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.
That day Colonel Bhandari and Colonel Shah had also come. Colonel Bhandari had also summoned the Civil Surgeon. But what can a doctor do when Yama, the God of Death, had taken over? (4-11-1943)
Sushila used all that was at her disposal. Colonel Bhandari ran around a great deal, many medicines were administered, but to no avail. Mahadev breathed his last.
When all the doctors said, “There is no life left in this body”, I said, “Let us take Mahadev to the adjoining room.” That room was cleared of other things. Colonel Bhandari telephoned to find out where the cremation should take place. I had already expressed my wish, “Mahadev was like my own son. His last rites must take place like my own son. If the Government wants the cremation to take place out of the jail, I want it to be before my own eyes. I do not want to take any political mileage of his death. For me, it is a religious rite. I can say that I want to be with the body alone and I want to light his funeral pyre.” What transpired in bits and pieces over a time, I have written here in short and in essence. The final decision did not come about with ease. The Government said that they will take over the body and get Brahmans to perform the last rites, but I cannot be released out of the jail to attend the ritual.
But I remained firm that the body will not be taken out of my sight and that I will lit the pyre. Finally it was decided that the last rites will take place just opposite the Aga Khan Palace, where the Brahmans will be summoned. The death had taken place between 8.30 and 9 a.m. The above dispute took some time. Everyone skipped food. The body was taken for a bath and Sushila and myself gave him the bath. His clothes were washed and kept aside for Narayan. The body was wrapped in a jail sheet and taken to the cleaned room. We applied sandalwood paste on his forehead and a thin layer on the whole body. Miraben arranged flowers on and around the body. A lamp of ghee and dhoop (incense) was also lighted up. The Superintendent, Khan Bahdur Kateli brought lots of flowers which were arranged around the body. Sushila and myself began reciting the Gita near the body. We sang “Vaishnavajan” hymn before reciting Gita. At about 4 pm the body was given the last rites in the open ground on the eastern side of the Palace.
I had carried the funeral clay – pot, leading the procession. The Brahmans who came now, picked up the body and carried it to the site, chanting the name of Ram. Sarojini Devi, Kasturba, Miraben, Sushila, Colonel Bhandari, Colonel Shah, Major Advani and Khan Bahadur Kateli were present on the occasion. The working prisoners and soldiers were also present. Everyone had lent a helping hand with much love and care. Pain, sorrow and serenity was writ large on everyone’s face. Everyone appeared to have realized the real value of Mahadev. Within a short period Mahadev had won the hearts of everyone, young and old, including the soldiers who had begun to consider him a part of their family, such was his nature. The four officers already knew Mahadev whom they had come across in his earlier jail sojourns.
Ba, who had displayed extraordinary courage so far, broke down when I ignited the funeral pyre. Sushila had to get hold of her. Although Sarojini and others tried to console her, Ba could not stop crying her heart out. Ba always considered Mahadev as her son. Recounting the numerous services that Mahadev had provided, Ba’s main worry was what she would tell Durga, his better half, what would become of young Narayan; how could Mahadev leave this world while she still lives on. And so on. (5-11-1943)
Such anguish was difficult to pacify. It had now begun to rain. The main part of the body had already turned into ashes, so we left the area and returned to the Palace. We thanked the officers and they took their leave. Everyone was very sad and grieved, I too wept that night. Our mourning continued throughout the night.
Next day when we visited the funeral area, we found that although the pyre was wet, there was still some ember burning. We collected the ashes and while we kept a bagful, we sent the rest to the Brahmans who were to arrange for them. The bagful was for Durga. I kept a bit of the ashes in a bottle and used to smear my forehead with some ashes everyday, but afterwards I left this habit deliberately, although I continued to visit the funeral site every morning and evening and offer flowers there. We now read the 10th Chapter of the Bhagvad Gita daily in the mornings. A platform of 7’ x 3’ x 3’ has been constructed where Mahadev was cremated. It has a decoration of the figure of OM in small conch-shells, and we offer flowers. Most of the time Sushila does the decoration. The gardener usually provides flowers. Thus Mahadev’s memory continues to remain fresh. The reason behind this is to remind everyone about the excellent qualities of Mahadev and that they should also be part of their own lives; May everyone be greeted as naturally by Death while doing his work as he did.