In the week leading to his 140th birthday, Bapu has been keeping many people busy.
There are 852 prisoners and more than 4,000 students across the state poring over Gandhi’s books and preparing to be quizzed on them.
And then there are the quizmasters — the members of the Bombay Sarvodaya Mandal, who have been conducting Gandhi Peace Exams in the state for the last four years.
The mandal and its Gandhi Book Centre, housed in a building barely conspicuous amid the vibrant vegetable market at Nana Chowk, has been almost single-handedly propagating the Mahatma’s values since 1956.
But it is the increasingly popular peace exams that have brought the NGO into the limelight.
The effort to keep Gandhi alive among today’s youth, however, is no easy business Munnabhai notwithstanding.
“Gandhiji believed that an institution must run as long as people wish to support it, and not in the interest of a permanent corpus of funds,” said Tulsidas Somaiya, the khadi-clad septuagenarian who has been running the mandal since 1972.
This means that adequate funds (Rs 10-14 lakh a year) have to be collected from donors every year to maintain the book centre and organise the exams, rallies and Gandhian camps for students.
The mandal runs a loss of at least Rs 3 lakh every year, compensated for by well wishers.
This is no surprise since the Gandhi-related books — more than 300 titles in four languages — are sold at a heavily subsidised rate.
Gandhi’s autobiography, My Experiments with Truth, the bestseller at the bookstore, is priced at Rs 30, which is further brought down by half during the biannual sales.
“We want to make Gandhi accessible to everyone,” said Rajesh Shinde (29), a psychology graduate who has been working full time with the mandal for nine years.
For members like him whose daily lives are shaped by Gandhian values, the meagre salary is immaterial.
The inspiration for all members is Somaiya himself, or kakaji, as the Sarvodaya family calls him. Somaiya, an engineer, who quit his job to devote himself to the mandal.
“I have not sacrificed anything,” said Somaiya, who has complete confidence in the Mandal’s efforts to spread Gandhigiri among the youth. “Even if one prisoner, or one student out of a hundred is transformed, it is an important difference,” he surmised.