When Martin Luther King was killed in Memphis in 1958, the Chicago Sun-Times published a cartoon. Gandhiji’s ghost tells a bullet-torn Martin Luther King, “Dr.King! These killers are weird. They think they have killed you!” Godse made the same mistake about Gandhiji on 30 January, 1948 at 5.15 pm. Gandhi is an event that continues to live even after he is dead. Those who are dead even while they live may find some things about him weird. It is true that he was a weird man. It is not necessary to agree with all he said, but when he is mocked, it feels as if not he, but humanity is insulted.

On Gandhiji’s 50th death anniversary, the director of the Hiroshima Peace Memorial, Minoru Hataguchi came to Mumbai. When the bomb fell on Hiroshima, Minoru was in his mother’s womb, and was saved. I was present at the prayer meeting held on 5th August, 1985, at 8.15 am, exactly 50 years after the nuclear bomb was dropped on Hiroshima. The Peace Memorial stands at the exact spot that the bomb fell. In that moment, these lines formed in my mind:

“In the Peace Park here, there is a crowd.
But there is no jostling.
There are a few noises,
But there is no cacophony.
Here there is peace.
But not a frightening silence.
There is the sun.
But not a sweltering heat.
Here there is prayer without words.
But there are no words without a prayer.”

Around 1920 – 1925, the young Communist S.A.Dange wrote a book: ‘Gandhi V/S Lenin.’ Such books should be written. In 1957, Gopal Godse’s book, ‘Gandhi, Murder and Me’ was banned. Such bans should not be placed. Even Gandhiji would not want that. Bal Thackeray admires Hitler. But one needs as much honesty as Gandhi had even to criticize him. Bal Thackeray himself knows, that he does not have that honesty.

Will we be able to live in a society, where we accept the custom of finishing off those whose thoughts or tendencies may be different from our own? Narsinh Mehta’s words have truth in them: “If we are born of men, then no one can be unhappy, kill the enemy and have a hundred friends.” Martin Luther King says: “If we do not learn to live like brothers, we will die together like fools.” When the bomb was dropped on Hiroshima, the physicist Kenneth Bainbridge at the Los Alamos Nuclear Centre in New Mexico said to Oppenheimer after the planes carrying the nuclear bomb had left for Japan: “From today we are all fit to be called the sons of bitches.”

If the man of the age does not seem weird to the people of his times, how can he be a revolutionary or a seer? Is not Ram’s going to the forest in exile, to honor the promise of his father, weird? It was not difficult for Ram to kill Dashrath who gave in to Kaikeyi’s demands, and to become the king himself. Nor was it difficult for Bharat, returning home from his aunts, to accept the crown that fell into his lap, and become the darling of his mother. What would the Shiv Sena call Ram and Bharat? Will they call Ram and Bharat great fools? Will they call the truthful Harishchandra an idiot? If they call these great men fools, then where is the pride of Hindutva? If Hitler is to be praised, then Hiranyakashipu can also be worshipped as an incarnation of God. Only those men who take humanity one step forward on the path of compassion, goodness and love can be called great men.

Gandhiji’s honesty was also doubted. Nehru and Sardar Patel, too disagreed with his insisting on giving Pakistan it’s dues of 55 crores of rupees. We too may disagree. The disagreement was not about giving the money; the disagreement was about Gandhiji’s insistence on giving the money immediately. There was a possibility that the money would be used against us in war, therefore Sardar Patel was uneasy. Sardar and Gandhi had different duties at that time. As the Home Minister, Sardar rightly thought that they were justified in delaying paying the dues at a time of disquiet, and that was an internationally accepted norm. Gandhiji’s insistence was that of a great soul.

It was not wrong that Godse and the Hindu Mahasabha were angry with him. Many Congress leaders also found Gandhi unacceptable at that time, but if a difference of opinion is to be settled by killing someone, then what turn would society take? Can even Bal Thackeray be safe in such a society?

Gandhiji was not the kind of great soul that never makes a mistake, because he was a man. Do we even have the honesty of his mistakes? He took up actions that would benefit the country and the world, with great integrity. Do we follow our own thoughts with such integrity? In such cases, we are even less honest than Godse, because we do not have even his fearlessness.

There is no need to be upset about the plays on Gandhi and Harilal. I had the opportunity of reading the manuscript of Feroze Khan’s play, ‘Mahatma V/S Gandhi’ before it was performed. It is based strictly on facts, and at the same time, it has maintained a subtle discretion. It is not necessary to believe that Harilal did not suffer any injustice. Even admirers do not have the right to take away from Gandhiji’s human-ness. Let us hear Kaka Kalelkar carefully: “ Gandhiji is a man. He was susceptible to human passions. If Gandhiji was an incarnation of God, I swear I would not have worshipped him.”

If we can use our own judgment after watching the plays based on Gandhi, Godse and Harilal, then there won’t be any injustice done to the Mahatma. If Gandhi is an incomplete man, then Godse too is not a complete man. It cannot be expected that Gopal Godse or Bal Thackeray will understand this. They sell the stock of anger. The common man is more sensible than them. There is no need to fear that Gandhi’s thoughts will be suppressed because of a few plays. He experimented with truth, not with plays.

From Prof. Gunvant Shah’s
‘Mahant, Mulla, Padre’@ October 1999

  • Mahant – Hindu priest
  • Mulla – Muslim priest
  • Padre – Christian priest

// posted by Batul @ 8:53 AM June 17, 2006

Max Babi said…

Very thought-provoking article, Batul, as always from the magic pen of a seasoned writer…I entirely agree with his point of view. Before I and you leave this planet, mark my words, Godse and Thackeray will be forgotten. Not Gandhi. Even in nations like Bolivia, the main road of the capital city La Paz is called M.G. Road. How many roads are named after merchants of hate and anger and where?
cheerz!

2:11 PM, June 17, 2006

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