The meeting of a lifetime

Seeing Gandhiji, it was hard to believe that such a fragile man held the nation in his hands.

To us children, Delhi seemed like a Neverland.

A place our parents had seen, but we had not. That was why we were thrilled when our father said he would take us to Delhi when he went on work. It was a long time ago but still I remember it was in November 1947. We saw all the usual things one would in Delhi – the Red Fort, Connaught Place, Old Delhi, the Birla Mandir, the Museums, the Kutub Minar and Rashtrapati Bhavan in the distance with the Secretarial buildings standing sentinel.

“Tomorrow I am going to take you to the most worthwhile place in Delhi,” our father announced before going to bed that night. “We will go to the Birla House and attend Mahatma Gandhi’s prayer meeting.” We could hardly wait for it. The next evening we set off for Birla House. It was a cool evening and I remember the lush green lawn of Birla House, the long cemented walkway from the big house to the place where the prayer meetings were held. A group of people sat in front of the raised platform.  

“Come, we will stand on the side of the steps. That way he will pass by us,” our father said. There were two or three steps from the walkway to the raised area where the people sat. From where we stood – my brother, my father, his friend and I – when we looked back, there was a good view of the path which ran from the house to the platform.

We waited there, impatient for his arrival. And finally, at the correct time, we saw them emerge – Gandhiji and his two grandnieces – one on either side of him, his arms supported by their shoulders. He was talking to them, smiling and  laughing. We stared at him as if we could not see enough of him. “As he passes by, touch his arm softly with reverence,  touch your forehead and say Rama, Rama,” our father instructed us. 

As directed, we touched Gandhiji’s arm, touched our foreheads and said “Rama, Rama”. No one stopped us but by the time we repeated the action, Gandhiji turned and looked at us with a smile. We were thrilled as we went and sat with other people. We could not understand what he was saying since we did not know Hindi but just listening to his voice was enough. Seeing him sit there, it was difficult to believe that such a fragile person held the nation in his hands.

Soon the meeting was over  and Gandhiji disappeared into the Birla House and the crowd dispersed. We got back to the hotel, our minds numb with joy upon having actually seen and touched  Gandhiji. We returned home to Cochin and told everyone at home of our visit  to Birla House. Our younger sister listened in wistful silence till our father assured her that he would take her too when she was a little older.

Alas! That promise could not be honoured because a few months later an assassin’s bullets stopped the beating of that courageous heart forever. The stunned silence that fell on us on hearing that terrible news was broken by the heartrending cry of our sister. “And now, I’ll never be able to see Gandhiji!” No one could find the words to comfort her. 

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