Stories From Bapu’s Life
Written by Uma Shankar Joshi
Illustrations by Mickey Patel
Published by National Book Trust, New Delhi
Gandhiji’s intellectual influence on Indians has been considerable. Some were attracted by his emphasis on political and economic decentralisation, others by his insistence on individual freedom, moral integrity, unity of means and ends, and social service; still others by his satyagraha and political activism.
For some students of India, Gandhi’s influence is responsible for its failure to throw up any genuinely radical political movement. For others, it cultivated a spirit of non-violence, encouraged the habits of collective self-help, and helped lay the foundations of a stable, morally committed and democratic government.
Gandhi’s ideas have also had a profound influence outside India, where they inspired non-violent activism and movements in favour of small-scale, self-sufficient communities living closer to nature and with greater sensitivity to their environment.
Prominent among these are Martin Luther King in the United States and, more recently Nelson Mandela in South Africa.
What follows are some anecdotal stories from the life of Bapu, as he was affectionately called.
Excerpts from the book:
A Kurta for Bapu
Children loved visiting Gandhiji. A little boy, who was there one day, was greatly distressed to see the way Bapu was dressed. Such a great man yet he doesn’t even wear a shirt, he wondered.
Why don’t your wear a kurta, Bapu?” the little boy couldn’t help asking finally.
Where’s the money, son?” Bapu asked gently. “I am very poor. I can’t afford a kurta.
The boy’s heart was filled with pity. “My mother sews well,” he said. “She makes all my clothes. I’ll ask her to sew a kurta for you.
How many kurtas can your mother make?” Bapu asked.
How many do you need?” asked the boy. “One, two, three… she’ll make as many as you want.
Bapu thought for a moment. Then he said, “But I am not alone, son. It wouldn’t be right for me to be the only one to wear a kurta.
How many kurtas do you need?” the boy persisted. “I’ll ask my mother to make as many as you want. Just tell me how many you need.
I have a very large family, son. I have forty crore brothers and sisters,” Bapu explained. “Till every one of them has a kurta, how can I wear one? Tell me, can your mother make kurtas for all of them?
At this question the boy became very thoughtful. Forty crore brothers and sisters! Bapu was right. Till every one of them had a kurta to wear how could he wear one himself? After all, the whole nation was Bapu’s family, and he was the head of that family. He was their friend, their companion. What use would one kurta be to him?
Bapu’s Most Precious Copper Coin
Gandhiji went from city to city, village to village collecting funds for the Charkha Sangh. During one of his tours he addressed a meeting in Orissa.
After his speech a poor old woman got up. She was bent with age, her hair was grey and her clothes were in tatters. The volunteers tried to stop her, but she fought her way to the place where Gandhiji was sitting.
I must see him,” she insisted and going up to Gandhiji touched his feet. Then from the folds of her sari she brought out a copper coin and placed it at his feet.
Gandhiji picked up the copper coin and put it away carefully.
The Charkha Sangh funds were under the charge of Jamnalal Bajaj. He asked Gandhiji for the coin but Gandhiji refused.
I keep cheques worth thousands of rupees for the Charkha Sangh,” Jamnalal Bajaj said laughingly, “yet you won’t trust me with a copper coin.
This copper coin is worth much more than those thousands,” Gandhiji said. “If a man has several lakhs and he gives away a thousand or two, it doesn’t mean much. But this coin was perhaps all that the poor woman possessed. She gave me all she had. That was very generous of her. What a great sacrifice she made. That is why I value this copper coin more than a crore of rupees.