By Sunil Sharma
The City of Concrete (CC) was all excited and discussing the new viral video of a man claiming to be the “Real Gandhi”.
The middle class hardly cared for surnames but anything viral got them talking. And this real vs. fake debate always made them social– quick WhatsApp exchanges of videos and messages, that is all of it, then moved on for other limited conversations, mainly digital.
In fact, the City did not care about history and heritage and trifles got them interested– who is eating what, how and where? Or wearing what and where? Or dating whom or where?
The CC grew inward-looking and obsessed with tech gadgets.
Smart phones were their portals to instant nirvana.
And viral videos, their mainstay of an urban narrow existence cramped in few hundreds of square meters in the vertical cages!
So, on a crisp morning of a holiday, the City got jolted by the new sensation of a man claiming to be authentic Gandhi left them intrigued.
But who is Gandhi, dude?
Here was this video of a somber old man with a magnetic persona– yes, you could feel the electrifying currents across the small mobile-phone- screens that affected you directly– the high-energy field, halo around the man that left you in thrall.
Within an hour, it was the top trending topic.
As per the recording, the man in round glasses and loin cloth, told some slum children that he was India’s Bapu.
The folks were initially dismissive and some die-hard skeptics openly cynical of this grandfatherly, scantily clad man, and told him rudely to go some other place and let them enjoy the off day.
The man was quite understanding and patient and asked them, “What day is this?”
An out-of-job guy replied gruffly, “October 2nd.”
The visitor persisted, “Why is it declared a national holiday?”
The folks, gathered under the bronze statue of a man with round glasses and walking stick, had no answer.
Then a child finally replied, “Wait! It is the birthday of the ‘Father of the Nation’.”
The stranger smiled, “Yes, son, you are right! It is my birthday.”
Thereupon, the wide-eyed child asked, “Are you that iconic Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi who delivered us from slavery to the wily British through your philosophy of non-violence and satyagrah ?”
The old man smiled and said, “Yes, I am that Mohandas, an ordinary son of motherland, who was lucky enough to serve my country in most humble manner, with the loving support of my country.”
The child beamed and shouted, “Lucky me! Meeting the Apostle in person! My dream has come true!”
The child raised voice: “Mahatma Gandhi zindabad !”
Children of the poor neighbourhood repeated it as a feisty slogan.
The old man smiled and kept on walking fast across the broken city.
The children followed — and soon others joined the long procession.
It was huge!
People clicked the man who seemed to be walking on another fresh mission.
Soon the news spread.
Citizens came out of their customary slumber and started following the kind old man who, a bit pale, still retained a strange luminosity and a hypnotic pull over his simple beholders. The moment he had stepped into their middle from nowhere, the whole space was lit in a strange way. There was a certain spring in his gait and his walking stick shone like some royal emblem. His watch had an unearthly chime—mesmerizing!
His voice was strong, eyes steady, gait firm.
This dimension collapsing into the other dimension; this reality fused into that reality– that kind of thing!
History was coming alive — in an unpredictable way! A professor wrote.
A sole surviving freedom fighter remarked, the visitor reminded them of the aura of Mahatma Gandhi, in an odd way.
This Gandhi looked other worldly, ethereal but inspired confidence—and faith!
Bapu’s smile was pure and eyes and tone, gentle.
The CC got enthralled by the heavenly presence of Gandhi and the residents went wherever this person went.
The fever spread further.
The WhatsApp exchanges galvanized the sleepy city, and it turned into a mass event.
There were the loud and regular chants of “Bapu! Bapu! Bapu is back for his country—again! We love you, Bapu!”
People got hysterical at the sight of the frail man. Many openly wept and said, “We need you Bapu, in our empty lives as mere consumers. You have made us whole!”
The freedom fighter cried, “Bapu! Nobody cares for us here!”
Bapu smiled: “They will. Follow the moral compass. The world will listen.”
The freedom fighter said, “Yes, Bapu. I will teach students your philosophy.”
The City of Concrete was on fire.
A real hero had emerged from the darkness.
Everybody talked of Mahatma Gandhi only.
An antidote to the global doctrine of hate.
The municipal corporation was busy celebrating the birthday of the ‘Father of the Nation’ via sterile speeches and garlanding.
Initially the corporators thought that he was another look-alike walking the narrow streets this morning, an annual practice for few models but when apprised of his increasing popularity, the bunch of the city fathers grew apprehensive of a new threat to their base.
By mid-morning, the national media grew aware of a new sensation. A man who called himself the original Gandhi and was visiting the CC for a reality check.
Of course, the new-millennial young crowd had never bothered about history or India, and they were least interested in searching for a name and legacy that no longer resonated within a geography being redone for the malls and foreign outlets of food, clothes and entertainment. Plugged into their iPhones, the cool set ate burgers and pizza and sang Western songs, wearing baseball caps turned around, dressed up in sneakers and cotton-Ts and cargo pants, tattooed up and ears, pierced.
What hooked them was the unusual sight of a bare-chested man radiating terrific energy and calmness, kind of raw star power unseen so far in a media culture and thinking of the possibility of the 5-second fame in the clutter, the teens and young adults raced to the spot where Bapu was talking to the masses. They wanted to join the trending hash tag: #Seen with our Beloved Bapu! The crowds from outside CC kept on joining that famous historical frail figure full of steely resolve and power.
Meanwhile, media arrived in big numbers and the circus started. The loud reporters asked questions about this phenomenon, without a match. One teen said he saw the statue of Gandhi in the garden coming alive; another claimed he saw the statue walking down the street in animated condition, while other versions spoke of witnessing Gandhi floating on a cloud or descending from the air! The viral videos flooded the cyber space, and the world began reacting to another trend: #Bapu, Alive!
#New Messiah of Love! Another trended.
Love Triumphs Finally! Wrote another on her blog: Young Nation.
The local leaders got unduly alarmed: Who is this pop figure? His minute-by-minute-increasing fandom and heavenly persona posed a problem. The cops were dispatched.
Bapu was brought before the Wise Council.
One of the senior leaders asked: “How can you be Bapu?”
Bapu asked calmly: “And why can’t be I?”
Leader: “Because you died many years ago…”
Bapu: “When did I die? I never did. Hatred can never win. I live on…”
The leader fumbled: “But, we are told you died, years ago. How can you be re-born?”
“Ideas never die. They live on. Faith revived me.”
The leader nodded.
Bapu smiled: “Do you really know me?”
“Any idea about the incident at Pietermaritzburg station? The year 1893? June 7?”
The leader did not know anything. He looked like an idiot.
Bapu said calmly: “A leader must know the history of their nation. Lead by example. By honesty. Simplicity. Ethically. Remain connected to the fellow citizens. Create a legacy of love and ahimsa! Understand?”
The leader nodded again, crestfallen before this luminous being, beyond the pale of death.
Bapu left smiling. Huge crowds waited outside.
“Gandhi is alive!” They shouted. “He has come back for his children!”
The Great Leader was woken up.
The media in-charge, a seasoned man handling information technology cell of the party, reported the developments that could cast a shadow on the Tall Leader.
The Great Leader replied: “Do not worry!”
“But Saab!” croaked the sycophant.
“Listen!” commanded the Tall Leader.
“The surest way to neutralize is to institutionalize them.”
“Ritualize their memory!”
“And re-write history.”
“The best way is to erase history by making it ugly, unreadable and unproductive!”
The Tall Leader chuckled and disconnected.
Satyagrah — Using truth to non-violently resist abuse
Zindabad — Long live
Ahimsa — Non-violence
Sunil Sharma is an academic and writer with 22 books published—some solo and joint. Edits the online monthly journal Setu.
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