For some reason over the years, I have developed a continued interest/obsession over all things Mahatma. About what made the man behind the name, what drove his day-to-day decision making, and how he was as a human being, behind the larger than life persona that he has left behind, and beyond all the vitriol directed at him these days for all ills real or imagined.
Today was a fortunate occasion to indulge in this passion, thanks to Center for South Asia in Stanford. Narayan Desai, the son of Mahadev Desai who was Gandhiji’s secretary for several years and the Chancellor of Gujarat Vidyapeeth, was visiting the Bay area as part of his Gandhi Katha tour of the US. He was all of 87 years young, with a passion for story-telling and no signs of getting tired despite a group of ardent listeners crowded around him even before the main event had started.
The event was itself was a highly spiritual journey for the audience. In less than two hours, Narayanbhai gave a glimpse into Gandhi and Music, about which prayers and hymns appealed to Gandhiji and the inmates of his ashram, and the millions of followers who marched with him as well. An added treat were the singers that accompanied Narayanbhai, singing some amazingly soulful bhajans in different languages. An audience that was not fluent in many of those languages still sat in rapt attention, listening to the powerful and moving sound of their voices and the interspersed commentary from Narayanbhai.
One of the memorable anecdotes from the evening was about a poor man who came by and donated one paisa to Gandhiji and he was asked to give more. He replied that that was all the money he had on him, but was asked in return whether he had a drinking habit, and was asked to leave that behind. It takes the soul force of a man like the Mahatma to convince a man to consult with his friends, make sure he will not be ostracized, and then walk over to the next village where Gandhiji was the next day as part of his walking tour, just to inform him that he was ready to take the vow to leave his drinking habit behind.
Managed to snag a couple of books written by Narayanbhai as well, on Gandhiji and his life in the ashram for the inmates. Look forward to getting more glimpses of what it might have felt like to live in one of the most interesting social experiments of the 20th century that served as a laboratory for Gandhiji’s nationwide campaigns.
Last but not the least, Joan Baez was present for the entire session as well, listening to the hymns and appreciating the voices of nonviolence and harmony from across the world. All in all, an amazing evening that the lucky few that filled the room had the good fortune to be a part of.