Book Review by Moinak Dutta
Book : Ballad of Bapu
Author: Santosh Bakaya
My first impression of M.K. Gandhi is a simple drawing of a drooping figure of a frail man with a stick in hand. It was drawn by one of my cousin brothers, when we were studying in primary school. That drawing then appealed to me as a simple thing to do without much artistic skill. From that pictorial knowledge of Bapu, I graduated to something celluloid, when my father one beautiful spring evening brought home a videotape cassette ( at that time VCP was in rage) titled ‘Gandhi’ I was told that the movie was the first one to get American Motion Pictures Award for India.
After watching the film for many days, I thought of Ben Kingsley as the real Gandhi. That got rectified later when I was made to read an interesting article on Gandhi (this time by my mother). Several research books with razor sharp debates and deliberations can be easily found on Gandhi. Afterall, Bapu had remained one of the most ‘loved and hated’ man all through his life. Reading Ballad of Bapu is like having a dream on Bapu — colourful, smooth and enchanting, for it is not a mere research work on Gandhi’s life and his doctrines, it is a ballad, a lyrical one, sustained from page one to the last. Divided into several short chapters and decorated with rare photographs of Bapu’s life, the book is a poetic analysis of Gandhi and his works. I might have said that it is a poetic biography, but if even by mistake should I say that for once about the book, I will be committing a great blunder. I will be completely overlooking the deft touch of analysis of Gandhi’s works as done with meticulous ease by the author-poet. The author is not merely writing a biography. She has mined out several incidents apparently small and insignificant of Bapu’s life, only to indicate a larger pattern.
For any student of history, the book will amply provide details which are astoundingly well researched. But that is probably not the focal point of the book. The author has found how by different actions and deeds, Gandhi laid a foundation of non-violence as a principle which is undoubtedly Godly and because it is Godly, it had to face severe challenges, the final challenge being the assassination of Bapu. By sacrificing his life, Bapu had, with finality, proved the Godliness of his principle. Chapter by chapter, events by events, the author has shown how Gandhi became Mahatma. Of all the chapters , the ‘Centrestage’ , ‘ Phoenix farm’ ‘Tolstoy and Gandhi’ ‘Tolstoy farm’ ‘Gandhi in India’ ‘Annie Besant and Gandhi’, ‘Jallianwala Bagh’ , ‘Chauri Chaura’ and ‘Imprisonment’ appeared to be the most engaging for in these chapters we not only find different anecdotes on Bapu’s life but also the valuable authorial commentary on Bapu. For example, ‘Phoenix farm’ explores Gandhiji’s reading habit:
“At dawn Gandhi read The Gita, the Koran at noon”
In ‘Tolstoy and Gandhi’, we find how voraciously Bapu read Tolstoy while in jail at South Africa.
“In jail, in Tolstoy’s books he found a soulmate
Greatly inspired by this man born in 1828”
To write history is difficult, to write personal history is more difficult, but to write personal history of a man like Bapu and that too in ballad form maintaining ‘ a-a-b-b-a ‘ rhyme scheme all through is simply superhuman a work and that Santosh Bakaya has performed with ease, as if she were a musician or a pianist running her practiced fingers on words to make them sing. And they sing in tune with Gandhian philosophy, his unwavering faith on non-violence and peace. A testimony to the author’s assertion on Gandhian philosophy can be found in the chapters like ‘Jallianwala Bagh’ where she has written:
“Towards a self-disciplined Bardoli his eyes turned
A policy of senseless gore he had always spurned”
The same assertion comes to the fore in the (in)famous ‘Chauri-Chaura’ incident. Bapu with all resilience stood for non-violence and went to prison again, blaming himself for the crime which was not his doing, truely like a father, who can go any distance, to any extreme, for his sons and daughters.
“No provocation can justify murder, he exclaimed
For the protestors’ crime, himself he blamed”
The unshakeable faith in non-violence, however, never posed any hindrance for Bapu, who always stood for what is right. While he was imprisoned, he wrote to the British Government why he felt sedition was the creed that he followed. In fact, Bapu was imprisoned more on charges of sedition than any leader in that period, yet how wrongly his non-violent acts were judged. The author has rightly pointed out: “Sedition was their creed, said the man with integrity
In his first article ‘Tampering with Loyalty’”
In similar vein Bakaya has carried on in the chapter ‘Imprisonment’ when she explained:
“On 19 September 1921
Fearlessly wrote this son
The government was shocked at his sheer audacity”
But Gandhiji probably had been too much for both the British and those who could not comprehend his philosophy, as the author has pointed out:
“He started Harijan, a weekly new
Which, with his rapier touch he did imbue…
… But for the Sanatanists an unpalatable brew”
This outer struggle led eventually to an inner struggle in Bapu. So, even after independence he could not be happy. He had remained restless with agony, hurt by pains.
“2nd October 1947 did not dawn like any day
Though it was the Mahatma’s 78th birthday
He was restless
The fury relentless
Dampened his spirits he could smell decay”
And that decay took him to the point of being challenged. He responded by sacrificing his life.
“Was he a mad man or a coward?
He whipped out a pistol, with no compunction?”
The author has left that rhetorical question beautifully, almost theatrically poised towards the end of the concluding chapter.
If we are to rediscover and relearn Gandhi, if we are to trace the path between Gandhi and Mahatma, this book is a must read.
Moiank Dutta is a teacher by profession and published fiction writer and poet with two literary & romance fictions to his credit. His third fiction is going to be published soon. Many of his poems and short stories have been published in dailies, magazines, journals, ezines.
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