Attended a book launch titled ‘Gandhi, the years that changed the world, 1914-1948’
By Ramachandra Guha, at India International Centre, Max Muller Road, New Delhi on 11.09.2018.
The gathering consisted of the most elite class of people. I saw Mr Nanadan Nilekani, Prof Apurvanand of JNU and some other dignitaries whom I could not identify. Before the launch, the talks among the people gathered were in hushed tones and mostly anything other than the book. I was seated on the 9th row and was waiting for the writer to arrive. Some overheard discussion was like:
‘So you landed Chennai from Dubai yesterday?’ someone asked the other in the row behind. The answer could not be heard clearly.
Lots of Hi’s and Hello’s. Seats were blocked by keeping bags while sipping tea with cookies in the adjacent corridor. Aged people asked for the seats which were reserved with bags.
The seats were all taken fifteen minutes before the scheduled time. Many stood around the side corridors and behind. The number of people standing seemed to me more than the people seated.
The author arrived shortly and took his seat among the audiences before being formally invited to the dais. He was dressed in a white kurta-pyjama and a black Khadi jacket. He is a famous writer, a celebrity author and also controversial for he is known for his oratory skills with oblique remarks to the government in power. Some people were keen on their books signed by the author. I am sitting on the 9th row. I went ahead and asked the writer if he would sign the books later. He said yes and I returned to my seat.
Shortly the book was launched by Ms Nidhi Razdan, a TV anchor. The author gave a short speech as to how he could write the massive book, the size of a brick.
He started with the date 11/9 – two incidents happened on this day. However, the terror attack in the US is more known than the Gandhi’s fight against apartheid spearheaded on this day in South Africa. Traversing through the various points in his life, the author remembered a few incidents which were worth mentioning.
In 1931, a British journalist wrote to him: “you may not be the architect of Indian constitution but your contribution to that is the concept of non-violence form of protest.”
People know of 3 movements unleashed by Gandhi. Many do not know his 4th movement trying to remove untouchability when he visited the countryside again. Fundraising skills of Gandhi were unique. He would sell signed photographs of himself and also a shaving razor used by Nehru. An advertisement about Gandhi (who never visited the US) in the US, selling suits – “Gandhi does not wear our suits, but that is his choice.”
When Gandhi visited the UK in 1931 to participate in the Round Table Conference, someone asked what he thinks about Western Civilisation. Gandhi had said ‘It would be a great idea’.
Mahadev Desai, the secretary of Gandhi was greatly remembered in this book who famously said ‘it is easy to be a devotee of a saint in the heaven but it is equally difficult to serve a saint on this earth’. Obviously, he was referring to Gandhi.
The author took certain questions in the Q & A session later. One particular question that I remember was about the assassination of Gandhi by Nathuram Godse. The question was whether RSS really involved in the conspiracy to assassinate Gandhi or it was solely the act of Hindu Mahasabha. The author did not give a direct reply as this was a matter of great analysis. But he emphasized the fact that both RSS and Hindu Mahasabha hated Gandhi like anything. Another question was about the leadership creation by Gandhi on which the author was certain that Gandhi could create leaders like Nehru and Patel, an attribute solely lacked after his death. Right from Nehru, till date, no leader of any party could create leaders who would take the baton forward. The author also lamented the fact that many prominent leaders got lured by the power and position and forgot the idea of Gandhi in the nation building. In fact, Gandhi wanted the Congress party to wind up after independence and to immerse itself in nation-building in the grassroots. He also talked about the positive and negative impacts of the assassination of the great soul.
The launch ceremony, the speech, the conversation and the Q & A session went for about 90 minutes. There was a queue formed to get the book signed by the author. Soon the queue was long as the book was being sold outside the auditorium and those who purchased wanted the book signed by the author. Fortunately, I was ahead in the queue and got the book signed by the author. I had two more books of the same author purchased about 7 years back. I got them signed too.
When I left the venue, it was already past 8 pm. I took the metro and came home by 9.30 pm. It was an evening worth remembering.