Saturday, February 21, 2009

Waiting for the Mahatma

Who doesn’t know the role of Mahatma Gandhi in the independence movements? Who doesn’t know how scared the British Raj was of this ‘half naked fakir’? But little do people know about his enormous influence on the masses. Little do people know about the hundreds of people who made the movements.

Waiting for the Mahatma is set in the backdrop of the freedom struggle of Indian independence – from Quit India Movement to after Independence. The 256 page story can be said in less than 256 words – Sriram sees Bharati when she visits Malgudi with Gandhiji and falls in love with her – He joins Gandhiji and the freedom movement to be with her and impress her – In that course he comes in contact with other freedom fighters and kind of follows Netaji for some time – Bharati and Sriram are jailed – Sriram is freed post independence – As Bharati had insisted, Sriram asks for Bharati’s hand from Gandhiji. Gandhiji accepts their decision to marry. But what is missing in the above outline is the impact of freedom struggle on ordinary freedom fighters whose names couldn’t find place in the history books – whose portraits couldn’t make it to the museums – whose heroic stories couldn’t live longer than them. Waiting for the Mahatma describes the life of such freedom fighters and the contemporary socio-political situation in amazing details.

Bharati’s character is an epitome of a devotee of Gandhiji. Her life had nothing apart from her Bapu. Wish of her bapu was a command for her. The fact that she went to jail as a political prisoner and then post independence went around the dangerous riot stricken areas following Gandhiji testifies to the blind faith Bharati had in Mahatma. The character of Bharati is an indication of the charisma of Gandhiji and his influence on his followers. Sriram’s character is like a person next door. The only aim he had was to ‘get’ Bharati - the aim of his freedom struggle was not to free India. Neither he is too idealistic nor too realistic. Jagadish’s character represents the unknown freedom fighters whose ideology changes with time – sometimes following Gandhiji and sometimes Netaji – His leading a very ordinary life post independence goes to say that not all who fought for the nation became ministers in the new government or heroes in local areas – they, post independence, became like any other person. One wonders, then, what motivated them to play their life out for the nation? Sriram, at least, had Bharati to play for.

As the quest of Sriram meandered from pre-independence to post independence, the reader gets a feel of the society. The fact that Sriram’s grandmother was not allowed to enter the village after she was found alive at her cremation pyre hints not only at the superstition the people indulged in but also the lack of doctors who could distinguish between life and death. Sriram’s tenure in the jail hinted at the horrors of the jail and how one gets used to worst of conditions. Sriram’s interaction with the hotel waiter after his release from jail post independence threw light on the problems ordinary people were facing due to the nascent, inexperienced government. However, the riot sequence when Sriram was travelling to Delhi brought out, very subtly, the horrors of Hindu-Muslim riots on the pretext of formation of Pakistan.

The best sequence, according to me, was the last sequence. It was really poignant. Mahatma Gandhi gave consent to Sriram and Bharati for their marriage. He even agrees to do the ‘kanyadan’ himself the very next morning. But, while going for the daily prayer, he told Bharati that he somhow feels that he cannot make it to the wedding and tells them that the wedding should take place the next morning no matter what. He then enters the prayer hall. Bharati and Sriram also joins the prayer. A man briskly walks past the crowd towards the dais. He pushes Bharati. Sriram, realizing the duty of a husband, rebukes the man back. The man doesn’t give him a heed and walks on. In no time, he is in front of the dais and in no time Mahatma Gandhi is assassinated.

The title of the book is apt. In the whole story Sriram is waiting for Bharati who in turn is waiting for Mahatma’s consent. The conversation between the characters in the book sounded too artificial to me. Those were the only time when the lost pace. The book can make a good bed time read if one is used to it. It can also help if one wants to start bed time reading :)

- Cheers!

3 comments:

Tejaswy March 17, 2009 at 7:09 PM  

Wow....
I have read a few of his books
Namely

The man eater of malgudi and The English Teacher

Nice and simple language...

never heard of this book....Its time i buy this one

deicider March 20, 2009 at 3:09 PM  

I have a shrewd suspicion that this book will make a good bedtime read because you will read a chapter feel sleepy and put it down to go off to sleep.

Rabby Imam August 22, 2013 at 12:02 PM  

Fiction at its best to amuse... The book set in the fictional city of Malgudi is really fun to go through... Gandhi is not portrayed the way one expects him to be... There have been a little touch of that Ahimsha and I hardly found any steps for independence. Moreover, the book is just a pursuit of love then love of Gandhi or Gandhism... That shows that new or upcoming generation of India is unable to get the value of Gandhism... the way the story ended and the title... I believe it ended on note of hope... Waiting for The Mahatma... waiting for someone with mahat atma... an expectation that R.K. Narayan is seeing.

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