IN THE WINTER of 2017, a news photograph from Delhi caught my eye. A striding Mahatma Gandhi wearing a white mask, secured with elastic loops around his ears.
Two Delhi MLAs had resorted to this novel way of highlighting the national capital region’s abysmal air quality. And, they had chosen the Gyarah Murti Gandhi for this. The eleven satyagrahis stand at the point where Sardar Patel Marg meets Mother Teresa Crescent. In a city teeming with statues, the MLAs had chosen to put the mask on this one man, and at this memorial to an iconic protest march.
I think it is simply because no other protestor has imprinted himself on our imagination like Gandhiji. Not Bhagat Singh, B.K. Dutt and their rallying call—“Inquilab zindabad”. Not the ‘Tank Man’ at Tiananmen Square. Not the flaming Thich Quang Duc in Saigon. Not the Arab Spring crowds. Not the lone girl in a white thobe, standing atop a car in Khartoum and screaming “Thowra (Revolution)!” For most Indians, the lanky, dhoti-clad man with a toothless smile symbolises the cliff against which the empire’s ceaseless waves smashed ineffectually.
And, it is not only about his life, but also about his death. Like khadi, like the handful of salt he picked up at Dandi, his assassin, too, was swadeshi. A life and death like no other. A life laid down in service of the nation. That is why we turn to him when we feel let down by governments. We are strengthened by the mere thought that he would have been in our corner today. And this is why his 150th birth anniversary becomes important. This mid-year special issue of your favourite newsweekly marks this milestone and brings you unlit chapters from his life.
On the National Salt Satyagraha Memorial website, Tushar Gandhi says, “A lot of the facts of the historic Salt March were being forgotten and a lot of myths were creeping into the narrative.” That is true, not just about the Salt Satyagraha, but also about Gandhiji’s life in general. One urban myth that we discuss in this package is about a painting by Feliks Topolski, displayed in the Rashtrapati Bhavan. It shows “Mahatma Gandhi bathed in blood, leaning on two young women, calmly slumping to the ground”. The myth is that it was painted in 1946, two years before Gandhiji was assassinated. Was it a prophetic painting? The answer is on Page 74.
The words in the package come from accomplished wordsmiths: Rajmohan Gandhi, Mark Tully, Kancha Ilaiah Shepherd, Vikram Sampath and Tushar Gandhi. I am sure that you will appreciate the images that accompany the words. A special word of thanks to Bose Krishnamachari for his invaluable guidance. Permission to reproduce the paintings was generously granted by Akbar Padamsee, Atul Dodiya, G.R. Iranna, Jitish Kallat, Riyas Komu, Bara Bhaskaran, Priyasri Art Gallery and The Raza Foundation. The rare photographs are courtesy of Navajivan Trust, Ahmedabad, and Pramod Kapoor and Roli Books. My thanks to everyone.
As I end this letter, I must tell you that Gandhiji is present all over my hometown. All my early correspondence had his mark on it because my parents had built their home on a hillock called Mount Wardha. A short walk from the Malayala Manorama headquarters is Kottayam’s own Gandhi Square, complete with a statue of the Mahatma. And, the town is also home to Mahatma Gandhi University, which has adopted Gandhiji’s eight-spoked charkha as its coat of arms.