What it was like to grow up in the midst of the freedom struggle.
I loved to sit by this window and watch people go in and out of congress house. this was where i caught my first glimpses of not only gandhiji but also nehru, patel and several others.
Whenever I try to tell a child about Gandhiji, the response is the same: "Oh! Please we hear enough of him in school." So much has been written about the freedom struggle that the subject has become rather stale for children who did not grow up with it. But it was so much a part of my growing up that I wish to share it with readers I know I will never meet.
I was born on December 13, 1921 in Calcutta. When I was around four years old we moved to Bombay. For some time we lived in a flat on the first floor of a building called "Kennaway House" just next to the Congress House.
One window overlooked the courtyard of the Congress House. I loved to sit by this window and watch people go in and out of Congress House. This was where I caught my first glimpses of not only Gandhiji but also Nehru, Patel and several others. I could recognise them because, now and again, my father would point them out to me, "Ah ...look,look, quickly now..!"
Those who streamed in and out of Congress House were dressed in khadi. Gandhiji had said that we should not buy or wear clothes made in England. One familiar song then was: "Charkha Chala Chala ke lenge, Swarajya lenge" (By spinning, we will get our freedom).
My mother used to sing and play it on the harmonium. That oftheard refrain puzzled me very much. How could we drive the British away by spinning? Next door Aunty Leena sat at her charkha whenever she was free. I loved to watch her. One day I asked her "How are we going to get "swarajya" by just spinning?"
"Well," said aunty, "Gandhiji believes that by spinning our own yarn, we will help create more employment. Now they take our cotton to England, make it into cloth in their Lancashire mills and bring it back to sell it here. If we refuse to buy it, the British will suffer. Gandhiji wants us all to take the "swadeshi pledge"; that is buy things made only in our country."
Soon there was picketing of shops selling foreign goods. The cry was "Boycott British goods". Currency notes with Gandhiji's image in one corner instead of the British king's were printed underground. This was a criminal offence.
One day my father came and announced, "Today we are all going shopping but, mind you, no toys or silk dresses. We can shop only at Khadi Bhandar."
"Why only Khadi Bhandar? Why not Whiteway and Laidlaw or Army and Navy Stores? I want a sil frock for my birthday," I said. Everything from clothes to toys and other luxury items - said, "made in England".
For months I'd been eyeing a frilly silk frock for my birthday but my hopes were shattered because the only money my father had -seditious Rs. 10 and Rs. 100 notes with Gandhiji's profile in one corner - would be accepted only at Khadi Bhandar. So we went to Khadi Bhandar. My mother bought a khaddar sari, my father a khadi silk coat and something for my brother. I sulked because I didn't like any of the frocks; they were so ugly and rough. Even the silk ones were not pretty but since I knew we would not be going to any other shop I chose a frock. I don't remember ever wearing it.
At that time, my father was editing a fiercely nationalist paper called Voice of India, now defunct. He was a great writer but knew nothing about managing money, so he asked Sarojini Naidu to join him as Manager and Director believing that a woman could handle finances better. He was so wrong! They ran up debts and had to declare insolvency after a spell. Both were hauled up in court. Incidentally Jinnah was the judge before whom they were produced.
With the call from Gandhiji to take the "Swadeshi pledge" (never to buy foreign goods) people took to spinning very seriously. Cottage industries like handmade paper, soaps, match boxes, agarbattis, sprang up. Gandhiji always used handmade paper for correspondence even with those in the higher echelons of power in the country and outside.
Apart from the charkha, there was another device, the takli, to spin yarn. It consisted of a long iron needle with a circular wooden base. Cotton was attached to the sharp end and gently pulled to make a thread and would round on it till it was full. The yarn was washed, dried and made into hanks and then woven into cloth on handlooms. It required skill and practice to spin on the takli. Even small children tried their hand at it. People carried it about with them and women spun while they chatted.
This was followed by the great bonfire! People heaped up all their foreign garments and set fire to them all over the country. I loathed the idea of throwing my pretty silk frocks into the fire. My father was also not very keen on it but his elder brother George Joseph, an ardent follower of Gandhiji, urged everyone to do it. He had studied law in England and used to pride himself on his suits and manners. All the same he made a heap of his suits and all his foreign garments and asked his wife and children to do so too. His wife refused saying "I will take the swadeshi pledge but I am not going to burn the clothes I have; I don't see any sense in it." Subsequently the whole family took to wearing only khadi.
My uncle gave up a lucrative legal practice and joined Gandhiji in the freedom struggle. On one of his visits to Uncle George's house in Madurai, Gandhiji observing the bare-chested South Indian mode of dress and gave up his habit of wearing a kurta or shirt and made do with dhoti and shawl.
Redolent with nostalgia is the memory of the Dandi March or the Salt Satyagraha. From our window I could see squares of mud filled with water and carefully guarded. All of a sudden there would be a commotion; police would come and try to break the ring of people surrounding these squares by a lathi charge and upset the squares and the water in them and go away. As soon as the police left another group of people would come again and the process repeated.
In the evening, after my father came home, I told him what I had seen. Then I understood what it was all about. The water in the squares was not ordinary water but seawater. The idea was to evaporate it and make salt. This was against the law. Chowpathy beach and other beach areas were full of men and women and children carrying vessels and stoves, collecting seawater, boiling it and making salt.
One day my father announced, "Today your mother and I are going to see Gandhiji."
"What about me? I too want to see him," I said.
"No. He is very busy now. Some day when you grow up I will take you to see Gandhiji, may be in his ashram," my father said.
I was very disappointed and angry. My mother wore the khaddar sari she had bought at "Khadi Bhandar" and my father a khadi kurta and dhoti. I watched my parents joining the stream of visitors into "Mani Bhavan".
Years later, my father kept his promise. I was in my teens and we were in Delhi. Gandhiji was staying at the Bhangi colony, though he had the option of staying in Birla House. It was one of the most memorable days of my life.
When I was to be married my father sent Gandhiji an invitation. He replied with a letter saying, "So your daughter Cookie is getting married. May she be of service to both God and Man."
One of my great regrets is that this letter written on handmade paper in Gandhiji's hand was misplaced during my travels and shifts within India. Like Time itself and precious memories of my childhood it vanished into the past.
The Hindu, New Delhi
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Economic divide is clearly visible, he says
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Opportunities in the village for self-help that once existed were completely destroyed and globalisation in every sphere of life had led to wider disparities between the haves and have-nots, he said. The economic divide was clearly visible between the poor and the rich, which was inciting violent and terrorist tendencies among members of the poorer sections of society, he added. Gandhian Studies Coordinator MV Ramkumar Ratnam presided over the meeting at which Gandhian economist Patil and State Sarvodaya Mandali president Subba Rao were also present.
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Source: The Hindu, New Delhi