“I wanted to depict an old, frail man in his last days and yet show his strength as a leader—of subscribing to an entirely different method of resistance to protest against the violence and the injustice of British rule.”
There is a widespread belief that living saints are given some intimation of their own mortality. Mahatma Gandhi often talked about living to 125 years or more, like some Hindu seers had done, but on January 29, a day before his assassination, Gandhi was unusually eloquent about mortality and his own death. On that day, members of the Nehru family had arrived at Birla Bhavan around lunchtime. They included Krishna Hutheesing, Jawaharlal’s sister, his daughter Indira with her four-year-old son, Rajiv, as well as Sarojini Naidu, the nationalist leader. They headed straight for the garden where Gandhi was basking in the sun wearing a Noakhali hat. Looking up at the approaching group, all wearing bright coloured saris, he greeted them, saying: “So, the princesses have come to see me.” In winter, Gandhi liked to enjoy his frugal lunch, mashed fruits and goat’s milk, in the open garden at Birla Bhavan, where he always stayed when in the capital and where he held his daily evening prayer meetings. Recalls Nehru’s sister, Krishna Hutheesing: “Gandhi looked exceedingly well that day; his bare brown body was absolutely glowing. This was because, even during his fasts, he took very good care of himself; for he had high blood pressure and used to have mud packs on his head and an oil massage to keep his strength up.... We sat in the sunshine talking. He teased me about my lecture tour, asked about my husband Raja and the children and we gossiped, nothing serious, just gay, idle family chatter.” Rajiv picked up some flowers that visitors had brought for the Mahatma, and started placing them around Gandhi’s feet at which Gandhi playfully pulled the young boy’s ear, and said, “You must not do that. One only puts flowers around dead people’s feet.”
Finally, there was this; an uncharacteristic outburst of anger at having to take some penicillin pills that his doctor had left for him to cure a bad cough he had developed. “If I were to die of disease or even a pimple, you must shout to the world from the house tops, that I was a false Mahatma. Then my soul, wherever it may be, will rest in peace. But if an explosion took place or somebody shot at me and I received his bullets on my bare chest, without a sigh and with Rama’s name on my lips, only then you should say I was a true Mahatma.” If this was a premonition, it was so eerily accurate as to be almost prophetic. Just a few hours earlier, Manuben, one of his “walking sticks” as he called her, had excused herself to go and look for powdered cloves that Gandhi took with jaggery to relieve his cough. Gandhi. who did not like his routine to be disturbed, remarked: “Who knows what is going to happen before nightfall or even whether I shall be alive?” Then, at 4 pm on January 30, his last day on earth, two leaders from his home state, Kathiawar, had arrived unannounced while Gandhi was in a crucial meeting with Sardar Patel. On being informed of their desire to see him, Gandhi said, “Tell them that I will see them, but only after the prayer meeting and that too if I am alive.”
Gandhi was approaching his 80th year, and was frail and unwell, having just ended one of his famous fasts, and the communal killings and ongoing tension had taxed him to the limit. On January 30, Gandhi had awoken at 3:30 am, unusually disturbed with the ‘darkness’ that had surrounded him, not just the killings but also the infighting in the Congress that he had helped build, with the growing chasm between Nehru and Sardar Patel. There was even a growing chorus for the Mahatma to withdraw to the Himalayas rather than face the post-Partition paroxysms and hostility from right-wing elements who were angered by his secular stand, especially what they saw as a soft line on Pakistan. He, however, knew that this was when India needed him the most. He had a long and busy day ahead. It would also be his last and it is possible he realised how much he still had to achieve. At 3:45 am, he surprisingly asked for a rendition of a Gujarati bhajan: “Thake na thake chhatayen hon/Manavi na leje visramo,Ne jhoojhaje ekal bayen/Ho manavi, na leje visramo (Whether tired or not, O man do not take rest, stop not, your struggle, if single-handed, continues.)” Shortly after, he started to work on revising the draft constitution for the reorganisation of the Congress party which he had started work on the previous night. It would be, in a sense, his last will and testament, his vision for the nation. It would also be the last thing he wrote.
Photograph by Getty Images, From Outlook 03 February 2014
On January 30, Gandhi woke early, as was customary for morning prayers which was held in the verandah outside his bedroom where he used to sleep with his inner circle, Manu and grand niece Abha, his two ‘walking sticks’, and Brij Krishna Chandiwala. Feeling unwell from the after-effects of his recent fast, Gandhi walked with the help of Manu and Abha to the inner room where he was given lemon and honey soaked in hot water followed by a 16 oz glass of sweet lime juice. After about an hour, he fell asleep, unusual for him. He awoke before 7 am to receive Mrs Rajan Nehru, wife of Jawaharlal’s nephew, R.K. Nehru, who was leaving for America that day. Normally, Gandhi would take a brisk walk outdoors before settling down to receive visitors and work on his papers but being under the weather, he did not feel well enough to perform his outdoor morning exercise.
At 8 am, it was time for his morning massage, during which he made some last minute corrections to the draft of the new constitution for the Congress before handing it over to his trusted secretary, Pyarelal, to give it a final look before forwarding it to the party headquarters. Then it was time for his daily Bengali lessons, both written and spoken, which he took from his grandniece Abha Gandhi. Having learnt nine different Indian languages, both written and spoken, Gandhi was determined to master Bengali. This day, his last day on earth, he did not deviate much from the routine he had set for himself. His morning bath was accompanied by a check on his weight, which, that morning, was 109.5 lbs. Those in the inner circle remember that last day vividly, perhaps because of the tragedy that it would end in, and they recall that the bath seemed to have refreshed Gandhi and given him greater energy, having been so ill and tired-looking for the past few days. He even showed a healthy appetite for breakfast, which consisted of exactly 12 ounces of goat’s milk, a cup of boiled vegetables with radishes and ripe tomatoes, as well as a glass each of orange and carrot juice. This was usually followed by a medicinal concoction of ginger, sour lime and aloe vera.
Photograph by Henri Cartier-Bresson/Magnum
Gandhi and Patel shared a very close, warm relationship based on mutual respect. Both had sacrificed much for the sake of independence but they also had their differences. Only a few days earlier, Patel had spoken to Gandhi in harsh and bitter tones on the issue of transferring `55 crore to Pakistan. Gandhi was so distraught that he broke down and cried. Despite the opposition from stalwarts like Patel, the Union cabinet later passed a resolution to transfer the money, under pressure from Gandhi, a decision that had so angered Patel that he had offered to resign. At their last meeting on January 30, neither of the two had any inkling that an hour later, Gandhi would be breathing his last. The meeting was an attempt to repair damaged relationships, between Nehru and Patel but also between Patel and Gandhi. Just a few days earlier, Gandhi had counselled Patel and Nehru that one of them should withdraw from the cabinet for it to function smoothly. Later, he realised that the country needed the political wisdom of both Nehru and Patel, a view shared by the last viceroy, Lord Mountbatten, who had requested Gandhi to try and persuade Patel to continue to work together with Nehru for the sake of the country.
As was his style, Gandhi continued to use his spinning wheel while talking to Patel. He informed Patel that he would highlight the issue of unity in his post-prayer speech and also told him that he was meeting Nehru and Azad to discuss the issue after the prayer meeting that evening. He declared that he would not leave Delhi until the matter of unity between Nehru and Patel was settled. While Patel was still with him, Gandhi had his last meal, 14 ounces of goat’s milk, a similar amount of vegetable soup and three oranges. It was now 4:30 pm and the issue was still unresolved. It was agreed that the three of them would meet the next day. He had still not left for his prayer meeting which started punctually at 5 pm. Gandhi hated to be late for anything. It was close to 5 pm but the discussion with Patel had become so intense that no one dare disturb the two. Abha and Manu, as also Maniben, Patel’s daughter, were getting uncomfortable at the delay. Abha, in desperation, picked up Gandhi’s pocket watch and tried to show it to him but so engrossed were the two that nothing registered. Finally, Manibehn plucked up her courage and interrupted them. “It’s ten past five,” she announced. “I must tear myself away,” was how Gandhi bade his final goodbye to Patel. Those would be his last words, apart from that which escaped his lips before he breathed his last, a few minutes later.
Even as Godse was being apprehended, Gandhi’s blood was spreading across the white shawl, made of Australian wool but spun by him. The pocket watch that he wore was shattered. It stood frozen at 5:17. His closest aides, Manu, Abha, Chandiwala and Pyarelal were in complete shock. A young lady doctor from Lady Harding Medical College, a close friend of Dr Sushila Nayar, Pyarelal’s sister, took over and placed Gandhi’s head on her lap. The body was quivering and still warm, the eyes half shut. She did not have the courage to announce his death, but she could tell he was no more. The news of the assassination spread like wildfire. Patel, who had barely reached his home after meeting Gandhi, rushed back to Birla Bhavan with his daughter. He took Gandhi’s wrist, hoping to find some sign of life. Finally, it was left to Dr B.P. Bhargava, a close friend of Gandhi’s aides present at the prayer meeting, to pronounce that Gandhi had been “dead for 10 minutes”.
The women gathered burst out wailing and weeping, grown men cried aloud. Patel stood ashen, unable to take in the enormity of the tragedy. Later, he would say: “Others could weep and find relief from their grief in tears, I could not do that. But it reduced my brain to pulp.” Maniben, his daughter, composed herself and asked the girls to join her in reciting the Gita. The sound of “Patita pavan Sita Ram...” rang out, punctuated by wails, as the crowds started swelling. Devdas arrived with his youngest son Gopal. He took his father’s hand in his and bending his head next to Gandhi’s ears he cried, “Bapu, say something.” The wailing had become uncontrollable. Next to arrive was Nehru, who buried his face into the blood-soaked clothes and cried like a baby. Patel tried to console him, patting his back. Nehru embraced Patel and sobbed uncontrollably. It was an unusual sight. The country’s prime minister and home minister acting like sons who had lost a beloved father. Lord Mountbatten was next to arrive. With thousands clogging the gates of Birla Bhavan, he could barely find a way to get in. “It was a Muslim who murdered him,” shouted an angry young man. “You fool,” retorted Mountbatten with his usual presence of mind, “it was a Hindu”, for he knew that if it was indeed a Muslim, the country would witness another bloodbath, this time of unimaginable magnitude. Only later did he get to know that it was a Brahmin who had killed Gandhi.
Photograph by Corbis, From Outlook 03 February 2014
Someone suggested that Gandhi’s body be embalmed and kept in state for national and international dignitaries to pay their final homage. However, Pyarelal made it known that Gandhi was against this and had categorically told him “even in my death, I will chide you if you fail in your duty”. After much deliberation, Gandhi’s body was taken to the first floor balcony for his countrymen to have a final ‘darshan’ of their departed leader. At one point, distraught and completely lost, Nehru mentioned to Manu, “Let’s go and ask Bapu what arrangements must be made....” Everyone present burst into tears. At about 2 am, Gandhi’s body was brought down and given the last ritualistic bath by the family with water brought from the river Jamuna. As Devdas removed Gandhi’s clothes one by one, those present could see three clear bullet marks, the first one on the right side of the abdomen two and half inches above the navel, the second, an inch to the right and the third, the most fatal one, had made a hole an inch above the right nipple. The first two bullets pierced the frail body and came out of the back. While bathing the body, these two bullets were found lodged in the shawl. The third one was embedded in the lungs. It was found 27 hours later, when the ashes were being gathered from the cold pyre.
Gandhi would often say that “Death is a celebration...death is God’s eternal blessing. The body falls and the bird within it flies away. So long as the bird does not die, the question of grief should not arise.” As the funeral pyre was lit and the world mourned the passing of the Apostle of Peace, the bird within was released into eternity.
Apropos The Dying of the Light (Feb 03), I mean no offence, but I feel if Gandhi had not been assassinated, soon people would have started reviling him for his impractical, unrealistic views and his constant interference in state matters.
Kumar S., Norway
It was Gandhi who introduced religion into politics much before Partition, but then we added more in the form of region and languages which led to further fracturing along the fault-lines between communities.
Jitendra Singh, Delhi
Thank you for a nice article on the occasion of Gandhi’s death anniversary.
Sharat Chandra, Kalpakkam
We didn’t want Partition, Gandhi imposed it on us with his constant bullying, and threats of fast unto death till he got his way. It’s not unlike the wiles of another Gandhian in our midst, Anna Hazare, who keeps fasting and threatening to commit suicide. No nation or people should be subject to such emotional bullying.
Rajesh Chary, Mumbai
Without understanding the historical contexts of the independence movement and Partition, it is impossible for today’s Indians to comprehend why victims of the post-Partition riots blamed Gandhi for their misfortune, why he became so unpopular post-1947 among Bengalis—especially the Hindu refugees from East Bengal—or why Godse chose to silence Gandhi.
Dipto, New York
We should honour Gandhi, of course, for his role in the freedom struggle, but we should also acknowledge that he was full of strange and impractical ideas, one among which was his aversion to western medicine. Kasturba died of pneumonia because Gandhi refused to allow her to be given penicillin. Then there was his opposition to industrial development which, along with Jawaharlal Nehru’s Fabian socialism, was responsible for the decades of stagnation and misery that followed independence. The man was also obsessed with bowel movements, and especially fond of giving and receiving enemas from young women. The man was also vindictive, people like Sardar Patel and Rajaji feeling the brunt of it. It was Gandhi also who foisted ‘Chamcha’ Nehru on us even though the majority of the Congress party wanted Patel since they knew what a bumbling bozo Nehru was. The result is that we got Nehru for 20 years—the “biggest disaster to hit India in the 20th century”, as one American reporter called him.
Ram Lala, Kavutaram
A poignant, moving reminder of that sad day. Thank you for publishing this account.
Venkat K.E., Raritan, US
Nathuram Godse is as equal a patriot, and not an unthinking anarchist as he is made out to be in the annals of history. Gandhi could have prevented Partition, and also the hanging of Bhagat Singh if he had wanted to. But he was too conscious of his own sainthood. He is nothing more than a man of failed ideas and misplaced priorities.
To paraphrase writer Milan Kundera, our fight against religious hatred and communal politics is the struggle of our memory against forgetting and what this man stood and died for.
Amit Thakur, Tokyo
This refers to the excerpt of the book on Gandhiji’s death (The Dying of the Light, Feb 3). Contrary to popular belief, Gandhiji, in those fateful last moments of his assassination, did not fall with ‘He Ram’ on his lips. Shri Kalyanam, Gandhiji’s private secretary from 1946-48, who was beside him when he died, has declared many times that after being shot, Gandhiji just fell down, and did not utter anything. Kalyanam is still alive and lives in Chennai, and has given his version to newspapers.
Thank you to all those who have taken the trouble to read the article and share their thoughts. Out of the arguments made here, there are two that perhaps need answering. So here they go.
1. The first part of the article compares outcomes (relative percentages of population of the religions concerned) irrespective of the process that led to those outcomes - whether immigration, relatively faster population growth or conversions. This was for two reasons. One, to put the figure of 2.3 per cent in "numerical perspective", as the article itself explained. The second reason was that outcomes are ultimately what the crux of debate is about. The rest of the article in any case dealt with process - or conversions in this case, from both a contemporary and historical perspective.
2. Some commenters have tried to cast doubts on the reliability of Census 2001. Those who do this should bear in mind that Census 2001 was conducted by a BJP government. Considering the extreme importance that BJP gives to this issue, it would be reasonable to expect that IF it had perceived a problem with the methodology that was distorting the numbers, it would have fixed it. As the article mentioned, BJP or BJP-supported governments have been in power for 10 of the last 40 years, or about a quarter of the time, and the only reasonable conclusion one can arrive at is that any misreporting of numbers, real or perceived, would be marginal and hence, not of importance.
To all other arguments made, my answer is the following: Please read the article again, with particular focus on the quotations of Vivekananda and Monier Williams, and the history of the missionary efforts in Bengal and their outcome.
The holocaust of indian partion by Madhav Godgole is one of the best boks on this.
The follwing books have fair assessment of gandhi:
Gandhi the man by Rajmohan gandhi
Gandhi before India by Ramchandra Guha.
Mira and Mahatma by sudhir kakar delves in psychology of his funny actions.
Gandhi was just a cunning politician who had highly controversial private life which was unworthy of a political leader. He failed India and country has paid dearly for pleasing him.
He very cleverly helped britishers ineliminating revolutionaries and helped poms to stay In India for longer duration.Godse's patriotism cannot be questioned. His action saved India from further destruction.
Your emotional outburst is understandable. But not all your facts are correct. Azad Hind Fauz was certainly not a huge military unit to wrest control of India from the British forces without backing of Japan. With Germany's capitulation to the allied forces it was only a matter of time for the Japanese to surrender, the nuclear bombing at Nagasaki and Hiroshima only accelerated it. The British were on the side of the victors in the WWII. It is not the fear of INA, but a chain of events after the WWII compelled Britain to withdraw from India completely in haste. Having said that INA 's courageous attempts to free India swayed nationalist emotions of the masses of those days. Nehru, the man who had publicly opposed Subhash for approaching Germany and Japan for help, sensing the emotion of the masses about the trial actually donned his lawyer's attire to defend the INA soldiers in the court as a publicity gimmick . A war ravaged Britain under pressure to reconstruct its weak domestic economy could not commit additional resources to control the affairs of India amongst INA trials, naval revolt in Mumbai and widespread communal riots. Mountbatten who came with the mandate to withdraw as soon as possible gave himself too tight a deadline to withdraw leaving the Indian leaders ill prepared to resolve their differences about future course of action. Remember, even after the WWI there were signs that the British rulers would be giving up more of their power and controls to the Indian political leaders. The writings and debates of various leaders of those days ( many of them forgotten to the present generation of Indians) reflect their ideas about the future formation of India once Britain completely withdraws. Jinnah's initial ideas and concerns about protection of the minority rights in a free India over the years got transformed into divisive two-nation agenda. Communalization of politics became stronger. By 1930s both Tagore and Satat Chandra Chtterjee would be dubbed Hindu communals by the communal elements of Bengali Muslims. A revolutionery at the turn of the century Vinayak Damodar Savarkar and his followers of Hindu Mahasabha would be asking for a Hindu nation. In 1930s the communists would be debating if a revolution would be feasible to free India. Another one-time revolutionery from Bengal M.N. Roy would be advising support of the British colonials (who had imprisoned him) during the WWII fearing that the victory of Germany would put an end to democracy anywhere in the world including India. Congress itself would be debating if they should oppose India's involvement in WWII and later would call for Quit India movement seeing no initiatives of the British forces to give up power. Around the same time the communists and Muslim League were opposing the Congress in their ideological divide about shape of governance in free India. Gandhi would be irrelevant by mid 1940s. He could no longer sway the masses for defending an undivided free India. Partition could have been the best option after failure of Cabinet Mission and rising communal riots around India. Gandhi indeed supported partition like other Congress leaders, but there was no other options especially when Mountbatten was looking for a hasty retreat.
As I said they did not have hindsight,
I suggest that you do your own research on political history of pre-independence India . A lot of materials are available on the net. Old newspaper reports are more objective and reliable than the memoirs of various leaders . You can even watch documentories posted on You Tube. You do not have to necessarily refer to Advani or any other writer. No individual can avoid personal biases in writing and interpreting history.
I agree with all of your posts .
My point is Netaji,Patel ,Gaffar Khan and other freedom fighters never got due recognition but Gandhi -Nehru got much more than they deserve .We read and our generations has read and will continue to read tainted and lopsided History only .
This is pure an attempt to cheat the History .
But History has had always the last laugh !
Just Question of time .
''LAST MINUTE DISCUSSIONS
It is interesting to note that General Sir Roy Bucher (C-in-C, IA) was opposed to the military action, and if agreeable was for an attack from the south, even though Lt. Gen. Rajendrasinhji was in favour of the western approach. A cabinet meeting was organised for September 12th to take a final decision. Among those who attended were Prime Minister Nehru, Home Minister Patel, Defence Minister Baldev Singh, Gopalswamy Iyengar, General Bucher, Lt. Gen. (later Field Marshal and C-in-C, IA) K M Cariappa and Air Marshal Sir Thomas W. Elmhirst (C-in-C, IAF).
''As the decision was being finalised, Gen. Bucher stood up and said, "Gentlemen, you have taken a decision in a difficult matter. I must give you my warning. We are also committed in Kashmir. We cannot say how long it will take so we will end up having two operations on our hands. This is not advisable, so as your C-in-C I ask you not to start the operations." HE FURTHER OFFERED HIS RESIGNATION IF HIS ADVICE WAS NOT HEEDED .
There was a silence while a distressed and WORRIED NEHRU LOOKED AROUND .PATEL REPLIED "YOU MAY RESIGN GENERAL BUCHER ,BUT POLICE ACTION WILL START TOMORROW "" An angry General Bucher stormed out, and coincidentally the next few days saw a rise in the Kashmir operations ''
DID ANY ONE OF YOU EVER READ IN YOUR OWN HISTORY BOOKS ? NO ? WHY BECAUSE NEITHER MADAM THAPER NOR SATISH CHANDRA SARKARI HISTORIANS WROTE ABOUT THIS.
Read on the link I have given and see what we read now and what we read in our Indian History Books written in our schools and college text books published by our post 1947 Historians.
No doubt all credits to GANDHI-NEHRU only !!
THE DYING OF THE LIGHT IS ANOTHER ATTEMPT IN THAT DIRECTION .
The author will surely get the Gayan Peeth award if not awarded yet .
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