Corn King Khankhoje
Pandurang Sadashiv Khankhoje, born in Wardha in 1886, was an angry young man who wanted freedom for India and dignity for Indians. He was raised on stirring tales of 1857 and was in constant trouble with the British police who had a long history sheet on him. The fiery young revolutionary had to flee India when the British spread a dragnet for him.
He became a founder-member of the Ghadar Party in America (many of whose members were executed by the British) and worked unrelentingly to gain international sympathy for the cause of India’s freedom. Khankhoje’s adventures took him to Japan, Russia, Persia, the US and finally to Mexico, where he settled with his devoted Belgian wife, Jeanne, and had two daughters, Savitri and Maya. A stauch believer in the tenets of the Holy Gita, he started free agricultural colleges for the Mexicans, successfully experimented with varieties of corn, pioneering Mexico's ‘Green Revolution’ and was part of the country’s vibrant artistic and intellectual circle. The image (right) is of a mural by the great Mexican artist Diego Rivera showing Khankhoje distributing bread to the nations of the world.
However, despite his busy, useful life in Mexico where he felt safe and welcome, Khankhoje pined deeply for his homeland. He saw her gain freedom and came home for good, settling in Pune, re-reading his beloved Gita and the Upanishads. He passed away in 1967. His pediatrician daughter, Savitri Sawhney, who married into the Indian Army, has written a wonderful account of her father's life, called I Shall Never Ask Pardon (Penguin India, 2008, Rs 399). This inspiring and moving Indian life story is truly worth celebrating. Here's a taste:
In 1907 Khankhoje and his friends in Japan established a secret Indian ‘Kranti Sena’. It consisted of a small nucleus of young men studying the use of weapons and the rudiments of military training. The training of militants commenced. Lashkar made guns. Khankhoje had learnt the use of explosives while working in the tinplate factory and he was also imparting military training to the others. At times their Chinese and Japanese friends derided their slow progress. They could not understand the lack of unity which beset the Indians. Said Khankhoje:
“They jokingly used to say that if all Indians get together, they could overthrow the British by simply blowing them away! It soon dawned on us that there was a need to enlighten the Indian masses and prepare them for a real revolution. We needed to explain the concepts of brotherhood, equality and social justice as the very basis of a modern democracy. We needed to develop national pride. We needed...to involve people in all walks of life in India...
I had learnt many things in Japan, including how to make soap! I bitterly felt I had become a jack of all trades. In my mind’s eye I remembered the tribes I had met in Chattisgarh and my useless attempts at revolution. I was bitter and disillusioned at my failure. It seemed I could not help to bring independence to my country in the way I’d planned. I resolved then, to learn other ways to serve my nation.”