Gandhi Comes Alive

Bapu And My Father

-Narayan Mahadev Desai

I WAS nine then. It was my first stay with Balm for a month. We had long since been great friends, out, I never had an opportunity till now to stay with him for such a long period. He had just finished his 21 days fast at 'Parnakuti' in Poona. My father was busy the whole day, mostly in requesting visitors to spare Bapu as much as possible.

I had a severe attack of malaria, and the temperature remained high for two days. Father was very anxious about m, .but he was unable to sit by my side for long. Whenever he came to me I asked him to send for my mother who was at Sabarmati. He did not consider it necessary to do so, for he felt it would be a useless: expenditure of the nation's money. The temperature did not come down even on the third day, and I became delirious. In my delirium too I raved for my mother's presence. Manu, Bapu's granddaughter, chanced to see my father trying without success to restrain his tears. he carried the report to Ba, who, in her turn, conveyed it to Bapu. He at once called my father and asked him to bring a telegraphic form and take down a message he would dictate. Father imagined it was some ordinary 'business' telegram. When, however, Bapu dictated the text asking my mother to come soon, Father was amazed and argued against sending the wire. "There are several friends here who can attend to BabIa, and Dr. Dinsha is always available," he said. "It is quite unnecessary, therefore, to call Durga." "Well," replied Bapu, "I have only asked you to take down my message. I never asked your opinion on it. I ask you to send this wire now, and you must send it." Mother came in response to the telegram. I came to know of this incident only when Father related it to me after. a couple of days with a smile on his face.

Bapu was to go to Madras to attend the Hindi Sahitya Sammelan to be held there in March 1937. I was eager to go with him as I had never been to Madras before. l knew he would take me with him for the asking; but I was afraid he would then refuse to take me later to the Gandhi Seva Sangh Conference to be held at Hudli next month. Bapu had shifted, about a year previously, to Sevagram; but we still lived at Maganvadi in Wardha, as - Sevagram had no post office then. On his way to the station Bapu came to Maganvadi Just for a peep, as the train was late by a few minutes. He asked me With a touch of humour. "Don't you feel like going with we?".

"I do feel like it, but I have not spoken, for fear that you would refuse later on to take me to Hudli."

The promise to take you to Hudli stands. Now would you like to go to Madras?"

I still hesitated to say yes. So he cut the gordian knot by saying: "Let us have a toss." He asked my mother to give him a pice. She was infected by his jocular spirit, and brought a pice at once. Bapu then asked me with a smile: "Come on, say: King or cross'?" It was Wholly a question of chance, but in-a childish spirit I preferred the cross to the King who was a foreigner. Bapu tossed the pice, and I won! Bapu said: "Hurry up, Durga, get together his clothes for the journey. I must leave this place in five minutes."

Just then my father, who was to accompany Bapu as usual, arrived on the scene. He said to me: "It is not proper for you, Babla, to prepare to go just because Bapu made the offer as a fun." To Bapu he said: "Why do you waste so much money in this way?"

"It is not a waste," replied Bapu. "He will be very useful to both of us."

"But he is not indispensable to either of us."

That is not a sound argument, Mahadev. We are not going to send him to a regular school. If he does not accompany us in our tours, when will he get a chance to be trained?"

Father still opposed the proposal. Bapu said: "But I have given him a promise, and you won't wish me to break it, would you?"

Father had no reply to this. Since then I formed part of Bapu's entourage in all his journeys.

On our way back from Madras Shri Jamnalalji spoke to Bapu about the serene atmosphere at Shri Raman Maharshi's ashram. Bapu said: "Mahadev, why don't you go and see the place? The' sooner the, better." I began to pack Father's luggage, .as it was decided" that he would take the train back from Bezwada. When the luggage was packed and the train was passing over the Kistna bridge, very near to Bezwada station, Bapu said, as if in continuation of his previous sentence, "and you can as well stay on for two or three months, if you find the atmosphere peaceful"

To our amazement Father unpacked his things! "Bapu," he said with a serious voice, "one Master is enough for me. I need not see the place."

The train moved on.

Father's health broke down in April 1942, and he had frequent attacks of giddiness. Doctors advised him to take complete rest, but he did not like to leave Bapu when there were talks of the coming struggle, the gravity of which was foreshadowed in Bapu's writings and utterances. "How can I take rest at. this juncture?" Father said to his friends. But he had to yield to Bapu's own pressure, and agreed to go to Nasik for about a fort- night's rest. He started for the place one evening.

In about an hour a telephone message from Wardha came to Sevagram saying that Father had an' attack of giddiness at the station and was in a serious condition, and that the Civil Surgeon had taken him to his own bungalow. Bapu sent word in reply, asking Father to be removed at once to Sevagram. I t was Sunday evening, and Bapu had already started his weekly silence. On Father's arrival, ,however, Bapu broke the silence, and gently asked: "How are you, Mahadev?" Father lay his head at Bapu's feet and said: "Bapu, I should like to meet death, when it Gomes, with my head in your lap." He could say nothing more. Tears were streaming from his eyes. Bapu put him into the bed which was ready. He then sat by Father's side and began to fan him. "I know this quite well," he then said. "Therefore I asked the Civil Surgeon to send you here at once, and told him that you would be cured nowhere else, and that there is every chance of your being cured if you are near me."

On the 8th of August, 1942, after Bapu returned late at night from the A.I.C.C. meeting, those who were near him began to guess what would happen next. Bapu said emphatically: "Surely they won't arrest me after the speech I made this evening. I have said therein that I will still carry on correspondence with the Viceroy for about a fortnight; they won't, therefore, arrest me for that period at least." Father was of the view that Bapu would be arrested immediately. The air was thick with rumours about Bapu's destination after the arrest. Bapu, however, was firm in his opinion that he would not be arrested just then. After a while he went to bed, and asked others to do so. But there were two persons who could not sleep-Ba (Kasturba) and my father. At two o'clock in the night when I suddenly awoke, I heard the following conversation taking place between them:

Ba : Mahadev, how many strokes did you hear just now?.

M.D. : Two.

Ba : Do you still feel that Bapu will be arrested?

M.D. : I do feel, Ba, that he will be arrested. But perhaps after all he may not be. Hitherto whenever our own readings have differed from those of Bapu, he has always in the end proved to be right.' This may happen even now, though I have no doubt he will be arrested.

The talk ended there. During the next two hours Ba several times asked my father: "Are you not asleep, Mahadev?".

"How can I get sleep?" Father replied.

When it was four, even Father began to feel that the arrest won't take place just then; but in a few minutes the police arrived.

The police officer had warrants far Bapu, Mirabehn and my father, and had instructions to. take Ba and Pyarelalji with him if they wished to. accompany Bapu. They were; however, free to. decide far themselves. Father was happy because he was being taken along with Bapu. But far Ba it was a testing time. It was quite likely that Bapu would undertake a fast in the jail. Ba asked him: "What shall Ida?" Bapu smiled a little, and then seriously said: "It is far you to. decide. You are free to. came with me. But I should like you to. remain free just now, and court imprisonment later by same act of civil disobedience." - Ba was in a dilemma. She was very eager not to. be separated from Bapu, as there was every fear of the Government allowing Bapu to. die in prison if he undertake a fast an going there. Bapu, an the other hand, wished her to. remain out far the time- being. However, she did not take long to. make up her mind. She said to. Bapu: "I should have very much laved to. go. with you, but I will keep back since you wish me to. do. so."

"I knew," said Bapu with an air of satisfaction, "that you would take this decision. I had no doubt about it."

Vedchhi, 10-10-1948.