It was two years after the brutal 2002 Godhra riots that Narayanbhai Desai son of Mahadev Desai the long time personal secretary of Mahatma Gandhi held his first Gandhi Katha in a small village named Dethali in Gujarat to spread the message of non-violence.
On Friday,the 106th edition of the Gandhi Katha a musical narrative on the life and philosophy of Gandhi had the ones attending the event listening to Narayanbhai in rapt attention at Gandhi Smriti located on Delhis Tees January Marg. The 87-year-old frail yet glib Narayanbhai took centerstage along with seven musicians.
Narayanbhai took the audience into Gandhis world,his ideas,thoughts,things that he said in the confines of his ashram,to his wife Kasturba in the community kitchen,to the judge in Phoenix,Durban,to the pathos and absurdity of the Partition.
After I penned the biography of Bapu in Gujarati,I figured not many people would pick up the four-volume biography and read it. I did not want to read out excerpts from The Story of My Experiments with Truth. Then I heard that people come in huge numbers to listen to kathas,so I decided to explore the art of storytelling. Also,Godhra disturbed me a lot. It made me feel so helpless,and how I could not do anything about it. This katha is also like a constructive prayashchit (penance) for me, says Narayanbhai,who adds that he had never heard kathas,but had told stories to children at a tribal primary school at the beginning of is career. I had to tell stories of a man,who I knew so well,who played an important role in the way I was brought up. So it just came to me naturally, says Narayanbhai,who spent 23 years at the Sabarmati Ashram and a considerable time with Gandhi.
The stories are far away from flying sorcerers,demons and mythology but comprise Gandhian thought and personal anecdotes from his life,some of which are not even part of biographies and numerous books on him. Narayanbhai uses narrative to interpret the past and considers this an effort to impact the future.
He also recalls the time when he used to type the letters dictated to his father by Gandhi. One such letter was written to Adolf Hitler, says Narayanbhai. The letter had urged Hitler to shun his methods and prevent the war which may reduce humanity to the savage state.
So what is Narayanbhais take on Anna Hazare and his Gandhiwadi ideas. He took up an important issue. His hunger strike also proved that he is a Gandhiwadi. But you have to do things the right way, said Narayanbhai.