At 17 minutes 5 PM this day 71 years ago he was shot dead moments before he was to lead what was to be his last prayer at Birla House in New Delhi. A few hours earlier, he had told his teenaged assistant Manu rather prophetically: “If someone fires bullets at me and I die without a groan and with God’s name on my lips, then you should tell the world that here was a real Mahatma…”
The man died to a prescient script. Gandhi had become Mahatma!
Shortly, a stunned Prime Minister, Jawaharlal Nehru, spoke extempore: “The light has gone out of our lives and there is darkness everywhere. Our beloved leader, Bapu as we called him, the Father of the Nation, is no more. Perhaps I am wrong to say that… The light has gone out, I said, and yet I was wrong. For the light that shone in this country was no ordinary light. The light that has illumined this country for these many years will illumine this country for many more years, and a thousand years later, that light will be seen in this country and the world will see it and it will give solace to innumerable hearts. For that light represented something more than the immediate past, it represented the living, the eternal truths, reminding us of the right path, drawing us from error, taking this ancient country to freedom…”
Today, marks the 71st anniversary of the passing of the Mahatma — the Father of the Nation.
The Martyr’s Day, as the Mahatma’s death anniversary is called, comes amidst some of the most socially, politically, and economically turbulent times that post-Independent has ever experienced, barring perhaps the Emergency of 1975-77. It couldn’t have been more catastrophic.
Today calls for a Mahatma, for he alone, despite whatever disagreements living Indians would have had with him in terms of his political vision, tactics, and practices, could have restored some semblance of balance and political decency to India’s body polity.
Gandhi was extraordinary. He was perhaps the most extraordinary man of the 20thcentury — one who, singlehandedly, with his political faith firmly rooted in the philosophy of non-violence, not only mobilized the disenfranchised millions across a fractured nation that was India, but also the world and bent the Empire over which, it was said, the sun never dared to turn its back on.
This was way before we had the television, the Internet or the worldwide web, the Facebook, the WhatsApp, the Twitter, the Instagram — the tools of instant mobilization today. The spectral power of his charisma can only be the stuff of legend!
We take a look at how the Mahatma’s assassination was covered in both the national and the international press — the newspapers, long, long before the advent of instant communication.
Print brought to life the dead yesterday, only on the morrow. The morning after. Print continues to do that today. But, today, it’s ‘virtual print’ — the Written Word and the Moving Image on the Web — that anticipates tomorrow today, interpreting the effervescent present and forecasting the future in all its abundant and vicarious possibilities.
But Print does something extraordinary — it captures, as no other medium does, the tactile fragrance and irredeemable sensuousness of memory and immortality.
Gandhi is here.