Encounters with Gandhiji

STELLA PAUL recalls her tryst with Mahatma Gandhi
The first time I heard about Gandhi was when I was about 5/6 year old, when I heard a female cousin of mine singing a song. Originally in one of our NE dialects, the song, roughly translated, goes like this:

Bapu Raja Gandhi Raja, is a big man
Gandhi has built a road, my dear friend

Now it’s much easier/ for us to fetch water.
As you have guessed, the singer (in this case my cousin) lived in a village where there were no running water taps and the nearest tubewell was quite a distance. To build a road, therefore, is truly something very nice of a Gandhi raja. However, till this day, I am not sure which of the Gandhis really had this road built. But the use of words such as ‘Bapu’ and ‘Raja’/ ‘king’, and considering Rajeev Gandhi was never a popular guy in NE region, makes me believe that it was Mahatma Gandhi.

My second introduction to Gandhi happened in a government-run primary school. It was a school where 3 of my elder siblings went and I was often sent with them, tagged by my mother who thought, that was the best way to handle us.

As a non-student, I was free to roam around and sit into any class (very generous of the teachers) and this is how, one day, I heard a teacher in the 1st standard, reciting a very interesting poem:

Gandhi muni, Gandhi muni (muni=sage)
He likes daal vada/he likes to read chhara(vada =a snack, chhara=poem)

(A few months later I had learnt that the teacher had lost his mental balance and that most of the rhymes were self-composed on which the school had put a disclaimer. But I can’t deny, I liked the poem! And honestly speaking, I think it would have been quite Gandhian to like both vada and a poem 🙂

But my most memorable introduction to Gandhi happened when I was in class 10 and went to visit an old relative who lived in a remote village. Election had just been over and I asked my relative if he too had boycotted the poll, a call given by a militant group. ‘No way,’ he said loudly, I have voted for the man with the Gandhi topi (cap).

And that would be which party? I asked.

‘I don’t know. Maybe, Congress’.

But how can you vote for someone without even knowing him?
“Well, he wore a Gandhi topi’.

And right there, right then, I learnt 3 things: 1) Gandhi and his philosophy lived on even in the remotest of villages of India where Gandhi never reached. 2) A hand spun cotton cap could be a big symbol of honesty and compassion because it symbolized a man who epitomized these virtues. And 3rd, it is this belief that continues to be exploited and betrayed by hundreds of politicians who are neither honest, nor compassionate.

Bapu, Sir Gandhi, wish you never wore a cap i!

Stella Paul

Stella Paul

Stella Paul is an Environment and Development Journalist, Poet, Media trainer, Organic Farmer, Folk song collector and a Gypsy sans a caravan. Born in Bombay, rooted in the North Eastern hills of India, survivor of an infanticide attempt, witness to filth unlimited and yet an incurable optimist.