How about a re-enactment of Mahatma Gandhi's murder 61 years after his death? It sure is eerie, but compelling.
As the country observed the 61st death anniversary of the father of the nation, Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi, French literary icon and philanthropist Dominique Lapierre held a packed audience at the French embassy here under his spell with his personal tale of Gandhi's assassins Friday evening.
“There is a story I would like to recall today - the tale of Gandhi's assassination on the lawns of the Birla House at 5 p.m. Jan 30. The police knew that there was a conspiracy to kill Mahatma Gandhi because one of the assassins had been caught before the murder. The police knew the names of those who had come to kill him from Poona(Pune), but did not arrest them,” Lapierre boomed in his trademark theatrical style.
The author, who was conferred the Padma Bhushan in 2008, was in the capital to release the new edition of the landmark work “Freedom at Midnight”, a joint collaboration with long-time ally Larry Collins. The duo is credited with bestsellers like “Is Paris Burning”, “O Jerusalem” and the “City of Joy”.
The royalties from the book, priced at Rs.425, would go to his philanthropic project in India - “The City of Joy Foundation”.
When Larry Collins, the co-author of the book, and Lapierre started researching why the killers were not arrested, the duo knew it would be a detective story.
“Then one day we read in The Times of India, nearly 25 years after the execution of Nathuram Godse, the man who pumped the bullets into Mahatma Gandhi, that three of his accomplices had been set free after serving life terms. And we began to search the whole country for them,” he said.
Collins and Lapierre managed to track down Gopal Godse, one of the killers. “And he told us how for days he had his accomplices, Nathuram Godse, Narayan Apte, Vishnu Karkare and Madanlal Pawha had prepared for the murder,” Lapierre recalled.
One day, Gopal Godse, who lived in Pune till his death, invited Collins and Lapierre to his house for a strange ceremony to mark the hanging of Nathuram Godse, his brother.
“It was a strange rite. In the dining room was a huge map of reunited India - (both Pakistan and India) ..... Placed in front of the map was an urn of Nathuram Godse's ashes - which he willed before his death should be thrown into the waters of Indus river the day India was reunited. There were candles all over the place. Gopal Godse drew out a blood-stained shirt and said, pointing to it, that Nathuram wore it when he killed Gandhi,” the French raconteur said.
It was there that Lapierre met Madanlal Pawha, another assassin, who enlightened the duo about the conspiracy. Pahwa, as the author recalled, was then making bullet-proof vests for a living.
The writer said he wondered whether it was possible to bring them back to New Delhi to re-enact Gandhi's murder. “Gopal Godse agreed but one condition. He asked whether they could get their families to the capital. We agreed.”
A few days later, the trio - Godse, Pahwa, and Karkare - boarded the train with 'Brother Dominique'- the name by which they had started calling the writer - and reached the lawns of the Birla House in Delhi.
They re-enacted the murder till the time “Bapu” as Gandhi was called, arrived late, was shot by Nathuram Godse and collapsed chanting the name of “Ram”.
“At the end of it, I thought something terrible was going to happen. The person in charge of the shrine dedicated to the memory of Gandhi at the Birla house took us to his office. There were two minutes of silence and then he asked- 'tea or Campa Cola'?”
Lapierre, in the meantime, spotted a tall Sikh gentleman advancing towards them. “I thought he would pull out his sword and avenge Mahatma's death. But instead he fished out a scrap of paper and pen from his pocket and asked Godse for an autograph. Times had changed…,” Lapierre signed off with a flourish.
And the stunned silence in the hall was almost audible.