Yes…I am remembering him today, like I have all my life. As a child growing up in a remote village in the 80s, we had a few heroes. They were Sri Krishna, Mahatma Gandhi, Bruce Lee, Amitabh Bachan (actor) and Kapil Dev (cricketer). They were our motivation and entertainment.
Gandhi – everyone knows him in India. Every city to every village. I saw him on the walls of schools and government offices, on postage stamps and school text books, in speeches in movies and politics. Everywhere. He continues to be the center of discussions, theatre shows and advertisements. A group of people lives by his ideals. There are others who believe he was a bad politician. Few days back, a book was launched by a British author who penned down the immense hatred Winston Churchill had towards Gandhi. For many, Gandhi is remembered during his birthday…a public holiday… a welcome break from the crunch of daily hard work. And there are some very young people who cannot believe he actually existed. And of course, for the TV channels, a chance to screen Richard Attenborough’s “Gandhi” at 12pm, in almost every regional language.
I am remembering him. He is in my list of heros. As a young child, he did inspire me. There were times when I dressed up as Gandhi to entertain my relatives. Another time, I went around hunting for a pair of spectacles that resembled his. In just one day, I read his autobiography. Another day, I relished his speeches. Every now and then, I used to look at the photos showcasing his weak body, seated on the ground, long hands slowly spinning a wheel in the early morning sunlight. About 5 years ago, I almost undertook the Dandi March (a non-violent protest led by Gandhi against the salt tax). This time, it was an exercise launched by his grandson to revisit the path taken and to remember the occasion. I wanted to do it for adventure and to pay my respects.
I admire that he referred to the Bhagavad Gita for inspiration. Gandhi was introduced to Gita by two English brothers in England. They used to read it everyday and asked Gandhi to join in, hoping that Gandhi could throw some light on the Sanskrit verses. But Gandhi did not have knowledge of the ancient language and he was sad for this. He instead read the English version by Sir Edwin Arnold. Anyways, the Gita had Its impact on the young Gandhi. He also began to read It frequently and especially liked the last 19 verses of Chapter 2. This is what he said about the Gita:
“The Gita is the universal mother. She turns away nobody. Her door is wide open to anyone who knocks. A true votary of Gita does not know what disappointment is. He ever dwells in perennial joy and peace that passeth understanding. But that peace and joy come not to skeptic or to him who is proud of his intellect or learning. It is reserved only for the humble in spirit who brings to her worship a fullness of faith and an undivided singleness of mind. There never was a man who worshipped her in that spirit and went disappointed. I find a solace in the Bhagavad-Gita that I miss even in the Sermon on the Mount. When disappointment stares me in the face and all alone I see not one ray of light, I go back to the Bhagavad-Gita. I find a verse here and a verse there , and I immediately begin to smile in the midst of overwhelming tragedies — and my life has been full of external tragedies — and if they have left no visible or indelible scar on me, I owe it all to the teaching of Bhagavad-Gita. “
He might not have propagated the Bhakti yoga system full-time but I am okay with this. To me, Gandhi represented a man who believed in his goals. He represented determination, sacrifice, discipline, hard work, honesty, fearlessness, simplicity and intelligence. I don’t care about his political decisions and hence I never saw him as a politician. He was a good man. A vaishnava. When those fatal bullets took its position in his body, he calmly uttered “Hey Ram”, with great humility and surrender. Only a great devotee of the Lord can do this. Only such people can truly be an inspiration.
Happy Birthday, Dear Bapu.