This piece is dedicated to those who overcome their own reasons of fear to fight the common fear. To Sharmila……..keep fighting!
Before he left Heaven, God gave a gift to Gandhiji that he could assume the form of a human being and teleport anywhere in India. Gandhiji clapped his hands with excitement and made his decision to visit Gujarat (Porbandar) first.
On reaching Gujarat, he was very proud to see that a Gujarati had become the Prime Minister of India. He saw pamphlets of Make In India and Digital India everywhere.
With a swelling heart full of pride, he lingered around the people and tried to see the places around. His eyes caught an article about villages in India where electricity had not seen the face of the night. With a punctured pride, Gandhiji sipped in scepticism and he set out to probe into what actually India had become after he had gone.
Newspapers were the best medium for him to learn the modern news of India. So he started wading through the pages to learn more about his Modern India. On the front page, Gandhiji saw ‘DALIT’ based articles and struggles, about the suicide of a dalit student, about the arrest of students, about people being lynched for eating meat, he also read an article about how a state was punishing its people if a cow was hurt but rapists were roaming around.
Gandhiji grew disgusted. He jumped to the sixth page or so and he saw the picture of young boys and girls crossing a river to reach their school. The news told that many villages in India still did not have enough schools so many children crossed dangerous rivers and bridges to go to school.
Beside that article there was a picture of a healthy woman who appeared to be the kind of ideal daughter-in-law in front of a mic putting forward that she will maintain Indian Flags in all the educational institutions of the country at 100 crore rupees.
Gandhiji was flabbergasted. He found that a major chunk of our population still struggles to go to school, and then he thought‘how anyone can use internet if he or she is educationally-handicapped’.
So many years after Independence, if India was still struggling with the basic needs and ideologies then what will any electronic revolution bring. It’s like showing the carrot to the horse to put it on track. What the impotent governments been doing?
With a disheartened spirit, he roamed away finding after a length of time, cars and buses burning on the streets. He heard the mob around him roaring, ‘reservations for the Jats’. With some irritation Gandhiji thought, ‘where has peaceful protest gone’.
He started thinking about his time when India used to follow him to remove untouchability and when young people of his time like Dr.Ambedkar had run a crusade against caste. He was astonished as to how India could be a hot cauldron to caste issues when much of his time had been devoted to do away with caste evil. It seemed the political maths of the then India after his death had somehow succeeded in equating caste reservations to a vote bank and hence the people revered each other’s castes more than they revered the nation itself.
He moved further on to see a mass of young university students, sitting and discussing and voicing for something called ‘dissent’. They were talking about freedom from poverty and cultural aggression.
Out of curiosity, he sat by them and heard them talk about ‘Azadi’. Gandhiji was baffled beyond reason, ‘Is the British still here?’ he asked them. The students eyed him with an equal amazement; they called him and offered him a seat beside them. From nowhere, the police raided the discussion and arrested the students calling them ‘terrorists’. Some people with cameras stormed in the scene asking questions to the police and the students. With much difficulty, Gandhiji escaped the scene to sit outside a tea stall where an old TV relayed the news to the sipping guests.
The news channel showed a-so-called breaking news where they played a video of those students conversing about Freedom and Pakistan.
Gandhiji jumped up on seeing the video, out of utter anger he yelled, ‘How can this be, I was there? They were not talking about Pakistan!’ A young student sitting beside him calmly got up and padding his shoulder told him, ‘Sir, this is a very common way of fanning political agenda. The news channels pander to the power in the government and hence they show what the government wants us to see and they cover up the events which the government doesn’t want us to see. It’s useless to watch these channels, they are all corporate. There are some decent newspapers here, and you can read them.’
‘Is this really my India?’Gandhiji asked himself baffled.
The TV started playing a news conference. The governing party had jumped into the scene with opinions being put up to shut the university.
The politicians on the TV were asking students not to be involved in politics.
‘WHAT’ Gandhiji thought with exasperation, ‘if students had not participated, do these hedgehogs think we would have gotten our freedom?’
He found a magazine with a handsome young man’s photo on it. He picked up the magazine to read RAHUL GANDHI written on it. With an over whelming emotion he touched the picture thinking, ‘he will change everything, he is a Gandhi after all.’ He flipped through its pages and started reading it. But all that the article had to tell was how tremendously the Gandhi scion has failed to uphold the party leadership and how Congress was being reduced to a shadow because of lack of form and content. Our usually calm Gandhiji threw down the magazine with disgust.
‘He is 45 for god sake; he should know what to say and what to do. Didn’t his mother teach him about the Ashrama’ he mumbled to himself but then, ‘oh his mother is Italian’ he had read about her in the same article where she was mentioned as the Italian concierge in the Indian politics.
Somebody on the TV started shouting vociferously that caught Gandhji’s attention. The news on the TV showed a bespectacled man with a moustache wearing a grey scarf all over his head, holding a mic and voicing for cheap electricity and water.
The man pledged his loyalty to the common man of the country and he promised to fight corruption till the day he died. Just as Gandhiji thought he might have seen a hope of some sort, the news criticised the man for tying up with another politician who had been jailed on corruption charges. Distastefully, Gandhiji turned away from the TV saying, ‘he is no different, a businessman sells his products, and politicians sell humanity.’
Gandhiji walked away from the tea stall with a bent head, ashamed of the India he was seeing. Just then he realised the wall he was walking against had a painting on it. The painting closely resembled his glasses.
‘Now wait a minute’, he told himself.
He saw words written on each rim, ‘Swachh Bharat’. Then he saw spit stains on them and plastic bags with garbage lying about the street.
But Gandhiji was preoccupied with the painting, after staring at the painting for a minute or two he realised those were his glasses.In a furore he caught hold of someone just passing by and he asked confusedly, ‘are these my glasses?’ The man stared at him and made a hurried exit.
Gandhiji slapped his forehead, ‘Wrong question’ he told himself. He accosted someone again and asked, ‘What is this?’ The man looked at him and answered its Gandhiji’s glasses, ‘but why are they here?’ he asked. The man replied, ‘because it’s the symbol of the cleanliness project that the government has taken up.’
‘Cleanliness?’Gandhiji thought and he looked around him at the littered street bewildered.
The man added, ‘it’s really not working. People still dump garbage on the road, they pee in the open, there are no enough toilets, and you should go and see the condition of Ganga and Yamuna. There are a few people following it but most don’t bother.’
Gandhiji thanked him sadly as the man left. He looked sadly at the painting and he realised how, after so many years of independence, political parties still lived over a hangover of Gandhi reverence to attain power. One overpowered an entire political party because of the name ‘Gandhi’ attached after their initials. The other, he thought, wanted to steal that honour of the name tag by propagating campaigns as a tool to connect with him. He was pained.
Just then, being the lawyer he was, Gandhiji went to the nearby stationary and took the address of the PMO and wrote down a letter to the Prime Minister warning him of the repercussions that his act can bring to his party for using his stuffs as symbols without his permission and signed it as ‘Mohandas Karamchan Gandhi.’ After dutifully writing the letter, he gave it to the stationary man to kindly post it.
Gandhiji drifted among the people aimlessly, lost in the vision of India he was watching. Somewhere, Gandhiji came to a place and he saw a group of people with narrow eyes and fair skin.
It delighted him to think that India and China, at least was having a good relationship. He went to those people to talk to them. He bent himself forward to greet the youngsters who eyed them weirdly.
“Pardon me, I am new here, and I want to ask something,” he told them.
One of the boys turned to him with attention.
“I need to find a place to live here,”Gandhiji said.
“Sure,” the boy said, “Are you alone or in a group?” he asked.
“Oh I am alone, I left Kasturba up there for a while,” Gandhiji replied.
“What?” asked the boy.
“Never mind,” Gandhiji told him, it was not easy for Gandhiji to leave being accustomed to Heaven. He had to reconcile and adapt to the fact that he was in today’s India and people did not know him other than the Gandhi in Swach Bharat Abhiyan or the Gandhi that got tailed behind Rahul Gandhi in his surname or the Gandhi whose mature image appeared on today’s money, the rupee of India.
“Listen, if you are in a group then you can pool money to afford a good place but if you are alone then it would be rather difficult to get a good place because the rents are very high around here,” the boy told him.
Gandhiji was baffled at the smooth knowledge of this foreigner.
“How long have you been in India now?” he asked.
“India?” the boy asked surprised but he was not quick to temper. He smiled and said, “Since 1949 Sir.”
Gandhiji was even more surprised, for a while he thought if perhaps this boy had also come on a temporary visit to India from heaven.
“Where have you come from?” the boy asked plainly.
“South Africa,” Gandhiji made up.
“Sir, we are not foreigners. We are the north east people of India.”
‘North-east?’Gandhiji thought, now this was new, he had been licking news from every magazine, newspapers and news channels, not one medium ever reported anything about the other part of India.
‘Does this mean that nothing news-worthy happened over there?’ he thought, ‘perhaps everything is fine there.’
“I bet it’s a good place there,” Gandhiji told him.
“Yes, it’s a very nice place, it’s not hot like Delhi, it’s greener than any place on earth, and it’s got more rains and rainbows than any place on earth. It’s gifted with huge rivers and fresh water lakes, nothing like it Sir.”
“Well I am glad at least everything is fine over there, you know, it’s a political turmoil over here.”
The glitter that had sparked for a while in the eyes of that boy vanished instantly, he said, “Who has been able to escape the turmoil of politics? It knows no kin, it only knows to corrupt.”
Gandhiji turned to him worried, “why, what is wrong out there?”
“It’s a disturbed zone Sir, they say that,” he told Gandhiji.
“Why is it disturbed?”
“Because of political ideological differences, and there are agents in the state who wants to bring back the glory of the lost kingdom while there are others that say it can’t happen because now we are a sovereign state of India.”
“So, isn’t sovereignty better than living under a king?” asked Gandhiji meekly.
The boy gave a chuckle and replied, “Yeah, the sovereignty that comes with AFSPA.”
Gandhiji gave out a loud gasp, “A-A-A-S-S-P-A?”
Gandhiji’s exasperation reached a new height, “Who imposed AFSPA? It’s a British Law that was used against Indians. Why would the Indian Government impose a foreign law on its own state and people?”
The boy gave a dull look to him and gave him a sarcastic reply, “Well, we are still guessing why.”
Gandhiji had not gotten the sarcasm, so he kept on asking, “Well didn’t the people say anything?”
By now the boy was tired of talking to Gandhiji, he said, “Look I have to go and if you want to know if the people did anything at all against it, try searching for Sharmila.”
Gandhiji was left to his numbing questions, questions that scared him, questions that made him realise the impunity of Indian leaders. Had today’s India forgotten the torture of 200 years of slavery? Had today’s India lost the last visions from the dying eyes of the freedom fighters of a free and developed India? Had India forgotten the mass murder and imposed terror of AFSPA?
Gandhiji’s eyes closed with weariness and he wished he could find Sharmila, ‘who was Sharmila? Why did the boy ask to find her?’
When Gandhiji opened his eyes he found himself at the gate of a house. The road ahead him was rough but the green fences of cranberries on both the sides made the rough village road elite. He peeked inside and he saw a modest house, a woman was sitting on the threshold weak with dirty hair and a clinical pipe going through her nose. Gandhiji suddenly wanted to go and speak to her. He walked to her timidly and asked her, “Good Morning, I am searching for Sharmila.”
It was not a request; it was not asking for help, it was just a statement with purpose.
The Lady took her determined eyes to have a good look at the gentleman, “Where have you come from Stranger?” she asked.
“I have come from Delhi,” he said.
She gave a nod and said, “I am Sharmila.”
Gandhiji had no idea why she was famous, why he was asked to seek her, what made her important?
“I want to know everything about you,” he told her with a composed tone.
The Lady waved her hand and called him to sit beside her. So Gandhiji, the historical teacher of non-violence, sat beside her like a benevolent pupil. She commenced not telling about her story but the story of her mother Manipur, the story of the cries of the mothers of Manipur, the story of the death bodies of her brothers of Manipur and the stories of missing women and men in Manipur in the hands of the state. She said, something similar of the law was also practiced in Jammu and Kashmir and she said she stands for the power of common men and women who has nothing in their hands but the spirit of living their lives peacefully. She has been fasting for 15 years for the injustice imparted by the intellectual Laws of the country that renders the state the power to use arms and violence against unarmed men and women.
Sharmila’s stand was for non-violence against a violent state. Her stand was for complete fast against the gluttony of a corrupted state.
When Gandhiji walked out of her front yard, Gandhiji had lost his mind about where to take his steps forward. Although it was broad daylight, he saw only darkness. The world was covered in a shaming confusion and an awkward misuse of power. He felt violence and unrest everywhere; he felt his legacy was rotting in a village in the far north east part of the country while politicians used his name and symbolism to escalate their parties.
He had been burning his cerebral power to consume the bits of news that every channel had to offer him and yet there was no information that a section of this country also existed. Where are all those flamboyant journalists who called themselves as the representatives of a national channel? How are these mediums national with their parochial approach and make believe information?
Weariness had overcome Gandhiji, he closed his eyes holding the gate almost refusing to see the state of the country that had been taught only greatness; greatness in patience, greatness in humility, greatness in secularism, greatness in intellectualism.
Today, the vitriolic tongues of the politicians ruled over India. Those tongues can twist and turn in the defence of only their vile interest but not in the interest of the people. They talk about religion as if they own the religions of the world; they talk of the country without loving the people in it. They divide the country into caste and religions when they are the representatives of all.
Helplessness filled his mind and he looked up to the sky.
“My God, my heart cannot bear this burden, call me back,” he requested stretching out his hands to the open sky. An illumination filled his surrounding and Gandhiji was gone without ever having made his presence felt.