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'Charkha' - The spinning wheel of life!
Recently, a controversy sprung up regarding a photo adorning the calendar issued by Khadi & Village Industries Commission. Photo of Bapu working the spinning wheel, being replaced by that of PM Modi spinning the wheel!

For me this was just another trivia, which occupies the public space and distracts from tougher and important things at hand. This recalled my childhood when the spinning wheel was very much a part of our household.

Time was when Gandhiji raised a call to the entire nation, to take up spinning the 'charkha', as an iconic act of protest against the imposition of British textiles and stifling our own.

Unlike today, we had no telephones orr internet, for his call to go viral on the social media! But amazingly, from which ever town in India he issued the call, his message spread like wildfire, by word of mouth to every household. Our freedom fighting leaders of those days, spoke directly to our inner self and everyone obeyed. Not only Gandhiji, we had implicit faith in our leaders and acted accordingly.

Soon two charkas arrived in our home and were placed in our courtyard. Daily my mother and Mausi would sit down and spin. Then they would twist the yarn on a 'takli'. When enough yarn was at hand, they would walk over to Tilak Hall, the local office of Indian National Congress. This in turn would be used for weaving khadi.

It is not that our family was more patriotic than others! Each household took to heart what our leaders said, and acted accordingly. All the households we knew were following suit. This is how the Mahatma with his simple iconic acts galvanised the common folk to action.

Other iconic act of his was the Dandi march to protest against Salt tax. Not only India, but the world stood up and took notice. It was common place to see Sardar Patel, Pandit Nehru, Sarojini Naidu and so many others spinning, but not as a 'Photo Op'! On days, when Gandhiji called for a day of fast to protest some injustice, all elders at home fasted.

For the public at large, spinning the charkha was an act of political protest. But for millions of rural households it was their only way of eking out a meagre living. When I was studying in Pilani, Rajasthan and roaming around the villages, with my camera I saw so many old ladies there spinning. Khadi meant their survival.

As late as in 1956, I have seen spinning as a vital necessity. The accompanying photo shot in 1956, is from my personal archives.

I wonder what is common between Gandhi's 'charkha' and Emperor Ashoka's 'chakra', which is embodied in our national flag: Are both wheels of Dharma, symbols of Liberation!

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