As the nation celebrates Mahatma Gandhi’s 150th birth anniversary, Niyogi Books pays tribute to the man who fought for freedom with his mind alone, the Father of the Nation, through an interview with the author of Gandhi’s Vision: Freedom and Beyond, Aparna Basu.
Q. The title of the book says—Gandhi’s Vision: Freedom and Beyond. Share with us, what inspired you to come up with this particular title for your work?
AB: We were thinking about a photographic exhibition on the 70th anniversary of India’s independence. The Programme Officers of India International Centre suggested that they and the National Gandhi Museum should jointly have an exhibition on the freedom struggle under Mahatma Gandhi’s leadership and his vision of free India. How far are his ideas relevant today and to what extent have they been realised? We were debating about a suitable title, when I said what about The Vision of Gandhi: Freedom and Beyond. It was unanimously approved. The title of the exhibition is the title of the book.
Q. Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi is an iconic figure in the history of Indian independence. He is called the Father of the Nation. Being an expert historian yourself, how iconic is he to you?
AB: I spent my childhood and adolescent years in the Gandhian era. Like so many families of that generation, my parents were deeply influenced by Gandhi. They wore khadi and only swadeshi goods were used in our house. I had the unique privilege of meeting Gandhiji on two occasions, attending his prayer meetings and walking behind him on Juhu beach in Mumbai. Then he was to us the leader of the freedom struggle. I became aware of his greatness as I grew up. I feel that his ideas are better understood and their relevance appreciated more today than during his life time. To me, he is today, really an iconic figure.
As Einstein said, ‘Generations to come, it may be, will scarce believe that such a man as this ever in flesh and blood walked upon this earth.’
Q. Freedom at Midnight, a special feature in the book, accounts of the transfer of power ceremony at the midnight of 14–15 August 1947, which you got to witness as a child. Kindly share with us, what was that experience like?
AB: I was extremely fortunate to witness the transfer of power ceremony in the Central Legislative Assembly Hall on the midnight of 14–15 August 1947. It was indeed a thrilling experience for me- to see all the great leaders and hear their speeches, particularly Jawaharlal Nehru’s unforgettable speech: ‘At the stroke of the midnight hour when the world sleeps India awakes to life and freedom….’ Then to come out and see thousands on the road shouting Inquilab Zindabad. Mahatma Gandhi ki jai, Jawahalal Nehru ki jai . This was the moment the country had waited for. The transfer of power ceremony was conducted in such a peaceful, dignified manner, without any animosity or acrimony.
Q. So much has already been written on Gandhi. How do you think this book will add to the extensive body of work on his achievements in the context of building India as an independent nation?
AB: So much has already been written about Gandhi that one may well ask is another book necessary? I think Gandhi is extremely relevant today and it is important to re-emphasise many of his ideas. His belief in pluralism, liberalism, an open society and polity shaped our national movement and is relevant today. Gandhi believed that India was a multicultural society where Hindus, Muslims, Parsis, Christian, Sikhs all must peacefully live together, not only tolerating but respecting each other’s faith. Truth was not the monopoly of any one religion. He respected the views of others and listened to any view or opinion that countered his own. Equally relevant are his idea of resolution of conflicts by peaceful means, of eliminating poverty, removal of untouchability, on cleanliness and preserving the environment, of truth, honest and probity in public life. Every time I read Gandhi, I discover some new aspect of him and learn something new.