By Suresh Kurl
I still remember that dark cold evening of January 30, 1948, when my young neighbour, Desraj burst into our building screaming, "Mahatma Gandhi has been killed! Somebody killed Mahatma Gandhi!" But no one seemed to believe him. Instead, they questioned his sanity, “Pagal ho gaya hai kyaa?” Have you gone crazy?”
"I just heard it in the market,” Desraj protested.
Then adults started trickling back home re-breaking the same news, “Somebody killed Gandhiji... Somebody shot Gandhiji.”
Mom, who was busy preparing dinner, ran out to the balcony to confirm what she overheard.
Like mom, not a single aunty in the entire building seemed concerned about what they'd left on their stoves cooking, boiling or burning. They were rubbing their hands in utter shock and calling each other helplessly.
Uncle Prem was the only tenant who owned a radio set. Mom and all six aunties in the building huddled in his living room listening to the All India Radio broadcast. I was there too.
Initially we heard sad music, Gandhiji’s favourite devotional song “Raghupati-raghav Raja Ram,” or hymns from the Bhagavad Gita, the scripture often recited to comfort grieving individuals.
In the absence of factual information, speculation abounded. “The killer must be a Muslim. Muslims had been making all kinds of threats against Hindus.”
"No. The killer has to be a Hindu or Sikh dislocated from the newly created Pakistan," Aunty Prem argued.
"Gandhiji loved Muslims more than he loved Hindus. Despite the violent division of India, he'd been planning to visit Pakistan to persuade Muslims to return to their home –India, as though they have two homes now. He had been threatening to fast-unto-death, guilt tripping and manipulating us to give in to them,” assessed Aunty Shanti, a school teacher, the mother of Desraj, and the newest tenant from Lahore.
Rationalization of his assassination continued until All India Radio identified Nathu Ram Godse, a Hindu, as his assassin.
"Thank God!" The aunties sighed; all at once. "The assassin is not a Muslim. Even in his death, Gandhiji saved the nation from another bloodbath,” they concluded with relief.
From that evening on, India's tri-colour flags, which had been fluttering on roof tops, albeit with a faded pride, hung in grief instead. Schools were closed. Stores were shuttered. Only streets buzzed with the chants of “Ishwar-Allah tero naam…” for Hindu-Muslim unity. Peace rallies went on for eleven days, joined by Hindus, Muslims, Christians and Sikhs. We didn't have television in those days, so we couldn't see how the rest of the country was coping with the death of the father of the nation -- Bapu, as people called him lovingly.
Soon, the Nehru government started cracking down on the Jan Sangh Party, which had opposed the partition of India. Every party member was suspect. Hariya “Fakkar” a 14-year-old free-spirited volunteer with the Party's youth wing lived right across our building. City police scooped him up, leaving his parents unaware of his whereabouts. Younger kids, who had been running around collecting news and gossip, were the ones who broke news of his arrest. He was released within seventy-two hours, but not before being roughed up and questioned.
My dad’s cousin, Kailash Chandra Dev Brihaspati, was also an active member of the Party, was imprisoned for a year. Much later, he was exonerated and appointed as one of the Directors of the All-India-Radio by the Indira Gandhi government.
As a child I always wanted to see Gandhiji in person, but that never happened. As an adult, I tried to peep into his soul and compare his with mine. Let truth be admitted, I found mine a greasy mess of anger; void of forgiveness, whereas non-violence and self-reliance composed his DNA.
He spun his own yarn to make his clothes, and encouraged school children to do the same. I was in grade three when I learned to spin with a little instrument called a “taqli,” but my thread was never as thin and smooth as my older brother's.
Gandhiji, a trained lawyer, practiced spiritualism for living. He never promoted ideas that he did not practice. Truth was his life-breath, not a political strategy.
I wish Sir Winston Churchill had not called him a naked "fakir", or beggar. However, despite his crude description, the world, including Lord Mountbatten genuinely mourned him.
The Vedic scriptures teach, "Mahajano yena gatah so panthah," one should traverse the path which is followed by great personalities. Years later, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Nelson Mandela traversed through the path Gandhiji had built to win over hatred and racial segregation.
While Canada has not birthed a Gandhi - yet, it is attempting to fashion its every citizen by the fundamentals of its Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
I am proud to be one of them.
Suresh Kurl is a former university professor, a retired Registrar of the BC Benefits Appeal Board, and a former member of the National Parole Board. You can contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org