Gandhi Comes Alive

My Grandfather

-Sumitra Ramdas Gandhi

I WAS about five years old when Bapuji came and stayed in a building near Mahilashram at Wardha. Our house too was near by. My eyes had been a source of anxiety to my parents and grandparents since my early childhood. I had beautiful curls on my head, and it was a difficult task for my mother to tidy them and comb them. I was a naughty child, and used to play recklessly, dishevelling my neat curls. They spread on my face and eyes. I looked through the locks, and that weakened my eyes still further. This added to my parents worry. I did not like the idea of cutting my hair, and opposed the proposal whenever it was made. Then Bapuji played a trick with me.

During the Divali festival that followed, Mother prepared a number of sweets and sent them through me to all her friends. The day after the Divali is our Gujarati New Year Day. As is customary for youngsters to pay their respects to the elders and receive their blessings, I went to Bapuji. After making an obeisance to him I boast- ed to him that I had distributed sweets to all our friends.. Bapuji said with a twinkle in the eye: "But you did not give me any!" I was nonplussed. Presently, however, I gathered courage and replied: "Yes, I forgot to do so earlier, but I will bring some now for you." He cunningly said: "No, now it is too late. Now I won't take sweets; I will ask for something else from you!" I asked him: "What do you want?" He said: "Do you promise to give me whatever I ask for?" How could I imagine what he had in mind? I therefore said: "Yes, certainly!" He said: "Then give me your hair!" For a while I was shocked find became speechless, but gradually I calmed down and replied: "Well, you may have it, but on the condition that you ,yourself must cut it. I won't allow anyone else to touch it." He agreed and there and then asked Kanubhai to get him a clipper. He cleaned the machine, and closely cropped my hair. I felt like weeping, but restrain ed myself. Then I went to my mother and narrated the whole incident to her. Later I often got my hair cropped or bobbed, but never regretted it. Older persons admire me for it, and remarked: "She is a clever child, for she has caught Bapu to do this job for her!"

Later, when I was, eleven, I had to undergo an eye operation, and was asked by the doctor. to give complete rest to the eyes, for one whole year. During that period I accompanied Bapuji and Ba (my grandmother) to the Congress session at Haripura in February, 1938. We stayed in' a special tent put up for Bapuji. At night 1 slept near him. One morning he ,asked me to bring his chappals. I put them on and brought them to him. He immediately told me that children should not put on the chappals or shoes of elders and that they should bring these in their hands. He then asked me to take back the chappals to their original place and to bring them again in the proper manner.

In 1942-43 when Bapuji and my grandmother (whom we children addressed as 'Motilal were in detention in the Agakhan palace, my grandmother was ill, and during one of the visits to her I accompanied my father, as grand- mother loved to hear children's talk and laughter. My mother gave me two handkerchiefs daily for use at school, but to me they seemed more of an encumbrance. But in Poona, for the sake of dignity, I took care to have one of these with me whenever I went out. The day on which I went to see my grandparents was Monday, Le. Bapuji's day of silence. We started from our place at 10 a.m., and reached the Agakhan palace at 2 p.m., after paying a few visits on the way. By this time my kerchief got crumpled and soiled. I was indifferent" about it; nor had I another 'to replace it. But it did not, escape Bapuji's notice and by his facial expression he showed his disapprobation of my dirty handkerchief. He asked me to get it washed. When I said that I had not got another with me and that I badly needed it, he gave me another kerchief, and I washed the offending one. Next day the kerchief I had left behind was returned to me with the remark: "Now your kerchief is clean."

In July 1945 I was staying at Simla with my uncle and aunt, when Bapuji came there for the conference convened by the Viceroy. We, children, joined him in his daily prayers and walks. Once while talking .in Gujarati I used an English word 'education' about which he reprimanded me. He said nothing to me directly, but turning to his secretary nonchalantly asked him: "What does Sumi mean? Is it a horse or a bull? I am unable to follow her. Do you know the meaning of the English word she used?" I realized my mistake and corrected it. After that, whenever I was at a loss to find 'an appropriate Gujarati expression, I apologised to him, and he gave me the correct word. What he disliked was a hotchpotch of words, and he was keen on our using the correct words in the language which we for the moment were using. He also corrected' the mistakes in our letters and pointed these out to us.

He never liked my studying in a college, and said it was a showy type pf education, and that it was not related to practical life. As, however, I was obstinate he had to give in. When I went to him after my first year examination, he minutely inquired into my hostel life and studies at college. He wanted girls to be as sturdy and bold as boys. During his 21 days fast at the Agakhan palace in March 1943 I travelled alone from Wardha to Poona; and when I saw him and bowed to him he had no strength to speak, but he smiled and gave me a thump on the back in appreciation of my pluck and courage.

Banaras, 16-9-1948