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Gandhi: ‘He fought for all, thought for all’

It was the division of the country that refrained him from celebrating the Independence — something that he had spent the majority of his life fighting for.

A still from the play Mahatma vs Gandhi

As the clock ticked towards midnight on August 14, 1947, Jawaharlal Nehru, the first Prime Minister of an independent India addressed the Indian constituent assembly in his landmark speech, Tryst with Destiny. As the sun set on the British rule on the Indian subcontinent after close to 200 years, Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi, spun away at his charkha in Calcutta. It was the division of the country that refrained him from celebrating the Independence — something that he had spent the majority of his life fighting for. Speaking about his love and admiration for the father of the nation, theatre and film director Feroz Abbas Khan speaks about how the end wasn’t the one that Mahatma Gandhi wished for.

“The Partition broke Gandhi,” says Khan. “He tried to stop it from happening until the very last but couldn’t do so. He was appaled at the state of the country and how things were panning out and the direction the people of India were headed in. Gandhi died with two regrets, his inability to convince his friend from Kathiawal (Muhammad Ali Jinnah) and the way things panned out with his own son, Harilal Gandhi,” he adds.

Khan’s introduction to Gandhi, however, came early during his life while studying films. “I read about Gandhi in my history textbook in school and the Films Division ran a brief show on him. However, all I took away from that was him being this honourable, good man who fought for the freedom of our country,” says Khan, 60.

It was, however, during a visit to the Sabarmati Ashram in Gujarat during a college trip where Khan first felt a connect. “It was when I first heard Gandhi’s voice that it pierced through my heart. Something just clicked and I wanted to know more, dwell deeper,” adds Khan. His curiosity took him to South Africa in 1983, where he travelled to know more about Gandhi’s early life and visited the Phoenix Settlement in Durban, which is where Gandhi opened his first ever ashram in 1904. Recalling the trip, Khan says, “There was also a Gandhi tour that I took in Johannesburg where we were shown around his house, taken to the railway station where he was thrown off the train, the waiting room where he was kept after the incident among others.”

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It was because of the incident on the train that many mainstream history books look back at this turning point in Gandhi’s life. Khan, however, sees it differently. “The incident of course impacted Gandhi and it paints a great narrative but it was never really a turning point,” he says. “In most stories about great heroes, one looks for a turning point but it wasn’t the case with Gandhi. Even before being thrown off the train in spite of having a first class ticket, Gandhi knew of the racism and discrimination against Indians and faced it many times. The real-life story wasn’t quite as black and white,” he adds.

Speaking of Gandhi’s relevance in today’s day and age, Khan feels the Mahatma’s principles and beliefs remain evergreen. “If Gandhi is not relevant then what is? Is violence, hatred, nepotism and discrimination among caste, creed and gender, relevant?” he says. “Gandhi was ahead of his time. Besides just fighting for India’s freedom, he spoke on issues such as equality, inclusivity, and environment,” says Khan. He went on to direct the play Mahatma vs Gandhi in 1998 and the film Gandhi, My Father in 2007. He says that his inspiration came in the ’90s when he interacted with Gandhi’s grandson, Gopal Gandhi, while directing the play Tumhari Amrita in London. “His grandson fondly shared many stories of Gandhiji, and it gave me ammunition to tell the story,” says Khan. “I also read a book in Gujarati called Prakash No Parchayo (The Light’s Shadow) by Dinkar Joshi and saw a Marathi play called Gandhi Virudh Gandhi, which were both very fascinating. “Men like Martin Luther King, Nelson Mandela and Barack Obama all spoke of Gandhi as a source of inspiration. I would say, in the history of India, after emperors Ashoka and Akbar, Gandhi stands third in terms of significance and impact. He was an honourable man who fought for all, thought for all, especially the last man in the queue,” he says.

First published on: 30-09-2019 at 12:32:40 am
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