Oct 2: Just a national holiday

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Junagadh, Oct 2: Today is Gandhi Jayanti and as usual, netas and celebrities pay ritualistic obeisance to the Mahatma. Politicians, clad in spotless white kurtas and Gandhi topis, eulogise the father of the nation and the sacrifices he had made in their speeches. However, all is forgotten the very next day. This is witnessed every October 2 during the Mahatma's birth anniversary.

But what was Mahatma Gandhi's attitude towards his birthday? Did he ever celebrate it in a manner that would mean that he was treating it as a happy occasion? He had once said that he wished to live for 120 years, though it was said much before politics in the subcontinent had become overtly communal.

Mahatma Gandhi arrived in India from South Africa on January 9, 1915 and never returned to that country. If one analyses the period of 32 years dating from October 2, 1915 to October 2, 1947 and then until his death on January 30, 1948, there is clear evidence of his simplicity and unobtrusiveness.

Once, when his wife Kasturba was lighting a lamp filled with ghee on his birthday, Mahatma reproached her saying she should not waste ghee as many poor families had no lamps to light at night.

It is interesting to see where Mahatma spent his birth anniversary after his return from South Africa.

On October 2, 1915, he was in Ahmedabad and continued to be there during the following year. In 1917, he was at Ranchi (now in Jharkhand).

During 1918, he was in Sabarmati ashram but he was ailing and bed-ridden for 15 days. He was suffering from a heart problem and doctors had advised him complete rest, saying he had irregular heart beats and unless he took complete rest, he could die. He had then called his two sons -- Devdas and Harilal -- fearing the worst. His birthday passed as he lay in bed for 15 days.

During 1919, he was in Bombay and it was his 50th birthday. Under a programme arranged by the Bhagini Samaj, he had addressed a Vamja Vibhag women's rally. He was presented with a bag containing Rs 20,000 in cash, which he donated towards, women's welfare. Next year too, he was in Bombay and on October 2 he was at an AICC meeting, which was held soon after the death of Lokmanya Tilak who had passed away on August 1, 1920. He had announced his decision to raise Rs one crore for the Lokmanya Tilak Swaraj Fund. He was also there in Bombay during 1921.

The Mahatma spent his next two birthdays in Yerawada jail in Poona. In 1924, he was fasting on his birthday in support of peace at Delhi, which was witnessing communal violence.

During 1925, he was at Bhagalpur and in 1926, he was back in Ahmedabad. While in 1927, he was at Virudnagar in Madras Presidency.

He returned to Ahmedabad in 1928 and in 1929, he was in Gazipur, where the municipal council presented him with a 'sanman patra'.

Spending his days in and out of jail was becoming a recurring feature for the Mahatma. In 1930, he was back in Yerawada jail, and the next year, he went to London to attend the Round Table Conference, where he was honoured by Indians and foreigners on his birthday.

In 1932, he was back in Yerawada and was the following year in Poona. the following year During he was in ashram at his Wardha.

While in Wardha during his birthday in 1935, the Mahatma wrote a letter to Ambujam Ammal, daughter of well-known social worker S Srinivas Iyengar. In his letter, he told Ambujam ''You people pray for my longevity on my birth anniversary. I understand your feelings behind this. Yet you must understand that howsoever hard one tries, God has fixed one's life span. Not one minute more or one minute less can the life span be enhanced.'' 

During 1936 and 1937, Gandhiji was in Sevagram. He came back to Delhi the next year and stayed for another year before moving to Wardha in Maharashtra. In 1940, the girl students at Wardha celebrated his birthday wishing him a long life. In 1941, he was gifted with khadi dhoties there. He was confined at the to Agha Khan Palace in Pune and placed under house arrest when he was 74. The jailor garlanded him with flowers and presented Rs 74 as a birthday gift, which he donated towards charity. He he was back in Sevagram in 1944.

There, he received a letter from George Bernard Shaw wishing him a happy birthday. After a year in Poona, he came to Delhi in 1946 and stayed for two more years.

His birth anniversary in 1947 was his last, as a new India was born -- torn amid violence and bloodshed. When Lady Mountbatten wished him on his birthday on October 2, 1947, the Mahatma asked her a poignant question 'Are you conveying birthday greetings or a condolence message?' Gandhi had indeed lost the jest for life after the massive upheaval following Independence. He had also lost his dear wife Kasturba and his personal secretary Mahadev Desai. In Bengal, riots had broken out at Noakhali which pained him a lot.

Today, on his birth anniversary, the Mahatma's statue is adorned with flowers everywhere and ritualistic tributes are paid. The spirit of the Mahatma and the cause for which he stood, is all but dead. The society seems more driven by caste, creed and hatred than before.

Our tragedy of India is that the principles that guided the Mahatma viz, truth and 'ahimsa' (non-violence) have been disembodied. The country is there, but its soul seems to have gone for a spin.


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