August 7, 2004
Rajmohan Gandhi’s article on Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan (‘A Gandhi among the ruins’, IE, July 30) brought back a distant memory. His name did not “act like summons to a sense of guilt” but rather to much warmer feelings of awe, admiration and thrill; a slim recollection, for I was merely 6 years old, of the compassion and love that Badshah Khan exuded.
He was in Delhi for the Gandhi Centenary, and my mother was determined to take my brother and me along in a bus to somewhere in what is now known as the Capital’s Lutyens’ Bungalow Zone to get a glimpse of this living legend.We had heard about him from our parents and from a remarkable, dishevelled house guest, D.G. Tendulkar, biographer of the Mahatma and of Ghaffar Khan, who would recount to us boys events from their lives.
In this white-columned house, there was a big crowd around Badshah Khan, and we struggled to get a glimpse of him. I remember being greatly impressed by his imposing height and stature, and still recall his leathery skin and long, long nose. People thronged around and pressed garlands on him. Badshah Khan caught sight of my mother trying to hoist us up for a better glimpse of him. He crossed the room, reached out to us with his large hands and gave us a garland. It was a khadi tricolour garland, which my mother has preserved for us to this day.
I look forward to reading Rajmohan Gandhi’s book on Badshah Khan, whose vision is of course what the world needs, not just today, but always. The lives of Gandhi and Khan quite clearly show us the essential difference between piety and religion, and communalism. I am keen to understand what the author means when he talks of Ghaffar Khan having something to say on the critical questions of “how the strong should fight terrorism”, and “how the weak should fight occupation”.
Gandhiji is famous for having said that “violence is the weapon of the weak; non-violence the weapon of the strong”. It is not clear to me how his vision can be put into place today in the Frontier province and Afghanistan. Certainly it will require years of selfless work and devotion.
What the Bacha Khans and the Khudai Kidmatgars achieved in the last century has been called a miracle. Perhaps it was a brief shining moment before the region lapsed into senseless ways — Ghaffar Khan’s pronouncements in 1946-47 allude to the growing fanaticism in the region. But he and his followers showed once that the indomitable Pakhtun spirit can transcend the seemingly endless cycles of violence. It will require his equal to show they can again attain something mightier than the most dreadful weapons of mass destruction devised by the ingenuity of man.
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