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WHEN GANDHI VISITED ME
That was it! The last straw. I had finally had it. My head was fuming and with my eyes bloodshot I stormed out of the door. My brother had annoyed me once again. A fourteen year old has enough on her mind what with the ongoing examinations and dance practice for the school annual function; but that was not enough! Her kid brother must make her life hell. The little devil that resided in him had taken all my best pens and thrown them in the city dump. My mother as usual had let him go off with just a stern look and some sharp words!
I ran straight to the garden -“THE BAPU GARDEN”. I always felt better among trees. I washed my hot face in the cool fountain and slumped on a cold bench facing the statue of Gandhi. I, for the first time, noticed how Gandhi’s eyes smiled and crinkled up even in their stone form. How they cheekily winked at me. Wait! Statues don’t wave nor do they move, neither do they crack to life and come and sit near you! Yes, Gandhi-The Father of the Nation was sitting near me obviously amused at my open mouth. Gingerly I touched his sturdy lathi strong and firm. Yes it seemed quite real enough.
I asked him “Sir, are you real?”
“Of course I am, child” he looked slightly affronted.
“Then where were you for so many years? Its ages since anyone last saw you, in flesh and blood, I mean”
“Well I was asleep, I was tired and weary but I am now happy that I have at last woken up to a free and modern India”, he smiled proudly with satisfaction.
I had doubts about his so called ‘modern’ India but I kept my opinion to myself because I did not want to interrupt him.
“I knew that India would some how achieve the status where it will be free of all her diseases! Aren’t you happy to be born in such a country where women have the same status as men and where people are not judged on the basis of religion, caste, color and gender?”, he seemed to be making a speech. Well being the leader of a revolutionary country during its independence probably made one a good orator.
I must have smirked slightly because the next moment he nodded knowingly at me and said “Child, if you too had sacrificed the majority of your life working for the freedom of a country you would have been just as happy and proud as I am now” with a grandmotherly look.
“So, sir what would you like to do now? Want to visit the Gandhi memorial or pay a visit to the ‘Gandhi Marg’?” I was keen to change the subject.
“Nah, I am tired of all that. Can’t we have some fun? Do you like popsicles?”
“Of course, who doesn’t?”
“Then let’s have some, its ages since I last tasted a popsicle”
I was doubtful whether he had tasted anything for ages but kept mum as I was pleased that finally both of us had agreed on something!
We strolled down the garden and out of the gate. I wondered whether people would think it weird to find me walking with the father of the nation who was assassinated seventy years ago. To my surprise no one even noticed us! Possibly people were more interested in the Gandhi on their hundred rupee note than the actual Gandhi.
We asked the vendor for two sticks of popsicles . As I watched the icy water dripping down the Mahatma’s chin I wondered how he ever led India all the way to her independence!
As we gulped down the popsicle we noticed a small kid tugging the edge of his mother’s skirt and pleading with her for an ice candy. His mother snootily answered “Sorry, darling who knows the caste of this vendor? I cannot allow you to eat from the hands of an untouchable! Our religion does not allow us to do this.” The kid was disappointed but soon trailed after his mother.
I glanced up. The vendor was unconcerned. Possibly he had got used to it. I glanced at Gandhi. He seemed shocked beyond words. His popsicle lay forgotten. He looked at me. I shrugged.
I paid for the ice candies and while walking back to the garden, we saw some kids playing. As a new boy joined them, a fight started and some kids brutally beat the new boy. When I asked what the matter was one of the kids answered that the new boy was a Muslim and wanted to play with them. This being an unpardonable crime, they were meting out the punishment.
I again looked at the Mahatma and to my surprise his eyes were damp. He looked at me and smiled. How one can smile and cry at the same time has remained a mystery for me. We sat down on the same bench again. In a choked voice he said “It might take another seventy years for India to gain its second independence. I wish I had never woken up. I am feeling tired and am off for a little snooze again. I hope when I next wake up I will truly find the real India of my dreams.”
He stood up looking slightly weary. He started walking towards the statue when he turned, broke into a toothless grin and mumbled “Thank you for the panipuris! I must give you something in return. Have a copy of my autobiography ‘My Experiments with Truth’. He handed a battered book to me.
Suddenly I woke up. I had fallen asleep on the bench. A glance at my watch told me that an hour had passed. Phew! What a dream! My hand brushed at something. A book! ‘My Experiments with Truth’ was lying there. Without a second thought I pocketed it and headed home to make up with my brother. There was enough unpleasantness in the world already!