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Memory Speaks

Dec 19, 2003
A touch of Gandhi

Gandhi’s visit to south India during early 1946 was a tumultuous one. People could sniff freedom in the air. It can’t be far off, they believed. He was mobbed everywhere and treated like a walking God. Crowds frequently stopped the train he was on and would not let it pass until he had given his darshan.

When he finally arrived in Madurai and was to visit the Meenakshi Amman Temple, the police decided to close the temple for the duration except to a selected number of people.

D V Narasimhan, my father recalls the event. “I was close to thirty and was working hard at the bank to build my career,” he begins. “I was too small an official to even hope for a pass to the temple. But your mother --strangely for an undemanding young woman-- began to urge me repeatedly to explore if the family could have a darshan.”

Father did not seriously believe he had a chance but an opportunity offered itself. Mr. R S Naidu, Bar at Law had an account at the bank and my father remembered he was a trustee of the temple as well. Naidu was very uncomfortable at being asked but wouldn’t say no. “You bring your family and stand at the entrance where I will be with others of the reception committee. Keep your eyes on me and at an opportune moment I will signal to you to slip in. But keep a low profile and don’t let the security wonder about you.”

Thus the family made it in. Although I was just past three years then, I recollect the day. Not in any fine detail but I distinctly remember Gandhi being mentioned in awe and that we were going to see him. I was in Mother’s arms and Father carried my little sister, Vasumathi. I also remember the expectant buzz about the place. It was also a day, that the family never forgot.

Years later, when I was over sixty and Father himself was over 85, he filled in the details for me.

“We stood back in the shadows and made ourselves nearly invisible. Presently, Gandhi was sighted in the near distance. A reverent silence descended over the space. He was was with a few Congressmen. I clearly remember seeing P Subbaroyan, There were others too.” Father paused.

“And then it happened. Too quickly for me to do anything about it. Your mother darted out with you in hand and got to the front row. The sudden movement caught Gandhi’s attention. The crowd froze and the security grew tense. Gandhi saw her holding you up and immediately broke into his toothless smile. He briskly walked over to her. There she stood in total bliss. He placed his palm on your head, looked at her and moved on delightedly.”

Father resumed after a period. “She was beside herself with joy for weeks and would retail the event to everyone she met. She had been unwell those months but this episode seemed to cheer her enormously.”

Many events happened in quick succession to make that day an unforgettable one for me. Mother died within six weeks. India became free the next year. And, Gandhi was shot in the following.

--D V Sridharan

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