Finding Gandhi

Book : Ballad of Bapu Author: Santosh Bakaya Publisher: Vitasta Publishing Pvt Ltd. ISBN 978-93-82711-57-5

My first impression of M.K. Gandhi, is a simple drawing of a drooping figure of a frail man with a stick in hand. It was drawn by one of my cousin brothers, when we were studying in primary school. That drawing then appealed to me as a simple thing to do without much artistic skill. From that pictorial knowledge of Bapu, I graduated to something celluloid, when my father one beautiful spring evening brought home a videotape cassette ( at that time VCP was in rage) titled ‘Gandhi’ I was told that the movie was the first one to get American Motion Pictures Award for India. After watching the flick for many days I thought Ben Kingsley to be the real Gandhi. That got rectified later when I was made to read an interesting article on Gandhi ( this time by my mother). On Gandhi , several research books with razor sharp debates and deliberations can be easily found in our country. Afterall, Bapu had remained one of the most ‘ loved and hated’ man all through his life. But reading ‘ Ballad of Bapu’ is like having a dream of Bapu, colorful, smooth and enchanting, for it is not a mere research work on Gandhi’s life and his doctrines. It is a Ballad, a lyrical one, sustained from page one to the last. Divided into several short chapters and decorated with rare photographs of Bapu’s life, the book is a poetic analysis of Gandhi and his works. I might have said that it is a poetic biography, but if even by mistake should I say that for once about the book, I will be committing a great blunder; I will be completely overlooking the deft touch of analysis of Gandhi’s works as done with meticulous ease by the author-poet. The author is not merely writing a biography. She has mined out several incidents apparently small and insignificant,of Bapu’s life, only to indicate a larger pattern. For any student of history, the book will amply provide details which are astoundingly well researched. But that is probably not the focal point of the book. The author has found how by different actions and deeds, Gandhi laid a foundation of non violence as a principle which is undoubtedly Godly and because it is Godly, it had to face severe challenges, the final challenge being the assassination of Bapu. By sacrificing his life, Bapu had , with finality, proved the Godliness of his principle. Chapter by chapter, events by events, the author has shown how Gandhi became Mahatma. Of all the chapters , the ‘Centrestage’ , ‘ Phoenix farm’ ‘Tolstoy and Gandhi’ ‘Tolstoy farm’ ‘Gandhi in India’ ‘Annie Besant and Gandhi’, ‘Jallianwala Bagh’ , ‘Chauri Chaura’ and ‘Imprisonment’ appeared to be the most engaging for in these chapters we not only find different anecdotes on Bapu’s life but also the valuable authorial commentary on Bapu. For example, if in ‘Phoenix farm’ we get to know about Gandhiji’s reading habit ( ‘At dawn Gandhi read The Gita, the Koran at noon’), in ‘Tolstoy and Gandhi’ we find how voraciously Bapu read Tolstoy while in jail at South Africa. ( ‘In jail, in Tolstoy’s books he found a soulmate/ Greatly inspired by this man born in 1828’). To write history is difficult, to write personal history is more difficult, but to write personal history of a man like Bapu and that too in ballad form maintaining ‘ a a b b a ‘rhyme scheme all through is simply superhuman a work and that Santosh ji how easily has performed, as if she is a musician or a pianist who is just running her practised fingers on words to make them sing. And they sing in tune with Gandhian philosophy, his unwavering faith on non violence and peace. A testimony to the author’s assertion on Gandhian philosophy can be found in the chapters like ‘Jallianwala Bagh’ where she has written : ‘Towards a self disciplined Bardoli his eyes turned/ A policy of senseless gore he had always spurned’ ( page 156). Same assertion comes to the fore in the (in)famous ‘Chauri Chaura’ incident. Bapu with all resilience stood up for non violence and went to prison again, blaming himself for the crime which was not his doing, truely like a father, who can go any distance, to any extreme , for his sons and daughters. ‘No provocation can justify murder, he exclaimed/ For the protestors’ crime, himself he blamed’ ( page 160). The unshakeable faith in non violence, however, never posed any hindrance to Bapu to stand for what is right. While he was imprisoned, he wrote to the British Government why he felt sedition was the creed that he followed. In fact , Bapu was imprisoned more on charges of sedition than any leader if that period, yet how mistakenly oft his non violent acts are interpreted. The author has rightly pointed out : ‘Sedition was their creed , said the man with integrity/ In his first article ‘Tampering with Loyalty’ (page 163). In similar vein Santosh ji has carried on in the chapter ‘Imprisonment’ when she explained : ‘On 19 September 1921 Fearlessly wrote this son The government was shocked at his sheer audacity’ But Gandhiji probably had been too much for both the British and those who could not make out proper his philosophy, as the author has pointed out: ‘He started Harijan, a weekly new Which , with his rapier touch he did imbue… … But for the Sanatanists an unpalatable brew’ This outer struggle led eventually to an inner struggle in Bapu. So, even after independence he could not be happy. He had remained restless with agony, hurt by pains. ‘2nd October 1947 did not dawn like any day Though it was the Mahatma’s 78th birthday He was restless The fury relentless Dampened his spirits he could smell decay’ ( page 259) And that decay took him to the point of being challenged which he answered by sacrificing his life. ‘Was he a mad man or a coward? He whipped out a pistol, with no compunction?'( page 308). The author has left that rhetorical question beautifully, almost theatrically poised towards the end of the concluding chapter. If we are to rediscover and relearn Gandhi, if we are to trace the path between Gandhi and Mahatma, we are sure to read this book. Another interesting feature of the book is the bibliography. A poem by P. B Shelley (which was once recited by Bapu at a gathering) titled ‘The Mask of Anarchy’ , provided in the additional reading section serve as proper embellishment to this wonderous book.

The town where I live

The town where I have spent most of my days so far, has literary connections which are astounding to say the least. Though never thought to write about those connections, very recently, I got a copy of Tagore’s letter which he wrote on his visit to the town and the shoe factory and that someway instigated me to write a few lines on the town of Batanagar and its literary connections.

Tagore visited the factory on 10th November, 1939 and wrote a few words on his visit and his experience. He called the factory and its surrounding township as ‘ great industrial institution’ and heaped praises on its ‘founder’. He was probably refering to Jan Antonin Bata, the founder of Bata Industrial town ( the factory and the town had been set up in 1934) who actually hailed from Zlin, ( erstwhile Czechoslovakia) a small town situated by the banks of Dřevnice River. Being a resident of Batanagar for long, finding this connection with Tagore is something really a matter of pride. Talking about literary connections to Batanagar, the name of Vikram Seth should always come up. He used to stay in this town. He spent his boyhood here in the town. The reference to the town can be found in his ‘ A Suitable Boy’ , in which he referred to the town as ‘ Prahapur’ and the Bata Shoe Factory as ‘Prahapur Shoe factory’.His family lived in many cities including the Bata Shoe Company town of Batanagar. His father Prem ( nath) Seth had been an executive of Bata Shoe Company. With times, the township has changed a lot. But some basic things had remained the same( namely Tomas Bata Avenue, the river Ganges which flows by, the railway over bridge, etc;) I have always found the place very serene and poetic. Not sure if it is because I am born and brought up here. But the greenery, the breaking of Radhachura and Krishnachura trees into delicate blossoms in spring, the arrival of migratory birds at the marshy lands nearby during winter, the ponds ( where still people /anglers do fishing), the ‘love in the air’ feel, all conjure up magical moments for sure.

From granny, a story

Little Suprotik had been to his granny after a long time. His dad had dropped him there before going to office. Rupali had packed in his bag a packet of chocochips and muffins.
‘Give them to granny and tell her to come to us, if possible, this weekend’
Rupali had told him.
‘I will mom, don’t you worry!’
Suprotik had said.

Granny was waiting for him at the porch. On her recliner, she was sitting when Devarghya dropped him.

‘O my heart’s joy! Come to me child!’
Granny took him to her arms, the moment he climbed up to the porch.
Suprotik after a long time got that familiar smell of granny, her betel leaf smell mixed with smell of turmeric, cinnamon and vegetables.
‘Take these, mom sent’em for you’
Suprotik handed granny the packets of chocochips and muffins.

‘Ma, I will take him on my way back home…’
Devarghya had said.
‘O…will you not stay for awhile and have brunch with us?’
Granny asked.
‘No ma, I got works…’
Devarghya smiled.
‘Couldn’t Rupu come?’
‘No, ma, she got works too, you know…’

‘O yes… I tend to forget…’
Granny nodded her head.
‘Come child…’

Soon granny took Suprotik to her kitchen.
Granny’s kitchen always kept Suprotik full of wonders.
Entering it he was at once gripped with aroma of spices. There was no kitchenette , no chimney, no water purifier,no cabinets. But there was that grand chulla of a kind. It was run on wood and charcoal.
The rotis made there always had that peculiar smell of charcoal.
And those grilled mushroom and paneer cubes.

Suprotik delved into the plate given to him by granny. A simple chinaware, no fancy stuff, but he noted every time he would come to granny’s , she would serve him on that particular plate.
‘Why do you serve me on this plate, every time, granny?’
Suprotik had asked.
‘Cause your dad used to have his food from this one…’
Granny said.

Post lunch, granny took him to her garden.
A beauty of a garden it was!
The bunches of marigolds and roses and chrysanthemums greeted Suprotik at once with their trembling petals.
‘Want to take any?’
Granny asked.
Suprotik looked at granny’s face.
She looked so beautiful in her white saree with thin embroidered border. Her face was resplendent. She looked like an angel almost.
‘Okay… As you wish…’
Granny picked up few marigolds and roses, tied them with a twine and gave them to him.
Suprotik took a deep smell.
‘They are so beautiful…’
‘Nothing like you dear!’
Granny gave a mild pinch to his cheek.
‘Why don’t you go and stay with us, gran?’
Suprotik asked.
‘If I go, who will take care of my garden?’

‘But then you said there is nothing like me?’
Suprotik asked back.

Granny signaled Suprotik to sit down on her lap.
‘Want to listen to a story?’

‘Yay!’
Suprotik clapped.

‘Once there lived a tree who wanted to be the most worthy. He prayed to God. Despite his prayers the woodcutters came and chopped him off. The tree thought he was unworthy. But still he prayed. The log was kept for weathering for few months. Then one day, a carpenter came and turned the wood into a beautiful box. That box was sold to a poor couple. The couple put all their dirty linen in the box. But after some months when they were blessed with a child, they cleaned the box and put him there. Then the tree realised God’s benediction. So see, all the trees that I had planted here, are for my God, whom I worship. So I can’t leave them. And you know who my God is?’
Granny asked.
Suprotik, who was listening to the story with rapt attention, couldn’t at once answer granny’s query.

‘It is you…for you bring me all the hope to work for…I take care of this house, this garden, only with the hope that you will come…’

Granny had said.

‘Okay, I promise to come to you…every week…’

‘That’s great!’
Granny had said.

Late in the afternoon, Devarghya came to take Suprotik.
Granny gave him the bunch of flowers and a jar of pickles.
‘You can have the pickles all the year round…’

While he was returning home, through the window the slanted rays of the setting sun with its own superb spring time hue were caressing the face of little Suprotik.
He was holding on to the bunch of flowers tied by a twine.
‘I would love to be at granny’s every weekend!’
He suddenly demanded.
‘Why? For those flowers? Or stories?’
Devarghya asked.

‘For both!’

Suprotik claimed without hassles.