By Santosh Bakaya
A skeletal man, almost half-naked, was sitting under a tree next to a charkha* reciting something from a piece of paper while tiny birds hopped around, at their twittering best.
Stand ye calm and resolute,
like a forest close and mute
with folded arms and looks which are
Weapons in unvanquished war
And if then the tyrants dare
Let them ride among you there,
Slash and stab and maim and hew
What they like, that let them do …….
Then they will return with shame
the place from which they came
And the blood thus shed will speak
in hot blushes on their cheek.
One audacious one perched on his shoulder, looked around and whispered something into his ears, the other birds chirped themselves hoarse.
“Bapu, Bapu, look someone is coming to meet you, chirp – chirp – chirp.” The birds were in a frenzy of excitement.
The skeletal man, contemptuously called the half- naked fakir on Earth, who, was indeed Mahatma Gandhi; stopped spinning and sprung up, nudging away a candy floss cloud which was very keen to tickle him. Then, arms outstretched and wearing a toothless smile which brightened the surroundings, he headed towards the dapperly dressed man and remarked, happily: “Oh, you are Martin, are you not? I came up here in the year 1948, on 30 January, to be precise, and in 1955, I heard about a young man in the USA who was doing a lot for civil rights in the USA. Ah, so I get to see you finally. I remember hearing about the Montgomery Bus Boycott which was a tremendous success,” he remarked.
“Ah, that was the beginning if it all, and the Bus Boycott was inspired by you, Bapu. Initially started for a day, it lasted for 381 days and we carried on despite the stones and insults flung at us.”
“Oh, you succeeded in instilling a new sense of dignity in your brethren.”
“Yes, our community woke up after a long period of slumber. Oh, I just heard you reciting from The Mask of Anarchy by Shelley but, you know, the opponents are still slashing and stabbing, maiming and hewing – and there are no hot flushes on guilty cheeks.”
“But, mark my words, Martin, they will feel ashamed of their actions, one day, just wait and watch.”
“Yes, I am still waiting for the realisation of my elusive dream….” King remarked with a distant look in his eyes.
“I am told, down below hugging is not allowed! What a dystopian world it is turning into, unimaginable! No one is hugging or even shaking hands.” King said, inadvertently pulling away his hand which he had extended.
“Oh Martin, Don’t be funny, tactility is not taboo here, and we are at liberty to shake hands. No social distancing here. It is high time people shed their mammoth egos — look what they have reduced the world to — it is so scary.”
They hugged and shook hands warmly, their eyes twinkling merrily and the birds once again burst into a happy crescendo of chirps.
“I love this spinning wheel,” Martin said, casting appreciative glances at it. Bapu chortled in mirth, which was almost juvenile.
“You know, Martin, Gurudeb, my great friend, laughed at me for my charkha obsession, chuckled at what he thought were my idiosyncrasies, but I stuck to them – I was known for my obstinate nature, you know, and continue spinning here. It is just a symbol, actually. We need to be self-sufficient. This is what I was trying to prove.”
“Yes, you spoke the language of symbols, even your clothes symbolized the rampant poverty in your country. But no one seems to be bothered about poverty and homelessness even in the USA.”
“You know, that reminds me of an incident. It was the year 1916 and I had been invited by Annie Besant for the inauguration of Banaras Hindu University, I was shocked to see the bedecked princes sitting on the dais, giving me cold looks when I walked up to the stage, almost half- naked.” He again chuckled, looking affectionately at King.
“I gave them a piece of my mind, when they started talking of India’s poverty. Feeling humiliated, some of the princes left the dais.” He added with a naughty grin. King smiled too, with a wistful look in his eyes.
“Bapu, you taught me a lot of things; it was because of you that love and forgiveness became the bedrock of my life. It was long back that I had decided that hate was too heavy a burden to carry, so I also stuck to love and tried to spread it, even when the odds were heavily loaded against us.
“You know, when the segregationists bombed my house on January 30, 1956, (Oh, it is quite uncanny – the date is also the date when they had killed you in 1948) almost killing my wife and seven-month-old Yolande, I seethed in rage and the whole night tossed and turned in bed, waiting for the morn, so that I could get a gun permit and kill the person who had tried to destroy my family. The next morning after a lot of mulling over, I had emerged from the dark night, a true Gandhian.”
“Well, you embarrass me, Martin. I did nothing, I still maintain that there is no such thing as Gandhi-ism. Love and Truth are as old as the hills. Yes, I remember hearing here that when Izola Curry tried to stab you, you forgave her too.”
“Well, she needed the healing touch, Bapu. She was unwell. And this virtue of forgiveness, I always maintain, has been your inspiration. You know, Bapu, it was in the year 1950 that I had been introduced to you — the man Gandhi — by Mordecai Johnson, I was so impressed that I immediately bought half a dozen books on you — you were responsible for removing all the confusion in my mind.”
“Well, I am really touched by your words. You know I was born in India but was made in S Africa. Pietermaritzburg was the turning point in my career. When they hurled me out of the first-class compartment on a very cold day because of my colour, I was devastated by the rampant racism. The conductor called me a coolie.”
“When I visited India in 1959, and went to a school in Kerala, the principal introduced me as fellow Dalit from the USA. For a moment I was flabbergasted, but then realized that is exactly what I was,” grinned Martin.“You know when I put the wreath at your Samadhi* in Rajghat, I had a fuzzy feeling all over.”
“Dalit lives still don’t matter in India. I am indeed devastated.
You know, just the other day, I heard this gut wrenching news of a nineteen year old Dalit girl being gang-raped in Hathras, UP. I am still stunned into speechlessness. I keep hanging my head in shame — alas, this alone is what I can do.”
“This is indeed so heartbreaking. You know, Black lives still don’t matter in the USA. People are brutally kneed into breathlessness. Sitting here I can do nothing but wring my hands in rage. I cannot breathe… I cannot breathe…”
“It was on 28 August, 1963, that you gave that iconic I have a dream speech at the Lincoln memorial, pleading for an end to racism, but, alas, things still have not changed.”
“Yes, it is so sad. I can still hear the ear-splitting applause as I said, ‘I have a dream that my four little children will one day be known not by the colour of their skin but by the content of their character.’ I am still dreaming –dreaming – dreaming…Hope someday my dream will be realized.”
“I heard your twelve-year-old granddaughter, Yolande Renee King gave a very powerful speech on August 28, 2020, and many organizations joined forces to March on Washington, in a call for justice. This was indeed commendable. ”
“Well, I am indeed so proud of her, I still maintain that injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere, hope this injustice and unfairness is banished from this earth.” King suddenly wiped a tear which trickled down his cheek as the words, “Papa King, we won’t forget”, fell into his ears.
“I am so proud of my granddaughter Renee. Bapu, isn’t it weird that we were killed because we talked of equality, love and forgiveness?”
“Can love ever be killed? They are deluded if they think so! Can forgiveness ever be obsolete? NEVER! Hope this vaccine of love is a success. They have no option left, they will have to stick to love, come what may.”
“I still maintain, over the bleached bones and jumbled remains of civilisations
are written the words too late- too late – too late ….” Yes, if they don’t follow, love and non-violence, it will be too late …Ah, there comes Coretta*.”
“Ah, I notice she is chatting with Kasturba. What a heartwarming scene!”
Bapu and King were last seen sitting amidst a group of people singing the Ramdhun*, while King tapped his feet, time and again, raising a robust fist, saying, ‘we shall overcome’ and Kasturba and Coretta happily joined the refrain.
The birds and candy floss clouds were in throes of divine ecstasy, excitedly discussing the latest breaking news that the vaccine of love used on the humans down below had been a resounding success.
*Charkha — Spinning Wheel
*Samadhi – Memorial monument
*Ramdhun – Hymns to Rama
*Coretta King – Martin Luther King’s wife
*Kasturba – Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi’s wife
Dr. Santosh Bakaya is an academician, poet, essayist, novelist, biographer, Ted Speaker and creative writing mentor. She has been critically acclaimed for her poetic biography of Mahatma Gandhi [Ballad of Bapu]. Her Ted Talk on the myth of Writers’ Block is very popular in creative writing Circles . She has more than ten books to her credit , her latest books are a biography of Martin Luther King Jr. (Only in Darkness can you see the Stars) and Songs of Belligerence (poetry). She runs a very popular column Morning meanderings in Learning And Creativity.com.
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4 replies on “When Bapu met MLK Jr…”
I liked it very much. Your story is very meaningful.
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Loved the conversation! Brilliant as ever! ❤️
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Loved the narrative. We have so much to learn from the self effacing behaviour of truly great people. Thank you for sharing.
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Thanks so much for liking this article
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