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Recalling the day Mahatma Gandhi was assassinated
30th January 1948, Kanpur:

I was fourteen then. As usual, in the evening I had gone out cycling with my friends, only to return home by dinner time. During the intervening hours we would gossip for some time in the municipal garden, browse in the book shops, watch cinema posters and relish golgappas!

But this evening was different. One of the shopkeepers told me, "Babuji aap turant ghar jaeeye." On my asking why, he cryptically replied, "Kuch bhi ho sakta hai. Jayeeye na!" 

On the way back, as I was nearing our home in Tilak Nagar, I saw that our compound was totally dark. No lights at the gate, or along the passages, portico, verandas, nor any gleam of light from any of the rooms. 'The fuse must have blown off', I thought to myself.

So in view of the approaching darkness, I got off the cycle and walked to our gate. The gardener, who also manned the gate, was also not there. It was only when I reached the veranda in the darkness that I saw the entire family and house maids and the gardener, all gathered there in total silence. 'Kya batti chali gayi hai?, I enquired. 'Nahin', replied my Nani. Sobbing, she uttered, ''Lagta hai kisi ne Bapu ko mar diya hai. Tum bahar mat jaana'.

Mahatma Gandhi was assassinated at one of his regular prayer meetings, at Birla House in New Delhi. When in Delhi, I sometimes used to attend these meetings with my parents. It is from these meetings that I picked up the strains, the lilt and the sublime depths of 'Ishwar, Allah tero naam…' and 'Vaishnav jan to tene kahiye je, peer paraayi jaane re.'

Here in Kanpur, my entire family and household were in mourning and all the lights had been switched off. For two days, there was no cooking done at our place. All fasted. Death of Bapu, the Father of the Nation was a very personal loss for all of us. My mother and aunt, at Gandhiji's behest used to spin on the charkha and deliver the spun yarn at Tilak Bhawan.

Then radio was the only means of getting 'breaking' news. Our radio was also switched on all the time. To shed the disbelief surrounding the news of the tragic event, Pandit Nehru himself announced the news on All India Radio. He gave an impromptu, but memorable speech of all times: 'Light has gone out of our lives'.

Everyone wanted to know what happened. Who killed Gandhiji? Was he a Hindu or a Muslim? There were concerns about likelihood of communal riots.

At the persuasion of some friends I had joined the RSS shakha a few months ago, and used to take part in all their drills and prabhat pheris, etc. But the next morning I did not go, as all the family members wanted to listen to the running commentary of Gandhiji's funeral procession. It must have been the most iconic commentary of such a sad event.  Renowned broadcaster, Melville De Mellow, gave without pause a seven hour commentary, finding it difficult to hold back his own tears.

Later, the public was keen to see the extensive documentary of the funeral, made by the Films Division. People went a number of times, not to see the movie, but to see the documentary of funeral of the Father of the Nation!

Next day, on the 31st of January I could not go to the Shakha, as we were listening to commentary of the funeral. But other friends informed me that sweets had been distributed, to mark passing away of Gandhiji, True or false, this news was enough for my elders to stop me from going to the Shakha, any more.

Those days, my parents were in Delhi. Through an acquaintance who was connected with the funeral ceremony, my mother received a thimble sized silver casket, which contained Gandhiji's ashes. My mother kept it in our puja corner! That is the type of reverence people had for Gandhiji!

Post Script:

Breaking the news to an incredulous nation, Pandit Nehru himself announced the news on AIR. Speaking impromptu, he gave one of the best speeches ever made. These are some opening sentences:

"The light has gone out of our lives. ……The light has gone out, I said, and yet I was wrong. For the light that shone in this country was no ordinary light. The light that has illumined this country for these many years will illumine this country for many more years, and a thousand years later, that light will be seen in this country and the world will see it and it will give solace to innumerable hearts. For that light represented something more than the immediate past, it represented the living, the eternal truths, reminding us of the right path, drawing us from error, taking this ancient country to freedom."

Einstein on Gandhi: 'Generations to come will scarce believe that such a one as this ever in flesh and blood walked upon this earth. (said of Mahatma Gandhi)'

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Ashit Sarkar
A very poignant recollection by my dear friend at Kanpur - which rekindled my memories of the tragic day. Being refugees from Lahore after a long break I had restarted my studies in the final school year of 10th class according to Punjab University in the DAV School, Paharganj in the afternoon shift from 2.30 pm (after the Delhi classes were over), and was attending classes when a noisy motorcycle drove into our compound followed with our solemn principal announcing the sad news that followed with a prayer and ending the day at about 5 pm. Most of us could not believe the news - especially only two days earlier I had been at the Birla House and attended the prayer by Mahatma Gandhi. Many of us disbelieving students walked from the School to Connaught Place to see the news-board of Hindustan Times that reconfirmed the news. As I walked back to my home in Daryaganj we discussed the tragedy to the nation. On reaching home I got a message from the BP Boy Scouts Association office to come urgently, and I was informed that I along with another boy scout was to represent them at the funeral and that we should come in our uniform early next morning to be taken to the Birla House - which we did accordingly. We two Boy Scouts were positioned just ahead of the carriage taking the body and we walked entire morning fasting all the way to Rajghat without anything other than sips of water. Melville deMellow was in the carriage right ahead of us and he often came down and walked around whilst carrying out his commentary! We returned home tired and continued the fast for the entire day breaking it only the next morning.
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