Being Gandhi Brings Mahatma’s Virtues Into Young Lives: An Excerpt

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An excerpt from the book, Being Gandhi by Paro Anand.

Things Are Not Going Well in Our Country

But the next day, my father’s mood is even blacker.

The air thickens. The house leans in to hear my father’s next words.

‘I told you yesterday that things are not well in our country. Well, they might have taken a turn for the worse. There is a big shift. A big moment of unrest is about to hit.’

‘Like a tsunami or something?’ That’s the biggest thing I can think of. I am, in fact, obsessed with tsunamis. Ever since we read this story in our text book about a Japanese guy on a hill who sets fire to his fields to alert the people near the sea that there was a tsunami coming. He knew, because the whole sea sort of tilted away, although it wasn’t low tide.

I had done an awesome drawing of the sea draining away from the beach and people standing there, watching a huge fire burning on a hill.

‘Worse!’ says dad in a voice of doom, bringing me back to the present.

Wow! Worse than that, that’s awesome, says my mind.

But my face stays still.

‘Worse, because it isn’t nature but man who is bringing about the disaster.’

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‘Don’t scare the child,’ mum pleads softly.

‘He will get to know, Prabha. He is going to be a part of it. Whether we like it or not. Whether he likes it or not. There is no one who is not going to be singed by this fire.’

‘What is it, dad?’ I am worried now. Worried enough to be concentrating without even trying.

‘Look, I know that you weren’t really listening to me yesterday.’

He puts up his hand to stem my very fake protest.

‘Chandra, I know that you’re just a child. But there are things that even a young child must try and understand. This is one of those times. Now I want you to listen very, very carefully. Can you do that?’

And I do, hanging on to almost every word as he continues. I know it isn’t a game or movie anymore. Dad has never spoken to me so seriously.

‘I have been hearing that there is a lot of resentment against the Indian Government after Operation Blue Star. I hear that there is going to be some major trouble.’

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‘In the Golden Temple again?’ mum shrieks. She isn’t very religious generally. None of us are. But she loves the Golden Temple. It is like the holiest place in the world as far as she is concerned. Whenever she went, she says, she always wept. And when I once asked her how she could love a place that made her cry, she said they were good tears. Tears that cleansed her, inside and out. The funny thing is, she isn’t even Sikh. She is a Hindu. When I ask her about that, she says Hindus and Sikhs are almost the same thing. She tells me that it had been the custom for the first-born son of every Punjabi family to become a Sikh so there were many ‘mixed’ families, which were not even considered mixed, but really, just simply, one.

‘There have been guns and the army, killings and now, what, violence again?’ she whispers under her breath. I can see the tears before they fall. I get up and pat her on the shoulder. It is awkward, but hey, I can’t see her cry and not do anything, right?

I let out a secret sigh of relief. I thought things were going to get bad for us. Of course, we’d known there was trouble brewing in Punjab. There had been what was being termed as ‘militancy’, although Sarab Uncle from next door and my dad got into arguments sometimes about them being freedom fighters or militants. I didn’t even pretend to be remotely interested.

But it hadn’t affected my life much. Except for the increased security checks on the roads and in cinema halls. Besides, I don’t know why dad was worrying so much. After all, there was always trouble in various parts of the country, various parts of the world, for that matter. But none of it really touched our lives in any way. Yes, dad would become a little more obsessed with the news and be tutting and sighing. But I would just tune out. I’m good at that, remember. I don’t know why they are so very worried. It would pass, it always did. At least this is far enough away from us. There would be trouble and then things would settle down again. Dad is just being dramatic. ‘There is no one who is not going to be singed by this fire.’ Come on, dad, it’s not that bad. It never is.

But I know not to say any of this right now. I can see he needs reassurance, not a lecture.

Image Credit: HarperCollins India/ Paro Anand

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Excerpted with permission from Being Gandhi by Paro Anand, HarperCollins India.