A friend remembers the man called Bapu
He was the man besides Mahatma Gandhi that midnight hour on August 15, 1947 when India achieved its freedom. Sixty years later, his personal secretary, V Kalyanam, turns a sepia page in time and remembers the Mahatma whose birth anniversary on Tuesday is observed world over as International Non-Violence Day.
On the eve of Aug 15 that day as first prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru rang in the Independence in Delhi, Gandhi was in a sombre mood in Kolkata. Kalyanam was not celebrating either, although it was his birthday. He was at work, taking dictations, sorting out correspondence, fixing appointments, penning Gandhi's thought at what he called his "moment of great loss".
Recalls the 85-year-old Kalyanam, "Gandhi had been invited by both Nehru (Jawaharlal) and Mountbatten to attend the grand function in New Delhi that marked the handing over of power.
"He had refused to go, saying peace was more important than this truncated freedom."
Sipping hot cups of chocolate he had made for us both, Kalyanam remembered those heady days of independence for IANS.
"I am perhaps the only person in the world still alive who was with Gandhi on that night," said the man who was Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi's shadow in the last years of the leader's life.
"We were in Beliaghata, Kolkata. Gandhi was staying at the house of a Muslim lady (to show the communal riot-hit city that peace was most important). He had said, until Hindu-Muslim amity was restored, he could not leave."
Two young Muslim boys had been killed in Beliaghata a few days before. Gandhi, along with Manu and Abha Gandhi and his secretaries, stayed in a house called Hydari Manzil, which belonged to a Surat businessman. He used to be taken care of by a woman, Bi Amma. He stayed there from August 13 to September 7.
"He held a prayer meet on the night of August 14. He did not do anything that showed this day was different from any other. You know, the old do not sleep much.
"Midnight came and went, people were still coming to meet him. He rested for a while after that.
"Gandhi woke up at about 3.30 am, as usual and I sat beside him, taking dictation. It had been a night of great sorrow for him. He knew he could do nothing, and that sense of loss prevailed throughout the day.
"He was sorry that the Congress party did not heed his advice to make (Mohammad Ali) Jinnah the prime minister of India. Then the country would not have been torn into two," Kalyanam said.
He issued a statement stating that non-Muslims had deserted him. "What are we celebrating today? Surely not our disillusionment?" Gandhi asked.
Gandhi then wrote, "I have repeatedly said that I have neither any part nor say in many things that are going on in the country today. The plain matter-of-fact is that I am no longer the current coin I fancied I once was. My voice is in the wilderness. Time was, when whatever I said the masses followed. Today, mine is a lone voice. I now say things which do not go home. I know that I am a back number. Yet, I go on saying what I believe to be true.
"Democracy is not a state in which people act like sheep. My notion of democracy is that under it the weakest should have the same opportunity as the strongest."
Many decades have gone by since and Kalyanam signs off with this thought, "Gandhi is not India's alone. Gandhi belongs to the world, let the world have Gandhi, rather than keep him enclosed in dusty glass cases."