Friday, February 26, 2010

The story of a guava tree

Rajkot is full of interesting ‘Gandhi’ places, but it’s funny how nearly every place has been renamed after Gandhi!
Alfred High School, for instance, is now Mahatma Gandhi Vidyalaya… I had only seen photographs of the school, seeing it in brick and style was very exciting and all of us took turns taking pictures in front of it. We also went inside to watch a play, but I mostly watched the teachers, imagining how it must have been when Gandhi was little.
Rashtriya Shala was where ‘Talking Gandhi’, a series of interventions organized by the Galaxy School, was inaugurated. Jitendrabhai Desai, trustee of the Navjivan Trust that publishes books by Gandhi, exhorted us to draw inspiration from Hind Swaraj the way Gandhi himself drew inspiration from a play on the life of Harishchandra. Well, there are many things we can draw inspiration from in our lives, and many things that must elicit our indignation, that we must speak up against. Demeaning behaviour, injustice, affront to human dignity, unfairness, cruelty…
Rashtriya Shala also houses a fantastic library of books that belonged to Mahadev Desai, Gandhi’s trusted secretary for many years. Some of us sat in the room in which Gandhiji had observed a fast unto death in 1939, and listened as Tenzin Tsundue told us about being Tibetan, a refugee, and living in Dharamshala. “Remember the scene in ‘3 Idiots’ where these two guys drive up to Shimla? It’s not the Shimla road, it’s the Manali road. That’s where I was born, on the roadside, somewhere there. My parents were road construction workers. Then they were relocated to Karnataka.”
The Rashtriya Shala campus also houses a patola weaving and training centre. Patola silk weaving is an old and intricate technique famous in Gujarat.
For me, the best part was visiting his home in the middle of a crowded market where a tiny shop also sells lovely bandhini saris. Called Kaba Gandhi no Delo, it’s been kept nice and neat, although the flooring is modernly smooth. A lovely, elderly gentleman called Prabhatbhai is the caretaker and he affectionately took Astrid Kummer (a clown performer based in Pondicherry) and me around. But I was most excited about the guava tree in the compound. Prabhatbhai said it was not the same one that was around when Gandhiji was around, but it had grown, on its own, from that root. It was its baby, so to speak. Remember how little Mohan’s heart bled for the guavas that had been pecked by birds and how he would climb to the topmost branches, bandaging each ‘hurt’ fruit with cloth? That’s the image that came to me when I beheld this really tall tree. Seeing how thrilled I was, Prabhatbhai said, “Just as Gandhiji gave us the sweet fruit of freedom, so this tree bears sweet fruit, even today.” 

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