Gandhi Comes Alive

Sweet And Sad

-P. G. Mavalankar

WHEN I was studying in the English sixth standard, I contributed an article to the school Annual, wherein I stated that my life-ambition was to advance culture, through work in the field of education. All seemed to like my writing. Thereafter my father went to Sevagram for the first time in 1944, after his release from jail, for a meeting of the Kasturba Trust Fund. I insisted on his taking my article and give it to Bapu for his opinion. My joy knew no bounds when I got, through my father, a letter in Bapu's own handwriting:

Dear Purushottam,

You have selected the best but a difficult ideal. May God help you. Do come here some time. Love.


It was May 1944. Bapu was at Juhu. I went to him with my father. After the talks (between him and my father) were over, I placed in Bapu's hands my autograph- book for his autograph. He took the book with the five- rupee note, and asked for a fountain pen, which was then offered to him by my father. But he returned it, stating that it was of foreign make. He even rejected my pen, which was known as 'Gooptu's Perfection' and was made at Calcutta, under the impression that it was of foreign make. He signed his autograph with a pen lying near him. While signing his autograph, he gave us, in a romantic manner, the history of his own pen. He said: "Once I had been to Banaras. Mahadev was with me. I lost my . pen there. Mahadev was naturally upset. So our host, the late Shivaprasad Gupta, presented a pen to me. He gave one to Mahadev also. I am still using that pen. It is entirely Indian-made,-manufactured in Banaras-and it works well." After saying this, he said with a smile: "I was told the story (of the manufacture of the pen) by Shivaprasad. I do not know anything about it. But what he stated must have been true."

It was the month of May in 1945. There was a meeting of the Kasturba Fund Trustees in the cool climate of Mahabaleshwar. Bapu presided over it. During the discussion on a certain subject, Shri Devdas (youngest son of Gandhiji), who is a trustee of the Fund, said: "Bapu, I wish to say something about this." Bapu said: "Surely, say whatever you like." "But it is something against the view you propound," said Devdas. Bapu smiled and said: "An obedient son may feel shy of speaking to the face of his father. But you need have no such feeling. Say frankly what you want." Pointing to Shri Thakkar Bapa, he added with a hearty laughter: "But look here, here are two instead of one Bapa (father). I can appreciate, therefore, your embarrassment." Shri C. Rajagopalachari happened to be there at the time, and he caused addition to the peals of laughter by saying: "But, Bapu, here there are three fathers instead of two! This was quite correct; as Shri Rajaji is the father-in-law of Shri Devdas. Bapu had all along joined in the laughter.

I was in Delhi in October 1946, and one day (on 24th October) accompanied my father to the Bhangi Colony at prayer time. As we approached the place, we noticed some turmoil from a distance. We were afraid that we were a bit late for the prayers. Instead, we saw a different situation. Bapuji was standing on the plat- form, with others, and was talking to the crowd, some among whom were raising some slogans. The situation appeared to me from a distance to be strange and sad.

Bapuji was standing and was saying something with a sad heart as appeared from his face. It was not possible to know what exactly was happening. I imagined that he might be saying .good-bye with a heavy heart, to the crowd, on the eve of his departure for Bengal next day. We entered the premises with curiosity, and stood on the left side of the prayer platform. We saw some young and angry faces, among the crowd, carrying boards displaying the following slogans: "Down with Bengal Ministry", Save Bengali Hindus from mass slaughter", "Expel Ben- gal Governor", "Remove Suhrawardy Ministry", "Rescue abducted women". They were very vocal, with slogans against the Muslim League and the League Ministry in Bengal. We learnt afterwards that they were local Bengali Hindus. Bapuji was appealing to all of them to be quiet. He said to the angry crowd: "Prayers will begin if you keep quiet. You have come here for prayers. You can go elsewhere, if you do not wish to join these. There is no obligation on anyone here (to remain present); but if you choose to stay, you must keep quiet."

For a while nobody complied with his request. The slogans continued. He was patiently trying to have his say; but Who would- hear him in such a tumult? At last one voice angrily said to him: "Gandhiji, we want the Central Government to intervene in this matter. We want that our people must be saved from this calamity. We want you to intervene. Why don't you immediately go to Bengal?" I also felt moved at the piteous appeal of the man to the Father of the Nation. What could helpless people do in such a situation? Whom else could the afflicted appeal to, but to the Father of the Nation?

Did Bapuji not know the situation in the country?

But his hands were tied in many ways. At last he showed great presence of mind and abandoned a large part of the prayers. He took up only Ramdhun. He saw that it was impossible to induce the excited crowd to keep quiet for fifteen- to twenty minutes. The 'Ramdhun' brought about a sweet silence. Cheerfulness and patience replaced irritation. and anger. Bapu then began his address to the crowd. He had felt the pulse of the distressed people. This was not a new experience. He did not attempt to find fault with people who had gone mad with rage. On the contrary he spoke to them with sympathy: "All leaders are fully alive to the situation in Bengal. The Congress Cabinet is at present considering the very question, and I am also preparing to go to Bengal. All of us are moved, when we read or hear the Bengal atrocities; but you should all keep some patience, have some courage, and trust in God. Solid work and not mere slogans are essential on such occasions. First decide whether you want to kill or to die. Empty slogans will serve no purpose. I can only show to you the way to die, to sacrifice all that you have, not the way to kill. I have been preaching this in India for the last thirty years-in fact, since the South African days and therefore for the last fifty years." Bapu spoke to this effect. His voice showed the deep sorrow of his heart. He even referred to the Interim Government and said: "Pandit Jawaharlal; Sardar Patel and other leaders have been very much grieved at the Bengal atrocities; but leaders cannot afford to sit silent in grief. What an amount of responsibility Jawaharlal is bearing today! He carries the burden of. anxiety for the entire nation. He is overburdened with work. He could not sleep till two o'clock last night. But what is the remedy? Everyone must discharge his duty. If Members of Government feel convinced that the Bengal conflagration can be put down by their sacrifice, none of them will fail to act accordingly."

Bapu then turned to the atrocities against women. While explaining that, though our sisters in Bengal might keep with them knives for self-defence if necessary, the knives would be of no avail against crowds, he said: "I have told women long ago that it is better to end one's life by poison than suffer insults. I wish our sisters become brave."

At the end, congratulating the crowd for maintaining peace, he said: "I am very grateful to you: all for having given a patient hearing to' me, after participating in Ramdhun."

Ahmedabad, 21-11-1948.