Thursday, Aug 11, 2022
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The Prodigal Who Didn't Return

Harilal wasn't just Gandhi's errant son but a rebel who lost his way, says his grand-daughter

The Prodigal Who Didn't Return The Prodigal Who Didn't Return

Sitting in the front row at the preview of the film Gandhi, My Father in Ahmedabad last fortnight was a silently weeping Nilam Parikh. For the 74-year-old grandchild of Harilal Gandhi, the film was the end of a personal mission: to clear the dust on the troubled relationship between the Mahatma and his eldest son. The film's director, Feroz Abbas Khan, says Parikh, interviewed her innumerable times to get an authentic version of what really went wrong in the Mahatma vs Son battle that lasted till their death within five months of each other.

It was never really a battle, Parikh claims, who wrote a biography of her grandfather, Gandhiji's Lost Jewel, based on the family's memories and a collection of his letters they discovered after the death of his last surviving child, Manubehn. "He was the best of Gandhi's four sons, both in intelligence and courage, the only one who had the guts to stand up to his father. If destiny hadn't willed otherwise, Harilal would have been Gandhi's true successor." Harilal, his grand-daughter insists, was truly the "jewel" that Gandhi and Kasturba lost early in their epic freedom struggle and spent the rest of their lives hoping to reclaim. It was a hope, Parikh says, the son shared with the father, trying honestly—if futilely—to cooperate with the Mahatma's efforts to cure his chronic alcoholism. "There was a mutual respect between them, and they both worked in their own way to repair the damage."

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