Mahatma still alone in his march

I lived in a house next to a ghat on the bank of the Ganga in Patna for about 21 years. The ghat is dedicated to Mahatma Gandhi and is called Gandhi Ghat. I was told by old-timers that it was one of the places where the ashes of Gandhiji had been immersed in the Ganga. A small memorial to Gandhiji stands at the ghat. It is a structure enclosed by grill and is locked for all but two days of the year – Gandhiji’s birth anniversary on 2 October and his death anniversary on 30 January. ‘Hey Ram’ is written in Hindi on the marble floor of the structure. Close by the lines dear to Gandhiji, Raghupati Raghav Raja Ram/Patit Pawan Sita Ram
are written in cement relief on a sloping surface.

The ghat has been maintained well over the years because the chief minister of Bihar visits it on 2 October and the Governor of Bihar on 30 January to pay homage to Gandhiji. The Ganga in spate in the rainy season often broke some steps of the ghat. But repair was done regularly so that the ghat looked in good condition when the dignitaries came. Of course, there were times when the repair was not done for there’s only so much diligence that the Bihari machinery is capable of. But by and large, all attempts were made to make the ghat glow to keep the honourable visitors happy. The
Raghupati Raghav
… cement lines were painted along with the entire ghat. A red carpet was rolled from the gate from which the CM and Governor entered the ghat to the memorial to Gandhiji to which they offered flowers. There was one problem with all this fanfare. All through the year, the ghat used to be accessible to everyone and even cattle roamed about, grazing the wild greenery there. Temples are situated at the ghat and it is impossible to have flowers for more than a few days on any plant because devotees pluck and offer them in worship. There was no point in cultivating a garden at the ghat because the people and animals freely roaming there would lay it waste. But the CM and Governor have to be served a tip-top ghat, complete with well-laid gardens. Ingenuity is the hallmark of India and Bihar probably leads all states in this department.

A day or two before the visits of the CM and Governor, the gardener appointed for the ghat would dig up the space meant for flower beds. Flowers in pots were taken from nurseries on rent for a few days. They were then placed in the dug up areas and covered with mud. The pots remained hidden below the surface of the earth and it seemed flowers were growing in their beds. Freshly cut grass was strewn in the barren places where grass was supposed to grow. It looked from the pathways on which the dignitaries walked that grass was sprouting from the earth.

Thus was Gandhiji remembered briefly on two days of the year at a ghat dedicated to him on the bank of the Ganga.I sometimes wonder whether Gandhiji would have endorsed this kind of ritualistic homage paid to him. It would be difficult to find many true Gandhians in the nation today. There is no harm with that. It is not at all necessary for anyone to be a Gandhian.

It is not something that can be imposed on anyone. But the ceremonial remembrance in which he is held is pointless. Two tenets for which Gandhiji had special reverence were truth and non-violence. These two principles hardly form the basis of the life of the common Indian today. And they are truly lacking in the life of the political leaders of the country.

In leading a life not anchored in truth and non-violence, the nation has discarded Gandhi in both letter and spirit. What is the meaning then, of this sham of standing with head bowed ritually before his statue in silence for a minute or two? Gandhiji would have liked it more if the country had the honesty to shrug off this practice of pretending to remember him and the courage to forget him on 2 October and 30 January when it has nothing to do with conduct guided by truth and non-violence all through the year.

So, for all practical purposes, the nation is non-Gandhian in making a show of remembering Gandhiji. But there is no chance of the routine of remembrance being dropped. Gandhiji was left in the sidelines right at the time of India’s hour of Independence, when the lure of political power surfaced and drew many politicians. While the country bled due to the Partition and the tumult and pomp of Independence captivated everyone, Gandhiji was left with Tagore’s lines Jodi tore dak shune keu na ashe tobe ekla chalo re …(If no one answers your call, walk alone …) while trying to quell communal violence. The Mahatma is still walking alone. It is time we just let him be with his pain and benediction.

The author is a senior journalist and columnist
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