February 22, 2020
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Bapu's Laxmi

Bapu's Laxmi
THE inner circle, including Kasturba, shuddered when Gandhi decided to adopt Laxmi, daughter of the harijans Dudabhai and Daniben Dafda. Gandhiji's daughter by choice created a social flutter and consequently history too. Are pentant Ba nurtured the child as a daughter and the Mahatma married Laxmi off to a Brahmin in the ashram itself. Laxmi, the mother of Haridas and the late Kalpana, passed away on January 31, 1984, a day after Gandhiji's 36th death anniversary.

For Laxmi's son Haridas, the memories are in sepia tone, especially after a paralytic stroke in 1993. "My mother told me I was named Haridas by Vallabhai Patel. Ba objected as she thought I would follow in Harilal's footsteps. She preferred 'Purushottam' but Bapuji insisted on Haridas."

Born on April 23, 1934, in the Swaraj ashram at Bardoli, Haridas' recollections of the Mahatma are limited. A walk around the ashram with Ba and Bapuji is resurrected through the family album. One incident is vividly etched. "I had in jest called an ashram friend sala. When Bapuji heard about it, he punished me by observing two days of silence himself. Since then, I have abstained from swearing," says Haridas. Other things were subconsciously store d . The love for swadeshi, the dignity of labour, and above all, an uncompromising respect for others. Wife Rasila, niece of the late Gujarati poet Nathalal Dave, recalls how Shriman Narayan, a former Gujarat governor, invited Haridas over and kept him waiting. "He walked off because he wanted to convey the message that his time, or for that matter any-one else's, is as important as that of the governor."

Above all, the Gandhian association with khadi remained. He retired from the Gujarat State Khadi and Gramodyog Board a few years ago. Yet neighbours the Sharmas live in a modest flat are oblivious to his lineage. The values run deep but family ties do not. Communication with the rest of the Gandhi clan has come to a halt. Thus, Laxmi's family has drifted back into the shadows from where the Mahatma had once lifted them.

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