Friday, October 2, 2015

My Father – The Pro-Independence Rioter

I recall Anna once telling me about how he attended a rally where Mahatma Gandhi spoke to a large crowd.  I didn’t remember all the details, so I thought that 2nd Oct, Gandhi-ji’s birthday, would be a great day to ask him to recall when and how he saw the Mahatma.

It has taken me an entire day, to get the details of the story.  Today, Anna’s memory and speed to respond has been very low, and as I left him this evening, he looked tired and worn out.  Partly, because it was not a “good” day, and partly because I badgered him with questions that taxed his brain.

Anna, 1945-49
When Anna was studying at St Joseph’s college in Tiruchirappalli (Trichy), he and his classmates heard that Mahatma Gandhi would be passing thru Dindigul District.  Also that the villagers of Chinnalappatti were planning to stop the train to seek Gandhi-ji’s blessings. Anna and his classmates decided to travel the ~120kms to Chinnalappatti to get a chance to see the Mahatma and perhaps hear him speak.  It is interesting to note that tho’ my father and his friends did not know Hindi at all, they were willing to travel many kilometers to see and hear the Mahatma. Also, that Chinnalappatti has no railway station, just a railway track, laid on dry brown earth and rock. So pretty much, the middle of nowhere.
Memorial at the spot
where villagers "rioted"
on 2 Feb 1946
 

The crowd of over 100,000 people to see and halt the train on which Gandhiji was travelling.  Anna says that as the train ground to a halt there was pin drop silence. Then Gandhiji appeared in the doorway of a carriage, lifted his right hand (as if he was blessing people), and said a few words in Hindi.  Anna and his friends heard every word sitting at the back of the crowd of cross-legged people and understood not one word.

The British called the forced-halting of Gandhiji’s train on 2nd Feb 1946, a riot.  A large crowd of people, just sat on the tracks forcing the train taking Gandhi-ji to Madurai, to stop. The crowd just wanted Gandhiji’s blessings. The British wanted them gone.  

What surprised Anna and his friends most was Gandhiji’s stature.  They had heard of the big man, the important man, the man people deferred to, the man who went to jail for independence, the man the British were frightened of, the fierce freedom fighter.  And at the carriage doorway stood a frail man in a white dhoti, when they expected a tall, strapping, warrior-like figure.

And then Gandhi-ji and the train were gone.

Later, the place in Dindigul District where the train stopped was named Gandhigram. As of 2001, the population of Gandhigram is listed as 10,666 people.

As I leave Anna, I ask him if he knew that he was considered a rioter by the British and could have been punished or sent to jail.  He gives me a wan smile. 

And then, he tells me that he once lay down, legs stretched out on a bed that Gandhi-ji slept on!

I have so many questions to ask him, but he is tired, and I will leave that story for another day, another telling.

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