On Gandhi Jayanthi, Tushar Gandhi brings us insightful tales and shades of the Mahatma that shows us how a leader of that bent ofmind may still be in vogue today
When Tushar Gandhi was still a toddler, his grandmother told him that he would never be able to grow out of the shadow of his great-grandfather, Mahatma Gandhi. It was upto him to choose to embrace his legacy and flourish or let it stunt his growth. And he chose the former. It might be almost seven decades since Bapu left the world, but Tushar Gandhi proudly continues to carry his legacy forward, fighting and standing up for peace and non-violence in the country
What are your fondest memories of stories you’ve heard about Gandhi from your family?
The one thing that fascinated me the most was that everybody said that he had a great sense of humour. Even in the most intense situations, he could laugh at things. These days the biggest issue I see among the youth is their fragile ego, the inability to manage anger.
I’ve been told several stories by my grandmother and father about Bapu that taught me how situations can become what we make of them. Sometime around 1946, Bapu was taking care of Sardar Patel’s health in Pune. My father and grandmother were visiting from South Africa and Bapu made it very clear that Patel’s health was the priority. One morning, when he was busy administering medicines to Patel, a young man carrying a nicely decorated basket came searching for Bapu. He told my father that he wanted to gift it to Bapu, but didn’t have the time to wait. So he made my father promise to hand it over. My father, who was about 12 or 13 at that time, was very excited that someone had a gift for Bapu.
When Bapu opened it, they found that it was filled with old, worn-out sandals and tattered clothes. It was a big insult. Everyone around was baffled and expected some reaction from Bapu. But to their surprise, he laughed, clapped his hands and said, “What a valuable gift I’ve received.” He told my father to take it to the scrapyard and deposit the money he got in exchange for it into the Harijan fund. Later that day, there was a prayer meeting and Bapu said he wanted to thank the young man for the valuable gift. The man was hoping to get an angry reaction as he wanted to break Bapu’s non-violent record, but instead he was only left annoyed that he had thanked him.
Down the memory lane: He was raised in the Mumbai suburb of Santacruz
But there’s an interesting corollary to this, which is what makes it so relevant. In 1948, after Bapu’s murder, when my grandmother saw the news in the South African papers, she asked my father, “Isn’t this the same man who brought the basket of footwear to Bapu?” They both recognised Nathuram Godse. Godse allowed that anger to build up in him and look where that led him. On the other hand, Bapu didn’t let it affect him. That was one of the stories that had a huge impact on me and I find it useful and relevant in today’s day and age.
How difficult is it to live up to a name like Gandhi?
It could have been a big burden. Every time you don’t live up to those expectations of quality, the criticism is far greater than for a normal person. But fortunately for me, I was made to understand that I was merely a descendant of a great person and that I didn’t have to have the same abilities. People do criticise me for that, but at least I know I don’t live a false life. But for a lot of my relatives, that legacy is quite a burden.
My grandmother had told me as a kid that I was like a sapling that had taken root under the shadow of a massive tree and no matter what I did, I would not be able to move out of that shadow and so it was upto me whether I use the protection of that tree and flourish or treat it as a curse and be shrivelled and stunted
Tushar Arun Gandhi, Great grandson of Mahatma Gandhi
Did you have to deal with friends, teachers or others who were against the Gandhian ideology?
Not too many, but there were a few people who would make their views known. But in the last few decades, I’ve had to face more of it. Now in the age of social media, the abuse is wide. I used to get agitated and try to hit back, but over the years, I realised I was just wasting my time. So I decided not to be bothered, because at the end of the day, Bapu is dead and gone. Whether you praise him or abuse him, it doesn’t matter. What you are going to do with your life, your nation and your people is what matters rather than sitting and worrying about someone who died years ago.
What compelled you to write the book Let’s Kill Gandhi?
Growing up, I was very confused because initially there used to be a whispered campaign justifying Bapu’s murder. In the course of time, these accusations became louder and more orchestrated. What bothered me was that I had grown up hearing different stories. It made me very angry that lies were being told and no one had bothered to counter it. It resulted in almost two generations beginning to accept these lies as truths. Now it’s reached a stage where they want to build temples for these murderers. I was angry and this book became my outlet.
Mahatma Gandhi would be happy today to see the empowerment of women. He wouldn’t have been ecstatic about it, but that would have given him a flicker of joy
Tushar Arun Gandhi, Great grandson of Mahatma Gandhi
The ideology that killed Gandhi is growing every day, isn’t it?
It is a cyclic phenomenon. Humanity has gone through these cycles of fanaticism and pacifist liberalism. It’s the insensitivity to the brutality of certain acts. I can understand if you don’t have compassion to certain human beings, after all we all have our degree of compassion, but the fact that we can actually be videographing a murder and not be bothered about that, that is the dangerous symptom in society that even the brutality and bestiality of the moment doesn’t matter anymore.
What in your opinion is the underlying cause of all this?
Casteism. Prejudices are ingrained into every one of us at a tender age. The prejudices then build into all the insensitivity and inhumane behaviour. At the root, it is the fact that you believe that you are superior to some. All those cracks in society are becoming much more accentuated. If you look at the disparities, even within our own country, the facilities are different for different sects of citizens. There are several cracks, be it gender, economic status or religion. So where are we really united? 70 years is too small an age in a nation’s life for us to have grown apart.
Legacy focus: Tushar with his father Arun Manilal Gandhi at Hriday kunj Sabarmathi
What compelled you to visit Gopal Godse, the descendant of Bapu’s killer?
Initially I was reluctant. It was in the early 70s when my grandmother returned from South Africa. He had just been released from prison, and we had heard that their family was being shunned in public and weren’t really doing well. My grandmother decided to visit him. It was her way of saying that we weren’t holding any grudges. I couldn’t understand why we were forgiving someone who wasn’t even repentant. But we did go and they even came home on a couple of occasions. In fact, even in the past, my grandfather and his brothers had written to the then Prime Minister and President seeking a revoke on the death sentence on Godse, stating that it was un-Gandhian.
You’ve always been against death penalty, you called for a stay on Yakub Menon’s execution. Do you think the thirst for blood is driving our country to chaos?
Yes, this need for ‘an eye for an eye’ is human nature. We pride ourselves on being a civilised society which believes in peace, yet we cry for blood. I had no love for Yakub. I was an eyewitness to the bomb blasts. I knew the kind of devastation they caused and I couldn’t imagine that kind of perversity, so I didn’t have any sympathy for them. But I believe that capital punishment is barbaric. It’s not justice, it’s revenge. What difference has it made to the lives of the people who were affected?
Follow the path: Gandhi Re-enacting Dandi march during its 75th anniversary
Why did you decide to re-enact the Dandi March?
The Dandi March was always a challenge for me, because three generations of my ancestors walked that entire route. It always fascinated me and posed a challenge that intimidated me. In 2005, during the 75th anniversary of the march, also post the 2002 violence in Gujarat, I decided to plan it as a walk for peace. I announced my intention on the internet to walk the same route, but forgot about it. Later, when we checked our mail, there were about 1,600 people who were interested in it and I thought to myself, ‘what have I done’. I was known to be a couch potato, so my family advised me to start training. They even started placing bets on how soon I would give up. We gathered about 700 people and then the Congress joined in. Although, it wasn’t a very Gandhian walk as there were a lot of facilities.
At the march, there was this man who had dressed as Bapu. Every time there was a political function, he would dress up as Bapu and he even bore a faint resemblance. He walked the entire stretch barefoot and carried just one shoulder bag. Wherever we walked, people would throw themselves at his feet. I remember thinking that so many years had gone by and people still revered him. These were people who were victims of caste discrimination. I mean, they all knew he wasn’t Gandhi, but even a look-alike drove them to have such great hope that there could be some change in their life.