( Originally appeared in the Indian Blog World, September 2010 )
He is a toothless, smiling, austere, picture or a name in a text book, for most of the current twenty-something generation. But he was also a man who was nothing less than a phenomenon. His wisdom, leadership and foresight made India the India we see today; a sovereign, socialist, democratic, republic. But there was a time when even he was a young man just like any other youngster of his times. How did he make the transition from Mohandas to Mahatma Gandhi?
Perhaps the first pic that comes to our mind is the scene in Attenborough’s movie, ‘Gandhi’, where Ben Kingsley is pushed on to the railway platform from a first class railway compartment in erstwhile Pretoria. And the character’s struggle to fight an injustice to human kind, a discrimination of races. When we read Prof. Giriraj Kishore’s ‘Girmitiya Saga’, a powerfully told story of the ‘girmitiyas’ or the bonded labourers in the country at the time and Mohandas, the attorney’s odyssey through a life of compassion for fellow-beings, we travel along with the Mahatma into an understanding of what made the ‘man tick’.
Although the title is Girmitiya Saga, the book is a ‘Mohandas Saga’ in its true essence.
The book is well-researched and brings out quite a lot about Mahatma the man, albeit in the garb of fiction. One point which would interest any ordinary Indian would be his relationship with his wife, Kasturba. Prof. Kishore has made a special effort in portraying an understanding of how the dynamics that sustained a couple in later life was built up through strain and stress, so also his relationship with his children.
The book published in Hindi first as ‘Pahla Girmitiya’ and reveived very well by readers has been translated excellently into English by Prof Parajapati Sah and is published by Niyogi Books, Delhi. The cost of the book is Rs.995, and there are 1026 pages of absolutely absorbing reading. I guess it makes an ideal gift as well, to a generation who had seen the nascent stages of India as a nation.