re-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; getting 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 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.
Of course, Gopalkrishna Gandhi was a very small child when Gandhiji passed away, but that connect with his grandparents strong and emotional… Several years back at the release of Professor Mushirul Hasan’s book on Gandhi, Gopalkrishna narrated some very touching incidents from the life and times of his grandparents – Ba and Bapu.
Leaving you with this verse of NAVNEET GREWAL from Amity Peace Poems (Hawakal Publishers):
‘The Peace Saga/
a name lost from every dictionary/
alphabets just do not consent/
an arduous rhythm/
barred bare by language/
historians plead to its charm/
dynasties wiped out in its pursuit/
monuments stripped of glory/
a syntax error of minds/
with vanity underlined to quote/
the ego of a few delirious/
will hammer the homes of many/
it is not extinct but veiled/
under human virtues/
let every being whisper its cries/
let peace prevail to numb the noise.’
Humra Quraishi is a Gurgaon based independent writer-columnist-journalist.