Sunday, November 15, 2009

Conspiracy by omission.

As a rule, I distrust and shun conspiracy theories. Today, I’m going to spin one. It has been bothering me for a long time. The more I try to shoo it away, the more it refuses to vamoose. It concerns the last months of Gandhi’s life. He had become something of an embarrassment and a liability to the powers that happened to be then and there as well as to his colleagues. His mahayajna – his by then notorious Brahmacharya experiments, to be precise − had infuriated his close associates including Sardar Patel who had accused him of committing adharma – of being guilty of moral and spiritual decadence, in other words. Long time colleagues like Kishorelal Mashruwala and Narhari Parekh and even Devdas Gandhi joined in the protest. Thakkar Bappa, a top associate of Gandhi, journeyed to Noakhali in December 1946 to dissuade him from continuing his mahayajna. Gandhi felt completely isolated. “For after all I am not God, “he wrote to Birla. “I can commit mistakes; … this may prove to be my biggest at the fag-end of my life. … all my well-wishers can open my eyes if they oppose me. If they do not … I shall go from hence even as I am … Whatever I am doing here is a part of my yajna.” He was totally transparent. “… when I take M[anu] in my lap, do I do so as a pure-hearted father or as a father who has strayed from the path of virtue? What I am doing is nothing new to me: in thought I have done it for the last fifty years; in action, in varying degrees, over quite a number of years.” In February 1947, he spoke of publishing the findings of his research but nothing came out of it. His honesty and courage to follow his convictions did not cut ice with his followers. The old man had to be punished with at least a slap on his wrist if nothing worse. Meanwhile his intervention on behalf of the Indian Muslims and his recommendation to the Government of India to pay Pakistan her share of the pre-partition finances (Rs 55 crore) had raised the hackles of the Hindu fundamentalists in and out of the Congress Party. Several attempts had already been made on Gandhi’s life. B G Kher, the then Chief Minister of the Bombay Presidency and a close confidant of the Central Home Minister Sardar Patel, had been apprised of the plot by Dr J C Jain after he had got an inkling of it from Madanlal Pahwa, one of Godse’s fellow conspirators. Balukaka Kanitkar, a well-respected Congressman from Pune, learned of the plot from G V Ketkar – a former editor of Kesari. He wrote a registered letter to inform Kher. The intelligence was passed on to the authorities in Delhi and yet the security was not beefed up. The Godse Brothers, Apte, Madanlal and their colleagues were just some of the conspirators apparently. There were more who collaborated by omission. Culpable negligence, anyone?

Friday, November 06, 2009


In the typically self-deprecating, understated RKN style, Rasipuram Krishnaswamy Iyer Narayanswamy once described how his renowned novel The Guide written in his room at The Carlton during his 1956 Berkley (California) sojourn on a Rockefeller Foundation Fellowship was reduced to a distorted caricature by Bollywood’s preference for the “canned” instead of the genuine and the sanitized instead of the raw. For instance, he wrote how, after condescending to take his guided tour of authentic ready-made locations peopled with authentic ready-made crowds at the time of a fair to replicate Malgudi, the director and the lead star preferred specially erected, exorbitantly expensive sets in Jaipur and a cast of thousands of junior artistes called “extras” in those days before political correctness came to our shores. They also soft-pedaled on the adultery angle. The eponymously titled essay where Narayan wrote about how his The Guide metamorphosed into Vijay Anand’s Guide happens to be in a collection of his non-fiction I own that is right now out of my reach. A friend who borrowed it quite a while back has not returned it so far. Be that as it may, I quite enjoyed Navketan’s Vijay Anand-directed Guide (1965) particularly for Sachin Dev Burman’s music. I read The Guide much, much later. In retrospect, what had transpired, I guess, was that Vijay Anand could not break away from the then prevalent norms and style of film making – contrary to RK Narayan’s expectations. Had the director lived up to the author’s standards, maybe an art movie would have been born instead of the box office bonanza that Guide turned out to be.