Introduction–While this story is written more as a fantasy on what happens when Mahatma Gandhi decides to come back to earth, it is at the same time related to serious contemporary problems and issues.
Among the many distinguished residents of heaven, Mahatma Gandhi was regarded as among the most peaceful and patient ones. Yet even he had of late shown signs of being restless. This was mainly due to the news that had been trickling in to him regarding recent happenings on planet earth, and more particularly in his beloved country India.
The heaven authorities did not want their inmates to get unduly disturbed by earth news. So access to earth newspapers, web-sites and other news outlets had been banned. But where there is a will there is a way. More concerned heaven citizens like Gandhi somehow always found a way out to keep in touch with the latest happening on earth. And what they had been hearing recently was really disturbing.
However Gandhi and other heaven residents like him knew that they cannot do anything about this. Their hands were tied by contractual papers they all had to sign at the time of their entry into heaven. In these papers it was clearly stated that henceforth they will not interfere in the affairs of planet earth. The heaven authorities justified this restraint by saying that if this was not imposed then events on earth would cease having a logic of their own due to constant interference from heaven . There was some truth in this and so reluctantly all new entrants to heaven used to sign this contract.
But sometimes despite this Gandhi could not remain quiet. Although he was admonished by his wife Kasturba to at least now start minding his own business, he was still itching for some action.
One day Kasturba told him rather sternly—You keep telling the entire universe to be peaceful, so why cannot you sit peacefully at home even for a few days when I tell you to do so.
Gandhi decided to maintain his peace and did not reply. But he was also afraid to be seen getting restless by her, so he busied himself in finding the contract papers. After dusting the file, he hurried to find a corner where he could read it peacefully, away from the gaze of Kasturba.
Gandhi was trying to find some way out in contract papers. After all he had a lawyer’s training from his earth days. Hmm, he told himself, no chance of interfering in earth affairs as per the terms of this contract, but what about ‘non-interfering inspection’ (NII). Surely I am entitled to go and see things for myself without at all interfering in them.
His face lighted up as various possibilities opened up before his eyes. He promptly wrote an application to heaven authorities regarding providing him permission to visit earth on a tour of non-interfering inspection.
This was a new request and the heaven authorities were certainly not comfortable about it. But at the same time they could find nothing in the contract papers in violation of the carefully crafted application of Gandhi.
Besides the heaven authorities had instructions from the top to be more careful and considerate about Gandhi. They had even gone out of their way to somehow find a spinning wheel ( charkha) for him. They had been told to accede to his demands as far as possible as otherwise the difficulties of the authorities can increase. So with some reluctance they decided to accept the NII demand of Gandhi. Now they had to plan for his safe journey and return within a day which was decided as the maximum time permissible for NII. As the AI technology in heaven was very advanced, this could take care of transport without hitches, but some arrangements still had to be made.
A senior official of the external affairs ministry of heaven told Gandhi—Bapu, earth has changed so much since you left. You will have to take a companion who has come here very recently from India and is familiar with the latest conditions there.
Gandhi nodded—Have you selected anyone already?
–Yes. He is Satyavan. His papers describe him as a peaceful Gandhian activist trying to help people in a village in India to protect their water sources. Then a local mafia started destroying the local stream by taking away its sand. When Satyavan resisted bravely he was killed by the mafia. He is very familiar with Gandhian movements in India. We thought he would be the ideal guide for you.
Gandhi brightened up at the thought of visiting earth with such a guide. He readily gave his approval
–Another important matter Bapu. You may have problems in breathing the air of earth in several places you visit. So please always carry a cylinder of heaven air with you as by now you are completely used to breathing the pure non-polluted air of heaven and the sudden exposure to polluted air of earth may be fatal. We don’t want you to die a second time on earth. I have made arrangements for several special lightweight cylinders for you and Satyavan.
Gandhi was surprised and puzzled , but he thanked the official for being so caring.
—And lastly Bapu, for your own safety you and Satyavan will have to travel invisible on earth. I have made all the technological arrangements for this too. You will be able to see and hear others but others will not be able to see and hear you.
The challenge of securing the permission of Kasturba was still before Gandhi. They had a rather heated argument which ended, as always, on a note of further increasing their love. Kasturba had to hurry as Gandhi had rather peculiar diet habits and she wanted to pack some healthy food for him.
Gandhi called her—Kindly pack some food for my companion too.
Kasturba replied—Why do you want to impose your bland food on a young man?
Some hours later Gandhi and Satyavan boarded Special Spaceship MG-NII for their journey to earth, with lightweight heaven air cylinders strapped to their backs.
On board Gandhi warmed up to the young man whose praise he had already heard.
–So young man. We are going to spend some time together.
–Oh I still cannot believe my great luck. Who would have thought that I will actually get an opportunity of your company. I grew up thinking about you as my teacher and ideal all the time.
–Good. I am sure that I will also learn from you. Did the heaven officials fix any travel program.
–They have left a lot to me as I am very familiar with recent happenings. I came to heaven only a month back, you see. The officials only said that both of us are not to visit our family members and only concentrate on the real work so that your NII can be completed well in time.
–This makes sense, but first tell me a little bit about your own experiences on earth.
–Well my grandfather had been to jail repeatedly in your movements and since then there has been this tradition of working for social causes in our family. I did my post-graduation in social work from Delhi University and then instead of looking for a job I went to work in Bundelkhand from where many reports of acute distress of villagers were pouring in. I had been influenced by your concept of gram swaraj and I tried to implement this in the present conditions of rural India. It was tough going right from the start but at the same time this work gave me a lot of satisfaction. I tried to learn from whatever mistakes I made due to my inexperience and I had started getting good support for my ideas in a few villages.
–One important part of our work was to try to protect all water sources and conserve as much rainwater as possible as water scarcity was leading to immense distress in these villages for several months. Then a big contractor came to this area and started extraction of sand from the only river which is a lifeline for about 50 villages. Villagers said that if massive extraction continues for a few weeks this river would start drying up very soon.
–I thought we simply had to do something to stop this. Some experienced villagers cautioned me but I went ahead, collected facts and photos and presented all the evidence of the destruction of the river before district officials as well as before media at a press-conference. I also wrote articles on this issue myself. What I did not realize at that time was that this mining mafia is absolutely ruthless in its dealings and very powerful too. Its mining work takes place at over a dozen places and has collusion with several top officials and politicians.
–One day my motorcycle was stopped by someone pretending to be injured at a desolate place and as soon as I stopped to help the person, a dagger was thrust in my body and I died on the spot immediately.
Both Satyavan and Gandhi remained quiet for some time. Gandhi kept his hand on the back of Satyavan and comforted him gently.
–Heaven officials told me that my entry into heaven was cleared immediately as there was not even a single adverse point against me. But in heaven I was unsettled for some time. Then they put me in an adaptation course for two weeks which is meant for those who die a very sudden and violent death. It is a great course. After going through this course I feel all right and well-settled now.
Did you have other friends who were so committed to peaceful social change?
A few, yes. But I am sad to tell you Bapu Ji that most of them are experiencing a lot of difficulties and repression.
But I heard that in India at least Gandhi and Gandhians still get a lot or respect.
Outwardly yes. But you will see the reality soon. But first you get some rest as tomorrow will be a very busy day for you.
Okay. Will you like to eat some porridge Kasturba has packed for me.
No Bapu you eat this. I will eat some aaloo-puri, chaat-masala and jalebi I brought with me.
Next morning they first landed at Delhi and after eating breakfast Gandhi and Satyavan decided to start their NII with a visit to Rajghat and the complex of Gandhian institutions nearby. As they were passing ITO crossing Gandhi seemed to choke on polluted air and Satyavan hastened to connect his breathing to the heaven air cylinder.
From now onwards you keep this handy and ready to use anytime, he told Gandhi with some alarm, as he also opened his own cylinder.
There were hardly any visitors in Rajghat but there was a lot of hustle and bustle at a nearby Gandhian institution. Gandhi wanted to go there but Satyavan was reluctant.
It will sadden you, Bapu ji, he said quietly.
Well an organization known for spreading communalism has become very active here.
But aren’t my followers resisting this and offering satyagraha?
No Bapu. They have agreed to collaborate with them.
But why? Don’t they know that inter-faith harmony was always closest to my heart all my life.
They know this Bapu, but the government funds will come only with this collaboration and their salaries, their perks will be assured and so those who call themselves your followers are collaborating in this.
Gandhi was so saddened that he was on the verge of tears.
You will have to save your tears Bapu Ji. There is much more to come, his young companion advised.
I want to go to some place where I can see the really big leaders of the country.
Satyavan took him to a very towering building.
Let us go in.
They entered the building.
Gandhi’s face brightened up immediately. He saw his well-decorated portrait . Several big leaders were garlanding this.
Look they still respect me a lot. They are queuing up to garland my photo.
Yes Bapu. But look also at this other portrait not far from yours. After garlanding your portrait several big leaders also garland this photo.
Whose portrait is that? Gandhi asked , trying to take a good look.
You may not recognize now Bapu, after all these years. This is the man widely suspected to be the plotter of your assassination. Even an official inquiry stated this, but this man was let off by the courts due to lack of adequate evidence as stated by the judge.
But isn’t this weird? These leaders garland me and then also garland someone likely to have plotted my death.
Well this is exactly the strange situation that exists.
But if some of these big leaders have sympathy for the plotter of my assassination, then why don’t they say this loud and clear that they do not like me. I will in fact prefer it this way.
But they cannot show their dislike for you, or what is more important some of your most persistent ideas and teachings, openly.
Because at world level your name has a lot of respect. So at least ourwardly a lot of respect has to be shown to you.
But this is the worst hypocrisy.
So it is.
Mahatma Gandhi was so saddened he needed some time to recover. So they sat down under a tree to get some rest.
After Gandhi recovered he asked rather weakly—where shall you take me next?
Can I bring in a little bit of myself.
Yes, of course.
I will like to take you to a place where a meeting in my honour is being held.
Oh I will certainly like to go there.
They left Delhi and within a matter of a few minutes were in Jhansi, the leading city of Bundelkhand.
A big meeting had been organized in a grand hall. A garlanded portrait of Satyavan had been placed on a table. Several dignitaries were paying their tributes to Satyavan one after another. One immaculately dressed fat man in a black suit appeared to be in charge of the proceedings.
Gandhi allowed himself a smile. He said– Well, at least they know here how to properly honor a young martyr who died for a very noble cause .
But Bapu do you see that fat man in a black suit.
Yes of course, he appears to be the main organizer.
Well he is the biggest builder of the area and the man who really remote controls the sand mafia. The local sand diggers are all small operators linked to him. I am almost certain that my killing was ordered and cleared by this fat man in the black suit as he is really the top man of this chain.
But then why is he organizing this meeting.
To get the suspicion away from him and to emerge in the public perception in an entirely different light. He is the biggest advertiser in local media and tomorrow you will see his photo garlanding my portrait on the front page of several local newspapers.
Gandhi was in very low spirits now.
I really want to meet someone who has done what I valued the most, who has lived a life devoted to promoting inter-faith harmony.
Well I know a person Dost Khan who has been tryng to revive the institution of Khudai Khidmatgars in India first started by your close friend Badshah Khan. He is friend of all religions so some people also call him Sarvamitra Khan. For him Badshah Khan and you are the biggest source of inspiration and he works overtime to spread your message of inter-faith harmony, reciting from the Ramcharitmanas as well as the Quran to spread the message of love and harmony.
Gandhi almost jumped with joy.
Oh I am so happy to know that someone has tried to revive what was a great achievement of my friend Badshah, the real king of the hearts of Khans. I am so eager to meet this Dost Khan.
So now Satyavan tried to find out where to go to meet Dost Khan.
After some inquiries he returned with a sad face.
I am really sorry to tell you Bapu Ji that if you want to meet Dost you will have to go to a jail.
Why? Why is such a noble man in jail in free India. He should be getting a lot of respect.
Well he does get the respect of a lot of ordinary people. But someone conspired to lodge a complaint against him and officials then arrested him.
What exactly happened?
Well it seems he went to a temple and quoting from different religious texts tried to spread the message of basic unity and harmony of various religions. Everyone present there seemed to be very happy to hear him and admired his views and scholarship. But later someone lodged a false complaint of spreading communal hatred against him and got him arrested.
But this is the most terrible thing. How can people working for communal harmony be accused of the opposite.
Well this also happened in some other places only recently.
I must do something to stop this and immediately secure the release of Dost.
Please do not forget Bapu Ji that we are only on NII—Non-Interfering Inspection– and have to follow its rules. Our visit is being closely monitored by officials in heaven and as soon as we start breaking rules our visit will be terminated abruptly.
Gandhi looked crestfallen. He had never felt so helpless before.
Do you still want to go to jail to see Dost.
What is the use? The distress at not doing anything for him will be even more overwhelming in his presence. But I am very keen to see at least some people who are still working for the ideals of freedom movement.
Satyavan thought this over for some time.
Then he said—Okay we will now go to a village where I had spent some time for my training.
They went to a village where Gandhi could feel the difference within a few minutes of his arrival.
He said happily—I can see that this is a very green village, full of trees and ponds. People are so well-behaved and engaged in very creative work together. But what is so special about this village that inspired you most?
Bapu Ji you have only seen the more obvious signs of changes in this village so far. Actually the changes are much deeper. Here things started moving very fast when followers of two youth groups joined hands together to initiate a lot of badly needed changes.
What were these groups?
Well one of these groups was named after you and the other one was named after Shahid Bhagat Singh. First they used to work separately but then they decided that they must work with unity for common aims. They both believed in justice, equality, communal harmony, empowerment of women and weaker sections and harnessing the creativity of all with mutual help and cooperation. So they decided we must all work together and with their increasing unity and cooperation they achieved very good results in water-conservation, tree planting and farming which is ecologically protective. A plan was drawn up for drought-proofing the village and ending its water scarcity. Meetings were held and agreement was reached on making some land available to landless workers. People of various religions not only stopped fighting but also joined each other to together celebrate their festivals. Hence throughout the year some festivity or the other was going on. This village also implemented several of your ideas on cottage industries and increasing self-reliance of rural communities. In fact this was one of the main reasons I came here to learn as a student as I had much to learn here for my dreams of gram swaraj.
So how long did you stay here?
Initially only for two weeks and in my college holidays I kept coming here for guidance and inspiration. Gradually the inspirational ideas and work of this village spread to many neighboring villages. Now about fifty villages here are trying to follow this path, although not all have reached the same level of progress. As you can see everyone is so busy in highly creative work.
Didn’t this effort face any serious problems?
Oh there were many problems. When I came here for the first time there was a struggle going on to oust the liquor shop which the leading liquor contractor had imposed on the village. Most people , particularly women, were determined to minimize alcohol consumption and all substance abuse but here this contractor was trying to impose alcohol shop on them. So people got together and chased away the contractor. I also participated in the movement.
Then on another occasion when I came there was an ongoing struggle to oppose corruption in development works . This proved to be a long struggle. But all these struggles also enhanced the unity of people.
This is really good. But how many such efforts are there in the country?
Not as many as you would like Bapu ji, but still there are many good efforts of people and there are yearning for real change and progress based on justice, equality, peace and harmony. However there are also other, more powerful forces which try to move in the opposite direction.
But still there is hope.
Yes Bapu, as far as I could understand in my short life, there are still many signs of hope in India.
Okay, then let us conclude our journey on this note of hope. It is getting dark and we must leave soon for our journey back to heaven. But before we board the spaceship let us quietly pray that the forces of hope, the spaces for hope should expand rapidly in India and in all other countries as well.
Gandhi and Satyavan prayed quietly for a while and then they left earth for heaven again, for the second time.
Bharat Dogra is a freelance journalist and author who has written consistently on public interest issues for over four decades. His two novelettes published in countercurrents.org are titled A Day in 2071 and We Shall Overcome. His recent collection of Hindi short stories is titled Sachai Ki Kasam ( Under Oath for Truth) and collection of Hindi poems is titled Kathin Daur Mein Ummeed ( Hope in Difficult Times).