Mahatma Gandhi was cremated at Delhi’s Rajghat but a few hundred metres away lives a modern-day “Gandhi” – complete with round glasses, a crisp white dhoti and a message to transform the society.
Meet 68-year-old Mahesh Chaturvedi, who says he travels across the country spreading his ideas about a reformed social system that will wipe out poverty.
He says he walks around Delhi mostly on foot and travels ticket-less on buses and trains as people let him sit on their seats out of reverence.
“The body of Gandhi may be gone but can you kill his soul,” he asks. But does he consider himself Gandhi? He only smiles.
On first glance, the resemblance is striking – he even impersonates the voice. He folds his hands in greeting and says Ram Ram, rebuffing arms outstretched for a handshake. Over the phone, every conversation begins with “Vande Mataram”.
He says he used to be a professor but in 2002 felt a higher purpose. “Gandhi came to me one night and I left everything with one dhoti and a gamcha (towel).”
But there’s a difference. This Gandhi often ditches his stick for an escalator, goes to the mall for powdered milk and takes the Metro.
He rebuffs queries about his “past life” and doesn’t say how he sustains himself without a job. Locals say he has some devotees who put money in his bank account – Chaturvedi has an ATM card – and have helped him print business cards and pamphlets.
Many say he has an alternative residence in Ghaziabad, where a local builder is a follower. He says he doesn’t feel hunger. “I used to live a lavish life but have never needed money since. I live to only spread my message.”
The thrust of that message is social transformation – his leaflet screams in bold letters, “Leave India, brown Englishmen” – and he says he wants freedom from a toxic political system. “The British left India but their influence remains. I don’t oppose English language but the feudal mindset needs to go for the poor to prosper.”
But how? He has no answers. He has written letters to various prime ministers and presidents but all unsuccessfully. “One person can change the world,” he says, explaining how he travels to various parts of the country to spread his message. “The farmer is god as he feeds you.”
But on one count, this modern Gandhi has surely evolved. He says military action is necessary and doesn’t flinch from praising soldiers. But what about the Mahatma’s famous non-violent methods? “Times have changed. If you extend one cheek after a slap, people will hit you thrice.”