Ballad of Bapu

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.




When Bapu met MLK Jr…

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 – dreamingHope 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




Disclaimer: The opinions expressed are solely that of the author.


Limericks: Of Donkeys & Corona

This section is dedicated to the memory of the Edward Lear (I812-1888) who laughed away life’s trials with nonsense verse and limericks.

The great erstwhile litterateur Edward Lear,

Popularised laughter and not a single tear.

He wrote fun rhymes

And drew out his times.

His verses gave joy and brought good cheer.

— MC

There was a donkey who loved to bray. 

When they asked him why do you bray, pray ?

The mule obstinate 

His teeth did grate 

And with a vengeance started to bray.


This donkey one day fell in love.

He fell and he fell and how ! 

The besotted one 

Now wanted to run 

From this vicious virus of love.


I am Jennet said the dame.

My love for you I will loudly proclaim 

from the rooftops. 

To hell with the cops ! 

Said Jennet, eyes with love aflame !


There was a superstitious man from Surrey,

Who was extremely prone to worry.

When he heard a donkey bray,

It rather spoilt his day 

And made him quite swallow his fish curry.

— MM

There was a donkey who loved Ovid.

His songs warded off the Covid.

Each time he brayed,

The virus prayed —

Stop that noise or I’ll die atrophied. 


The donkeys danced on the road braying.

The cows sat chewing, meditating, praying.

The traffic jammed.

The horns rammed.

Corona from the confusion fled fraying.


Index of names:

SB: Santosh Bakaya

MM: Meenakshi Malhotra

MC: Mitali Chakravarty