The day Gandhiji was assassinated (January 30, 1948) the bazaars closed immediately and groups of people collected at street corners discussing the shocking news. Picking up a knife from the kitchen elder brother rushed to the main door of our house. Mother caught his hand and asked him where he was going. He said to kill the man who shot Gandhiji. Just then father entered and restrained him. Later it was learnt that Godse had used the Italian Barretra revolver owned by Sir Augustine Filose which had been stolen from a gun repair shop in Gwalior, where Sir Augustine was a Sirdar in the court of Maharaja Jivajirao Scindia. Shaken by the incident Sir Augustine afterwards left for Italy, the place his ancestors had come from in early 19th Century, leaving all his assets to the Maharaja. The revolver was probably used by his ancestor for the first time at the Battle of Maharajpur in 1843 against the British troops. At the Mahatma’s funeral trains ran full to Delhi from every direction with people travelling even on their roofs. One saw a sea of humanity behind the Red Fort where Gandhiji was cremated at Rajghat after Jawaharlal Nehru had famously said in an AIR broadcast that “the light has gone out”. It later emerged that Godse had been staying in a room in Marina Hotel of Connaught Place and going for target practice to prepare for his heinous act on the Ridge behind Mandir Marg (then known as Reading Road after Lord Reading the Viceroy).
Discourse on “beauty”
Once on a visit Gandhiji met a young student from Shantiniketan. They had a discourse on “beauty”. “The moon shining among the stars at night is beautiful,” said Gandhiji. “So is a pretty woman,” replied the boy. “Even if she is not morally upright?” asked Gandhiji. “Then her face would not be beautiful,” was the reply he got. “You are begging the question,” said Gandhiji with a laugh. The student looked nonplussed but joined in the laughter. When he grew up he became a Congress leader but remembered that Bapu had asked him to read “The Hound of Heaven” by Francis Thompson for spiritual enlightenment.
Some years ago one visited the Sweepers Colony in Mandir Marg and saw the place where the Mahatma used to sit and deliver his sermon to those assembled after cleaning the colony latrines and once admonishing Kasturba that he was willing to separate from her if she did not do the same. Pandit Nehru was often among them when he came to consult Gandhiji on important matters. The caretaker of the attached museum led one to the door on the southern side which opened towards the Mandir Marg St Thomas’ Church built in 1931-32 and inaugurated by the Viceroy’s wife, Lady Willingdon. The caretaker said that through this door Gandhiji would sometimes go to the church and meet the priest in-charge for lengthy discussions on religious and other matters. The priest then, incidentally, was an Englishman and the church was built for poor Christians with Urdu inscriptions, one of which said, “The meek shall possess the earth” on seeing it, the Mahatma remarked: “Doesn’t that justify Ahimsa?” At St Stephen’s College Gandhiji used to go with his friend C. F. Andrews to meet Principal Rudra. At one of the meetings, he was introduced to the great Christian mystic Sadhu Sunder Singh, who later disappeared on the last of his many secret visits to the then forbidden land of Tibet, causing much grief to the Mahatma, despite Sarojini Naidu’s attempt to console him by reciting Shelley’s “Adonais”, which he created on the death of Keats.
Gandhiji was no theoretical moralist. When news came from South Africa that the Mahatma’s eldest son had been harassing his own elder daughter, he wrote a long letter to him, both advising and criticising him for his immoral conduct and ordering him to send the girl Manu immediately to him in India, where Kasturba would help the granddaughter in erasing the bitter scars left by her ordeal.
Another son, Devdas Gandhi was the editor of The Hindustan Times. The sub-editors working there used to be in a hurry to finish off their midnight tea and snacks at the shop below the old Bombay Life Insurance Corporation building, which kept open the whole night. The reason was that Devdas would get up from sleep and walk downstairs from the apartment he occupied in the building to the newsroom to keep track of events and make corrections in the page proofs as per Gandhiji’s advice based on his own Young India newspaper days. These memories come to mind whenever Gandhi Jayanti approaches. Someone once tried to call Gandhiji’s spirit during a seance in Agra but the medium replied it was not possible as he happened to be on the highest plane of the Blessed. No wonder Einstein said in a memorable tribute that generations to come would find it hard to believe that such a man once walked on the earth.