The Spirit of Mahatma

Dr Rizwan Kadri Wednesday 24th February 2016 06:45 EST

Dr Rizwan Kadri is a young historian known for his research on Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel. Dr Kadri is currently working as an Associate Professor in Shree Swaminarayan Arts College, Ahmedabad. He is also a Ph.D. (History) guide in Gujarat University and Raksha Shakti University. During his academic career Dr Kadri has won many awards such as the ‘Gujarat University Gold Medal’, ‘Sanskar Award’, Jawaharlal Memorial Fund, New Delhi, Meritorious Prize. He is also known for his inspiring lectures, particularly on the Indian Freedom Struggle and Sardar Patel which made him very popular among the scholars as well as common people. In his English translation “The Spirit of Mahatma” Dr Kadri has added a new perspective to the relationship between Mahatma Gandhi and his personal secretary Mahadev Desai, who was like a son to him. Dr Kadri chanced upon this very valuable source of information while going through the file preserved in the Nehru Memorial Museum and Library, New Delhi.

Asian Voice will be publishing Dr Kadri's translation in a series from 20th to 26th February issue.

Part II

Both knew about the difficulties. At that time Mahadev was an employee of a cooperative bank with a good salary. I wasn’t sure if he would come to the Ashram leaving the job (3-11-1943).

Though Mahadev did not join along with Narhari, he kept contact with the Ashram. Kaka Kalelkar had already joined. Narhari has almost completed a year after joining during the same period when I returned to the Ashram from Champaran, Mahadev expressed his strong desire to join the Ashram. I needed someone like Mahadev.

Mahadev was fully ready now. I told him that if he joined, he would have to come to Champaran and that I could not tell for how long we would have to remain there. He said, “I have no conditions. Once I join, you can use my services in whatever manner you want.” “What about Durga?” “She follows me faithfully. We have no difference of opinion about this. I have not made up my mind without giving it a full thought. I just hope that I shall be able to give you complete satisfaction.” And, thus he joined the Ashram and was ready to come to Champaran. From that day on till his death, Mahadev remained with me with full dedication and sincerity.

The ways of God are unpredictable. It was Mahadev who was to write my memories, but he opted for eternal sleep on my lap. And now it is me who is writing his memories. It was a premature death. That is how people would describe it. But the fact is no death is premature. Every life is a debt which everyone has to live till the debt is not cleared.

We cannot understand or explain every death. For Mahadev I can say that he fully paid up all his debts. He has not seen day or night after he joined the Ashram. Consistent work was the only ‘Mantra’ of his life, and the work that Mahadev did was Service, in terms of the Bhagvad Gita ‘Yagna’, a Mission.

This time he spent six days in the temple of prison but these days were spent in consistent work. Generally when a Satyagrahi is jailed, in a way he is able to enjoy a little rest. But how could that be for Mahadev? I had to write letters to the Bombay Government and the Viceroy. It is not easy to write such letters. The draft letters to the Viceroy had become a serious topic of discussion. There were two or three versions and each drew criticism. The burden of making copies also was on Mahadev. He too had made several suggestions.

Mahadev was deeply concerned and worried about my fasts. What if the Viceroy’s reply gives certain indication? On one hand he had full faith that I would decide to undertake a fast only if there was inspiration from within or through the will of God, while on the other hand his love for me would upset him whenever there was a talk of my fasting. Mahadev understood well that he should not get agitated thus, but how could he win over his own caring nature? The echoes of the fast were already being felt outside the jail, and I was also somewhat anxious as I was not getting any clear inspiration. Mahadev would try constantly not to let that happen. I had frequently heard his exclamation that he preferred to die rather than see me fasting once again. And that is what happened. A day before his death, i.e. on 6th August 1942 (14th August), the letter to the Viceroy was sent, and on the morning of 16th (15th), Mahadev breathed his last. It was a Saturday.

After he had come to the temple of prison, Mahadev could not somehow sleep properly. He also could not take the morning walk with me. However, on that Saturday, he bathed early in the morning and prepared lovely toasts for Sarojinidevi and others. He had made the toaster with a wire-mesh which he had proudly showed to me. He prepared the toast with much love. When he joined me for the walk he said, “I am feeling very nice today. I slept peacefully in the night. Now onward, my life will be running quite smoothly and I hope to join you for walks every day.” I was happy to hear this. I heard him laughing at some joke Sarojinidevi cracked. I could also hear his and Sushila’s laughter. After my rounds were over, it was my turn to receive massage. While Sushila was giving me massage, I suddenly heard Ba shouting, “Shushila, come quickly! There is something terribly wrong with Mahadev.”

Sushila came running. I had no inkling of fear. Since some years, Mahadev used to have attacks of giddiness, but he would recover in minutes. The doctors had assured me that if Mahadev is not burdened with much work and observes the rules of proper diet and exercise, he would not have any trouble. As soon as Sushila left, I was summoned. I still had no fear. But as I came near where Mahadev was made to lie down, Sushila whispered, “Mahadevbhai is going...” I said, “He cannot…he cannot go. He has to write my biography.” Saying this I tried to wake up Mahadev. But he would not. His eyes were partially open. Sushila checked his pulse, but could not find it.

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