What could be more fascinating: a portrait of Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi that diligently highlights each wrinkle on his face, or a simple caricature sharply capturing the Mahatma in all of three strokes? Perhaps both, equally. Picture Gandhi, by former Frontline journalist Sandhya Rao, brought out by Tulika Publishers, belongs more to the second category.
“Once upon a time there was a man who lived a life so ordinary, he died without a paisa to his name” — the tale unfolds in right earnest. Unlike most other once-upon-a-time stories, Picture Gandhi is far from an attempt to impose a moral or a value judgment on the reader.
It merely seeks to inform children about this man who lived several decades ago, about his life and times.
From his fear of the dark and his considering himself “mother’s prince,” to his problem area — multiplication, and his futile attempts to bully teenaged Kasturba, the story is interspersed with details about the young Gandhi, that could well be equally about any child reading about him. That the author has been careful not to raise the Mahatma on a pedestal is evident from her style.
Whether it is about Gandhi’s student days in England or his stint in South Africa, particulars about his pre-Independence movement days have been chronicled in a lucid manner. These are followed by the sequence of events, including the ‘Dandi March’ and the imprisonment at the Aga Khan’s Palace in Pune where Kasturba passed away.
All this, in the context of the national movement gaining momentum and eventually leading to Indian Independence, comes not as a lesson in history but as a lesson in being human and powerful at the same time.
At the end of the story, Gandhi remains someone any of us can be. Of course, with a lot of effort and will. “...Gandhi showed that it is right to say ‘No!’ when something is wrong. He showed how to say ‘No!’ and still be friends.” And that is why his story will always be told, the author comments.
The black-and-white photographs add to the flavour of the publication. The book is available in Tamil. Titled Endrum Gandhi, it is a translation of the original by Ashokamitran.
The publishers have brought out My Gandhi Scrapbook, also compiled by Sandhya Rao. It features rare photographs, trivia, comments and contemporary information pertaining to Gandhi. Interestingly, the book provides empty spaces and pages for children to put in their ideas, pictures and illustrations of Gandhi, making him their own.