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'Mahatma Gandhi was fearless and expected the same from his followers'
Veteran Gandhian and son of Mahatma Gandhi's secretary Mahadevbhai Narayanbhai Desai said that Gandhi was fearless and expected his followers to be so too. For five days from October 2, he kept the audience that filled Gandhi Sewa Mandir Hall in Bandra glued to their seats with his narration of Gandhi Katha.

Itwas a story that most people knew in broad strokes, but had neverheard told in quite this intimate, passionate and engrossing fashion.

Gandhiknew me before I knew him, Narayanbhai began. He based his quizzicalclaim on the fact that Gandhi had held him as a baby when he didn'tknow who Gandhi was. As every teacher who has ever stepped before acrowded class knows, if he is to turn diverse ears into a singlefocused ear, he needs to be a performer.

Narayanbhaiwas precisely that a skilled performer straight out of India's oldHari Katha tradition. Using perfectly timed pauses and eloquentgestures to make his narration effective, he spoke extempore for heknew his script well.

Andwhy would he not? It was a story whose every detail had gone into hisextensive, four-volume biography of the Mahatma, Maru Jeevan Ej MariVani (My Life is My Message), published not too long ago.Narayanbhai, 89, sat ramrod straight for three hours every day, sixto nine.

Hisvoice, a little muffled to begin with, warmed up as he went along.His narration was carefully structured and punctuated every 20minutes or so with musical interludes, when a group of musicians,sitting to one side of the stage sang songs that he had written andcomposed specially for the katha. In the course of five days we heardmany stories.

Weheard of the mammoth crowd that greeted Gandhi at Ballard Pier on hisreturn from the Round Table Conference. It was perhaps the firsttime, as Narayanbhai pointed out, that a hero's welcome was beinggiven to one who had returned home empty-handed! 

We heard of thebelief Gandhi arrived at in his later years, that intermarriagebetween the so-called high and low castes was the only way to destroycaste divisions in our society.

Onceconvinced of this, he refused to attend intra-caste marriages. Gandhidid not relent even in Narayanbhai's case. However, a postcard withhis blessings was the first to reach him on the day of his wedding.

Hedefined fearlessness as not fearing anybody and not being the causeof fear in anybody. He expected fearlessness of himself even in theface of bullets, which had become a distinct threat after severalattempts on his life had been made before the final one thatsucceeded.

Ifsomeone fires bullets at me and I die without a groan and with God'sname on my lips, he said, only then should you say here was a realMahatma.

WhenNathuram Godse pumped three bullets into his chest, he sighed, HeyRam and became a Mahatma by his own definition. When violence eruptedin 2002 on the very soil of Gandhi's Gujarat, Narayanbhai decidedthat the only way to counter its senseless ness was throughconstructive action.

Hestarted narrating his Gandhi Katha in 2004, pledging to complete 108,which he did in January this year. Fortunately for Mumbai, he agreedto extend his pledge to hold his 109th katha here at the invitationof the Bombay Sarvodaya Mandal and Mahatma Gandhi Seva Mandir.

Itended on Sunday, 6th October, with Gandhi's assassination at thehands of a fascist, filling us once again with the shock and sorrowwe had felt then. For five days Narayanbhai spoke of a vision ofIndia that has confronted that other vision which has persisted fromhis time up to ours the vision of a strong India, which translates asaggressive India.

It'smost prominent voice, and the flavour of today, expresses itself inflamboyantly macho language that has produced frenzied excitement inmany. In the midst of its self-obsessed din, it was healing to returnto a man who propagated, not a cult of himself, but a cult ofhumanity.

Gandhi'scry, Let geography be divided, not hearts, and has reverberatedaround the world each time people have grown war-weary. Make love,not war said the hippies and peaceniks of the ?60s opposed to theVietnam war.

Nearerhome, Aung San Suu Kyi won her battle against her country's militaryregime non-violently, proving once again that moral strength was morepowerful than muscular strength. This was the truth thatNarayanbhai's five-day Gandhi Katha underlined.

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