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Tryst with Gandhi

Vatsala Vedantam, Oct 19 2017, 23:34 IST

Gandhi outstripped my father as he sprinted around shafts, mills, miners' colonies.

One more October 2 has come and gone with empty tokens enacted in every place associated with him. Citizens who know him only through photographs, politicians who pay lip service to him and the general public which simply enjoys one more holiday, remembered there was a man called the Mahatma who lived and died in this country.

I remember him as the person glimpsed between the legs of adults who blocked my view until someone lifted me onto a high table from where I could see him wave and smile at his audience. The venue was the King George Hall in a small township called Robertsonpet adjoining the mining town of Kolar Gold Fields. The year was 1942 when Gandhi visited this British colony to politely request his hosts to quit India.

Earlier in the day, he made a whirlwind tour of the gold mines to see how the miners were treated. The gold fields were operated by a British mining company called John Taylor and Sons. Their CEOs were too busy in their clubs to waste time on this “half naked” man who had come uninvited anyway. They deputed my father to show him around. Luckily, Father was a good walker like his guest who refused a car ride saying “I prefer to walk.”

And, what a walk! Gandhi outstripped my father as he sprinted his way around the shafts, mills and miners’ colonies. He barged into one of their “huts,” spoke to the startled women inside, played with their children and turned to ask my father: “Do they pay any rent for this?”

Being a loyal employee of his British bosses, the latter answered: “Just eight annas, Sir.” But, Gandhi continued, “What do you all pay for your bungalows?” When Father truthfully said, “Nothing,” he was quietly rebuffed with a “Shame on you!”

But, being even more non-violent than his illustrious guest, my father meekly accepted the snub. Gandhi looked at his watch and asked about the next programme. “Breakfast with the agents of this company at the European Club,” said my father, checking his itinerary.

It was a good thing that the Mahatma did not have breakfast. Had he gone to this exclusive club and read the notice ”Dogs and Indians not allowed” that greeted visitors at the entrance, the crusader of non-violence may have changed his campaign, and the story of Indian independence would have been altogether different.

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