The Final Hours

The Final Hours
Highlights

The Final Hours, Mahatma Gandhi, Pramod Kapoor, My Experiment with Gandhi. There is a widespread belief that living saints are given some intimation of their own mortality.

Reliving the final hours of Mahatma Gandhi is Pramod Kapoor in his book, ‘My Experiment with Gandhi’

There is a widespread belief that living saints are given some intimation of their own mortality. Mahatma Gandhi often talked about living to 125 years or more, like some Hindu seers had done, but on January 29, a day before his assassination, Gandhi was unusually eloquent about mortality and his own death. On that day, members of the Nehru family had arrived at Birla Bhavan around lunchtime. They included Krishna Hutheesing, Jawaharlal’s sister, his daughter Indira with her four-year-old son, Rajiv, as well as Sarojini Naidu, the nationalist leader. They headed straight for the garden where Gandhi was basking in the sun wearing a Noakhali hat. Looking up at the approaching group, all wearing bright coloured saris, he greeted them, saying: “So, the princesses have come to see me.” In winter, Gandhi liked to enjoy his frugal lunch, mashed fruits and goat’s milk, in the open garden at Birla Bhavan, where he always stayed when in the capital and where he held his daily evening prayer meetings. Recalls Nehru’s sister, Krishna Hutheesing: “Gandhi looked exceedingly well that day; his bare brown body was absolutely glowing. This was because, even during his fasts, he took very good care of himself; for he had high blood pressure and used to have mud packs on his head and an oil massage to keep his strength up.... We sat in the sunshine talking. He teased me about my lecture tour, asked about my husband Raja and the children and we gossiped, nothing serious, just gay, idle family chatter.” Rajiv picked up some flowers that visitors had brought for the Mahatma, and started placing them around Gandhi’s feet at which Gandhi playfully pulled the young boy’s ear, and said, “You must not do that. One only puts flowers around dead people’s feet.”

An hour later, Margaret Bourke-White, the famous American photographer for Life magazine, arrived for an interview. It would turn out to be the last he gave. One of the questions she asked was: “Do you stick to your desire to live to the age of 125 years?” to which Gandhi replied “I have lost that hope because of the terrible happenings in the world. I don’t want to live in darkness.” She was followed by a group of villagers from Bannu who had been involved in a communal attack and rendered homeless. One agitated member of the group shouted at Gandhi: “You have done enough harm. You have ruined us utterly. Leave us alone and take your abode in the Himalayas.” That evening, while walking to his prayer meeting he confided to his grand-niece Manuben: “The pitiful cries of these people is like the voice of God. Take this as a death warrant for you and me.” While speaking at the prayer meeting, the angry words of the refugee was still playing on his mind. He declared: “I have become what I have become at the bidding of God. God will do what he wills. He may take me away. I shall not find peace in the Himalayas. I want to find peace in the midst of turmoil or I want to die in the turmoil.” Again, before going to bed, he repeated this thought to his long-term associate Brij Krishna Chandiwala: “You should take that as a notice served on me.”

Finally, there was this; an uncharacteristic outburst of anger at having to take some penicillin pills that his doctor had left for him to cure a bad cough he had developed. “If I were to die of disease or even a pimple, you must shout to the world from the house tops, that I was a false Mahatma. Then my soul, wherever it may be, will rest in peace. But if an explosion took place or somebody shot at me and I received his bullets on my bare chest, without a sigh and with Rama’s name on my lips, only then you should say I was a true Mahatma.” If this was a premonition, it was so eerily accurate as to be almost prophetic. Just a few hours earlier, Manuben, one of his “walking sticks” as he called her, had excused herself to go and look for powdered cloves that Gandhi took with jaggery to relieve his cough. Gandhi. who did not like his routine to be disturbed, remarked: “Who knows what is going to happen before nightfall or even whether I shall be alive?” Then, at 4 pm on January 30, his last day on earth, two leaders from his home state, Kathiawar, had arrived unannounced while Gandhi was in a crucial meeting with Sardar Patel. On being informed of their desire to see him, Gandhi said, “Tell them that I will see them, but only after the prayer meeting and that too if I am alive.”

Gandhi was approaching his 80th year, and was frail and unwell, having just ended one of his famous fasts, and the communal killings and ongoing tension had taxed him to the limit. On January 30, Gandhi had awoken at 3:30 am, unusually disturbed with the ‘darkness’ that had surrounded him, not just the killings but also the infighting in the Congress that he had helped build, with the growing chasm between Nehru and Sardar Patel. There was even a growing chorus for the Mahatma to withdraw to the Himalayas rather than face the post-Partition paroxysms and hostility from right-wing elements who were angered by his secular stand, especially what they saw as a soft line on Pakistan. He, however, knew that this was when India needed him the most. He had a long and busy day ahead. It would also be his last and it is possible he realised how much he still had to achieve. At 3:45 am, he surprisingly asked for a rendition of a Gujarati bhajan: “Thake na thake chhatayen hon/Manavi na leje visramo,Ne jhoojhaje ekal bayen/Ho manavi, na leje visramo (Whether tired or not, O man do not take rest, stop not, your struggle, if single-handed, continues.)” Shortly after, he started to work on revising the draft constitution for the reorganisation of the Congress party which he had started work on the previous night. It would be, in a sense, his last will and testament, his vision for the nation. It would also be the last thing he wrote.

(From: My Experiment With Gandhi, By: Pramod Kapoor, Publishers: Roli Books, `595)

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