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Mahatma,through a storyteller’s narrative

Narayan Desai will render the 111th edition of the Gandhi Katha in Mumbai starting today

Mumbai |
October 2, 2013 2:08:55 am

Rashtrapita keh kar sanmaana

Jeevan mein unko na jaana

Doobe rahe swaarath mein

Gandhi honge kahin Bharat mein

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The Mahatma is a part of our everyday lives — with his face on India’s currency and a national holiday observed on his birthday. Yet,his life and teachings are rarely practised and nearly forgotten. While the composition points out this irony,there is also a flicker of hope in the last line,which does not dismiss the possibility of Gandhi’s presence “somewhere” in the country. It is the search for Gandhi in India’s people that drives 89-year-old Narayan Desai,the author of this song,to continue conducting the Gandhi Katha in spite of ill-health. His recital from October 2 to October 6 at Bandra’s Gandhi Seva Mandir Hall,will be its 111th edition.

The veteran recounts the Mahatma’s life,with focus on anecdotes and relevance of his teachings in today’s times. The lecture series has Desai,fondly known as Narayanbhai,speak for three hours every evening. A group of local musicians and his long-time collaborator Bhadra Savai accompany him to sing bhajans.

He is frail,his voice feeble and feet swollen from recent illness,but Desai has been preparing for the upcoming Gandhi Katha for nearly a month. A concept he started in 2004 as a reaction to the Godhra riots,Desai — the son of Gandhi’s long-time personal secretary Mahadev Desai — has taken the Gandhi Katha to different parts of India and abroad.

Desai dismisses the perception that India’s youth is moving away from the teachings of Gandhi,adding that those under 20 are curious to know more about him. “Those aged between 20 and 40 are least interested in him. My generation is to blame for it — we didn’t show our children any Gandhi in our thoughts because we got too busy,” says Desai,who was part of Indian Peace Brigade headed by Jayprakash Narayan,the chairman of War Resisters’ International and won the Madanjeet Singh Prize from UNESCO in 1998 for promotion of tolerance and non-violence. Another reason for this disenchantment,in Desai’s opinion,is due to the limited presence of the Mahatma in school text books.

Each edition of the lecture series is different. For instance,the audience in Kerala was keen that the Gandhian speak of the Vaikom Satyagrah,a movement in the 1920s against untouchability. “Narayanbhai gauges the demographic and the kind of audience — their language,culture,age group — to decide what it takes back,” explains Desai’s daughter Sanghamitra Desai Gadekar. In addition,Savai and Desai shortlist the 20 songs,sometimes writing new ones,that will be part of the katha.

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First published on: 02-10-2013 at 02:08:55 am

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