Recalling the day Gandhiji died and how it changed India forever.

There are two important events in January we remember every year. January 26 when India became a Republic and January 30 when we observe a two-minute silence in memory of Gandhiji's demise. It was on his way to the usual prayer meeting that he was gunned down by a man who bowed to him in obeisance and pulled the trigger.

We were stationed in Trichinopoly, now Tiruchirapalli, at that time headquarters of the South Indian Railway. The programme on the radio was all of a sudden interrupted by the announcement that Gandhiji had been shot dead. We had to wait for the evening news bulletin to get more details.

Meanwhile, we gathered in groups and discussed the dastardly act. The nation drowned in sorrow at the manner in which Gandhiji had died. His last words they say was “Hey Ram!”

In his own way

All his life he fought for the freedom of his country and to uplift the untouchables whom he called “Harijan”, which meant the children of God. He was against Partition and at the midnight hour of our “Tryst with Destiny” he was far away from Delhi — the lone man in Noakhali.

There is an interesting firsthand account about when the urn with Gandhiji's ashes was brought to Allahabad. It's a first-person account by a Chennai centenarian Olive Paul whom I had interviewed. She had left Chennai, then Madras, to join her husband in Allahabad. Those days it took nearly four days to reach Allahabad. It was during this journey that she heard the news that Gandhiji had been shot dead. Sure enough when Olive reached Allahabad, there was not a soul at the railway station. Gandhiji's ashes were to be brought by train for immersion in the Sangam. It seemed as though the whole of Allahabad was thronging the area leading to the Sangam. A broad path had been cleared for the ashes to be taken. The crowd waited patiently. At last the urn arrived in a wooden boat on wheels with Devdas, Gandhiji's son at one end, and the Purohit at the other end; the ashes were in an urn at the centre. There was pindrop silence. The boat moved slowly till it reached the Sangam. Olive told me it was an unforgettable experience.

Gandhiji was against him being worshipped. He claimed to be an ordinary man who believed in truth and non-violence. Unfortunately there are temples where he is worshipped and milk being poured over his idol. If he was alive, he would have gone personally and destroyed them. Today, we have no great leaders to look up to or emulate.

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Sunday MagazineJune 28, 2012