Theatre

The Mahatma’s teacher

Diverse aspects of Mahatma Gandhi’s life have been featured in popular media. But little is known about his initial mentor. Who was his inspiration for propagating the values of ahimsa (non violence) and satyagraha (nonviolent or civil resistance)? Yugpurush Mahatma Ke Mahatma, a Hindi play, explores the relationship between Gandhi and his spiritual guru Shrimad Rajchandra, who taught him these tenets.

Gandhi met Rajchandra, a prominent Jain poet and philosopher, for the first time in Mumbai, when he returned from England as a barrister in 1891. His knowledge of the scriptures and moral earnestness left a deep-rooted impression on young Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi and their relationship blossomed over a span of two years.

After Gandhi moved to South Africa, the duo corresponded with each other through letters. Rajchandra’s adherence to the principles of satya, ahimsa and dharma later became the fundamental tenets of Gandhism. Yugpurush - Mahatma Ke Mahatma focuses on the special relationship between both the individuals and traces Mohandas’ journey from a barrister to the Father of the Nation.

Directed by Rajesh Joshi and written by Uttam Gada, it features Parthsarthi Vaidya, Pulkit Solanki and Babul Bhavsar in pivotal roles. The play, which premiered on November 14 this year in Gujarati on Rajchandra’s 15oth birth anniversary, is now being staged in Hindi. Plans are afoot to present it in English and regional languages soon.

Joshi says, “The story starts when, on the day of his assassination, Gandhi speaks to his associates about Shrimadji. We thought that if the Father of the Nation is the sutradhar and talks about the person who influenced him the most, the [play] would have maximum impact. We also devised elements like having an older Gandhi on stage who is reminiscing about his past and taking the audience through his journey as a 21-year-old barrister, who was keen to follow his legal practice – to fighting for the nation’s independence [and] becoming the country’s revered leader.”

The director admits that the biggest challenge for him was to ensure that the production shouldn’t come across as preachy or a hagiography, but entertain the audience. So, the story is laced with humour and also highlights vignettes of Gandhi’s life such as when he lost his mother and how he took a vow of brahmacharya (celibacy) with ample support from his wife, Kasturba.

The play also throws lights on the lesser-known aspects of Rajchandra’s life. For instance, Rajchandra performed Shatavdhan, which means doing 100 activities at one time. This event was held at the Framjee Cowasjee Institute near Dhobi Talao in 1887. A group of 100 people asked him different questions like framing sentences using words from diverse languages or using the first letter of various people’s names, reciting poems impromptu and challenged him in a game of chess and cards simultaneously. Rajchandra is said to have performed all the tasks within a stipulated time frame. Likewise, if he was given a list of 50 words and then asked to repeat those from 25-35 in the correct chronological order, Rajchandra would do so without committing any error.

For Gada, the major task was to encapsulate the highlights of Gandhi and Shrimadji’s meetings that took place over a span of two years within a time frame of 120 minutes. He says, “We had a lot of research material. So, I had to use my discretion to retain the most significant parts. Also, Shrimadji was a brilliant scholar but he wrote in Gujarati [in a style] that was prevalent in the 19th century. So I had to simplify the language yet retain the flavour and essence of his writings to ensure that it could be understood by the present generation.”

Yugpurush Mahatma Ke Mahatma will be staged today at Damodar Hall, Parel at 8 p.m. and on December 30 at Tejpal Hall, Gowalia Tank at 8 p.m.; for ticket details see: www.yugpurush.org

The author is a freelance writer


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Printable version | Nov 30, 2021 2:27:59 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/entertainment/theatre/The-Mahatma%E2%80%99s-teacher/article16955782.ece

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