Thursday, April 08, 2010

Mahatma vs. Gandhi: Dinkar Joshi

What happens, if fate decides that you be born into a family of stalwarts? And again, if fate or you decide that what your parents, ancestors did is not what you want to do? And what, if a lifestyle or a way of life is forced upon you, just because your father follows it and thousands others too follow it out of respect for your father?

Mahatma vs. Gandhi is the tussle between Mahatma Gandhi and his eldest son, Harilal Gandhi. While the Mahatma has given up on worldly pleasures and is leading the life of an ascetic in Phoenix, South Africa, Harilal is not yet ready for such a life. But, he is forced to do so by the Mahatma for two reasons- one is because he (the Mahatma) believes that this is the true way of living life and two the Mahatma wants to maintain his self-righteousness in the eyes of the people.

Young Harilal respects his father a lot. Infact, at one point of time, he joined the Satyagraha movement in South Africa. But, unfortunately, he was labelled as "Junior Gandhi" and thus lost his identity as an independent Satyagrahi. Coupled with this were the expectations that he should follow the Mahatma's step in letter and spirit. But, Harilal saw a lot of contradictions between what the Mahatma said and did. For instance, Mahatma Gandhi forbade his sons from taking education in government schools. This meant none of them could get a matriculate and graduate. But Bapu himself was a barrister and had taken the highest quality education in England. Then, why should his sons be deprived of the privilege? And when Harilal himself promised to rejoin the Satyagraha after completing education. On top of that, to maintain his impartiality, Bapu picks up Chaganlal for a scholarship offered by a certain Dr. Mehta to any person living on Bapu's farm to pursue a barrister's degree in London. To insult to injury, Chaganlal goes back to India without completing his degree.

From this point, the relation between Harilal and Mahatma starts degrading. At every point in his life, Harilal feels that the Mahatma has betrayed him for the sake of maintaining his good image. The book Mahatma vs. Gandhi, written by Dinkar Joshi, captures these events in Harilal's life. The degradation in their relationship, the callous ways of Harilal, his sincere attempts at redeeming himself, his failures in doing so, because of lack of conviction are well chronicled. Despite all this, he still maintains respect for Bapu and his mother, Baa. Once, Gandhiji and Kasturba were travelling by train. When the train stopped on a station, the crowds were waiting to have a glimpse of the Mahatma. And when he came to the door, the crowd erupted in slogans "Mahatma Gandhi ki jai!!" As the train was about to leave, a small group chanted "Kasturba mata ki jai!!" This group was led by Harilal, who felt that a lot of injustice was done to his mother because the Mahatma never respected her feelings and imposed his decisions upon her. What would have happened, if Harilal had not fallen out with the Mahatma? In the words of his own nephew, "He would have been another Mahatma Gandhi, if circumstances were different."

The book may appear like a collection of various episodes, rather than a continuous story. That is because, this first appeared as a series of articles in Gujarati newspapers. Each "episode" captures the slow degradation of Harilal's life. From abandoning home to abandoning responsibilities, his addiction to alcohol and the slow death that it caused. Even death wasn't kind to the son of a great leader. Harilal was found on the verge of death in Mumbai's red-light area (Forase Road). And he died in Sewri hospital, where his body was claimed by his grand-nephew and nephew. Harilal died a few months after the Mahatma. There was one Gandhi, whose funeral was followed and attended by millions and by the greatest leaders of the country. And there was another, who died in penury and whose cremation was a low key affair, where only a few close relatives attended. Apart from them, it did not dawn upon a single soul that the two Gandhis were related.
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  1. wow that must've been one great read...jus shows how much life sucks even for the greatest...seems like a person who lead a nation actually failed with his own family...its sad

  2. @rads,
    After a long time!!

    yes, it was a good read and just goes on to prove that everything in life cannot be perfect. The Mahatma was revered by millions, nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize, but he never was at peace with his family!