New Delhi: Nearly four decades before Mahatma Gandhi was assassinated and Vinayak Damodar Savarkar was put on trial for conspiracy, the two had shared stage for Dussehra celebrations in London where one praised pacifist Rama and the other the demon-slayer Durga.
On 24 October 1909, Gandhi was invited to preside over the celebrations by the local Indian community which he accepted on the condition that there would not be political content in the speeches. Veer Savarkar, who was then studying law in London, was also invited.
"In spite of their pledge, both Gandhi and Savarkar conveyed their political ideals concealed in religious speeches to the audience.
"While speaking about the festival, Gandhi praised the virtues of pacifist Lord Rama and Savarkar extolled Goddess Durga who eliminates evil - both referred to their political ideologies which were at variance when it came to methods, one peaceful and the other militant," says Pramod Kapoor, author of Gandhi-An Illustrated Biography and publisher of Roli Books.
Addressing the audience, comprising both Hindus and Muslims, Savarkar, a staunch Hindu nationalist leader, said, "Hindus are the heart of Hindustan, adding that just as the beauty of the rainbow is enhanced by its varied hues, Hindustan will appear more beautiful if it assimilated all that was best in Muslim, Parsi, Jewish and other communities."
"Gandhi agreed with his views," says Kapoor.
39 years later on May 24, 1948, nine people, including Gandhi's assassin Nathuram Godse and Veer Savarkar would go on trial for killing the Mahatma, who would die with 'He Ram' on his lips. All except Savarkar were pronounced guilty.
The 319-page book has snippets of the Mahatma's life, his letters to British Prime Minister Winston Churchill and Nazi Dictator Adolf Hitler and several rare photographs.
It has an interesting story about a ceremony to mark grant of university status to Hindu College in Benaras, founded by Annie Besant, in 1916 where the Viceroy was to preside over the grand function.
Speaking at the event, Gandhi who had earned a name for himself in South Africa but was yet to assume any substantial leadership role in India, was critical of the Maharajas.
"He said there was no salvation for India unless they stripped themselves of the jewellery and held it in trust for the poor. Many princes walked out.
"Gandhi then commented on the heavy security in place for the Viceroy with policemen all around and posted on rooftops. 'Why this distrust? Is it not better that even Lord Hardinge should die than live a living death'. He referred to the fact that India 'in her impatience has produced an army of anarchists.
"'I myself am an anarchist but of another type'. He then went on to make a positive reference to bomb-throwers, at which point Annie Besant told him to stop," says Kapoor in the book.
The book has a chapter on Champaran revolution that put Gandhi firmly in a leadership role.
His Champaran revolution came about because of an unlettered indigo cultivator from the area Rajkumar Shukla, who had approached many Congress leaders to take up the cause of the farmers against British landlords and their militias.
Initially not even Gandhi paid any attention having never heard of Champaran. But Shukla persevered, following Gandhi everywhere he went, begging him to visit Champaran.
"Worn down by the man's persistence, Gandhi arrived in Patna accompanied by Shukla in April 1917," says Kapoor, narrating a interesting story when even the Mahatma was unwelcome at the house of Rajendra Prasad, who would go on to become independent India's first President.
"As Prasad was away, Shukla convinced the servants that Gandhi should be permitted to stay in the house. The servants, however, were reluctant. Gandhi's peasant-type dress had put them off and the servants refused to allow him use the toilet inside the house or draw water from the well which they themselves used," says the book.
A livid Gandhi would write about Shukla in scathing terms. "The man who brought me here does not know anything. He has dumped me in some obscure place. The master of the house is away and the servants take us both to be beggars. They don't even permit us the use of latrine, not to speak of inviting us for meals. I take care to provide for myself with the things I need so as to be able to maintain complete indifference," Gandhi wrote.
Gandhi then shifted to the home of Maulana Mazharul Haq, a Muslim leader whom he had known in London. Prasad was to later join Gandhi in Champaran, marking the beginning of a long association.
There is another anecdote about how the Mahatma, sworn to non-violence, allowed a man charged with murder to join his Dandi march.
"The marchers also included, strangely enough, a man charged with murder. His name was Kharag Bahadur Singh, a commerce graduate and secretary of the Gurkha Samaj, an association of Gurkhas," says Kapoor in the book.
Kharag Bahadur had stayed at the ashram earlier but on February 26, 1927, he had made headlines for stabbing a rich Marwari, Hiralal Agarwalla, in Calcutta.
The provocation was a young Nepali girl who had been sold into sex slavery. She was kept at Agarwalla's house for five months where he and his friends raped her every night. She managed to escape and told the story of her torture to the Samaj. Kharag Bahadur met her in hospital and decided to avenge her. He went to Agarwalla's house disguised as a trader and stabbed him with his Khukri.
In true Gandhian style, he pleaded for maximum sentence in the court. He was, however, freed after two years for good conduct.
"He wrote to Gandhi to allow him join the march. He wanted to atone for the sins committed by Gurkhas who opened fire at Jallianwala, killing hundreds of fellow Indians. Despite protests from some marchers about his past, Gandhi let him be part of the Dandi March," Kapoor says.
The book also contains a 14-page 'public letter' written by Harilal Gandhi, the estranged eldest son of Gandhi, to his father.
The book also talks about Gandhi's love for the game of cricket. Though very few would associate Gandhi with any sport, the book has a rare photograph of Gandhi with members of Greyville Cricket Club, Durban.
The author says historian Ramchandra Guha researched this aspect of Gandhi's life and wrote an article for the Hindu in which he quotes a Gujarati journalist sharing that one of Gandhi's schoolmates remembered him as a 'dashing cricketer' and an all-rounder, with an uncanny understanding of the game's uncertainties. During a match played between Rajkot city and Rajkot cantonment, Gandhi had a strong intuition that a certain player would be out, and that is what exactly happened.
Published Date: Jan 24, 2016 01:39 pm | Updated Date: Jan 24, 2016 01:39 pm