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Gandhi's driver in Land of Ideas

Herbert Fischer belonged to the German reform movement of the early 1930s, writes Varupi Jain.

india Updated: Mar 28, 2006 14:22 IST

A fan of India, the first Ambassador of the German Democratic Republic to India and also Gandhiji's driver -- the man with such unique credentials passed away recently at his home in Berlin, aged 91.

Herbert Fischer belonged to the German reform movement of the early 1930s.

He wrote a letter to Gandhiji that he would like to visit him and received a positive reply from Gandhiji's secretary.

On foot, by bicycle, bus, train and ship, Fischer travelled to India and reached Gandhiji's Sevagram Ashram in December 1936.

For several years, Fischer stayed in Gandhiji's vicinity at Magan Wadi, Wardha and met him regularly.

He also participated in campaigns of the independence movement and was charged with developing agriculture in the region.

During World War II, Fischer was conscripted but he and his wife, Lucille Fischer kept in touch with Gandhiji until the latter's death in 1948.

Fischer and his family returned to Germany in 1947 where he worked as a teacher and later became director of a high school.

In the mid 1950's, he joined the foreign service of the German Democratic Republic and became its trade representative in India.

With the establishment of official diplomatic relations between India and GDR, he became the first Ambassador of GDR in India in 1972.

In contrast to many of his colleagues, he was indeed in love with his host country and was recognised as an Indian expert.

In his personal as well as professional life, Ambassador Fischer always tried to practice the values he adopted during his stay with Gandhi.

He was highly respected not only by Indians but also by Germans.

Fischer was quite active in the past few years despite his advanced age.

In 1982 he wrote the book "Mahatma Gandhi -- Persönlichkeit und Gestalter seiner Zeit" (German and English) and in 2002 "Unterwegs zu Gandhi" (German), which is his autobiography as far as his relation with Gandhi is concerned.

Herbert Fischer was the honorary president of the Indo German Association and received the Padma Bushan -- only rarely awarded to foreigners -- from the then Indian Prime Minister AB Vajpayee in May 2003.

For Fischer, Gandhiji's insistent message of non violence and religious tolerance was a promise for the future. With Herbert Fischer died perhaps the last foreign follower of Gandhi who knew him intimately.

He faced his end just as he had lived his life - calmly and with dignity. In a message to the Indian Embassy in Berlin on Republic Day he conveyed "best wishes" and his last greetings to a nation he had loved so much.

Land of Ideas

I can recall an advertisement I came across while flipping through a German newspaper. The ad celebrated Germany as the 'the land of ideas' and oozed love particularly for the state of Baden Wuerttemberg.

And why not, the ad seemed to say. "As you read this newspaper, a new patent is being registered in Baden Wuerttemberg", it said.

The average reading time spent on a daily newspaper in Germany is 40 min (quite high, don't you think?) and that between two patent registrations is 40.53 min.

Who needs these inventions, the ad continues? You, it says, quite in-your-face. Sample the inventions of Baden Wuerttemberg -- Teddy Bear, Bicycle, electric hand drilling machine, calculator, motor bike, car, zeppelin, anti-lock braking system (ABS), airbag, among others.

This was just one state. "When you recall that we have 15 other states as well, you'd surely understand what inspired the name 'Germany - Land of Ideas'".

Hmm, we get the point.

First Published: Mar 27, 2006 15:05 IST