“Gandhiji kaun?” 5-year-old little Indu, asked her father who was busy pasting flyers that had been handed over to him by the city press on the wall. Her father, Baldev Maharaj, was the local cloth merchant who had been ripped off of his business in the Swadesi movement but soon recovered by using his links to sell swadeshi goods. With a call for unity during these tough times written on the flyer, he read out the message,” Gandhiji calls for a march to Dandi.”
Responding to the inquiry of the little girl, Baldev took her by her little finger and began walking in search of another strategic place to paste another flyer, “Gandhiji is a very strong man. He is helping us to get freedom.”
“Freedom? What is that, baba?” little Indu was perplexed.
“Alright, let’s see. Indu don’t we get water from our well?”
“Yes. So?” Indu quizzed.
“What if tomorrow, someone turns up and demands your favourite sweet everyday, in exchange for the water you drink. Would you like to part with it?”
“Why should I? It’s our water. I won’t give it to anybody.” Indu looked agitated.
“Exactly,” Baldev smiled as he continued, “just like that, the angrez has been snatching away water from our well and now even refuses to give us the sweet. For that Gandhiji is helping us to fight against them,” Baldev reasoned patiently.
“But baba, fighting is not good, you said.” Little Indu was unaware of how this was going to be the most important lesson of her life.
“Indeed, my child. Fighting is not good. But Gandhiji is showing us how to fight without even raising a hand. And that is why this Dandi march is so important,” Baldev wanted to break it down for his daughter is smaller, simpler words. Looking at the quizzical expression of the little girl, he picked her up in his arms and began explaining.
“See, you and your best friend, what’s his name, Chotu. Do you fight?”
“Sometimes. He starts but…” she looked angry.
“So what do you do when he hits you?”
“I pull his hair and hit him back.”
Baldev chuckled. “Don’t both of you get hurt? So the next time you happen to fight, even if he hits you, you remain calm, tell him not to. But you don’t hit. Ok?”
“Okay.” Indu was doubtful but played along with her father.
Lost in contemplation, Indu kept watching how her father tirelessly went about his business of pasting the flyers on every wall of the village he could find. This was the first time she was noticing that his father was doing something that did not seem like a routine, even to her. Baldev, on the other hand, was mighty pleased with his tiny contribution to the cause. His face shone with pride looking at the flyers all over, while he anticipated that the message will go far and wide so that people flock in dozens to join the march.
Just then, he spotted his friend, Wazir, approach him.
“Aadab, Baldev bhai,” Wazir called out.
“Aadab, Wazir bhai.” Baldev let Indu down and shook his friend’s hand. “Looks like you’re all set for the march,” Wazir concluded looking at the flyers all around him.
“Yes indeed,” Baldev responded. “Are you not joining in?” he further inquired.
“Of course, Bhai. It is for a greater cause,” Wazir said gazing at infinity.
“Is everything alright?” Bakdev sounded concerned.
“Oh, no nothing big. It is just that I am thinking of the consequences. Like how will these goras react?” Despondent Wazir expressed his concern about the consequences. They had weapons and modes to suppress the movement.
I understand your concern, Wazir bhai, but sitting quietly and moving about our lives is not helping the matter. If we don’t protest, soon these intruders will impose restrictions on the air that we breathe too. Each citizen has to standup. British have the might, we all know, that’s why Gandhiji is showing us the way how to fight the brutal force with non violence and a quiet determination.
Baldev voiced out the concern every Indian at this time had. He was sure Wazir was warm towards the cause but he understood the apprehensions as well. The British had made elaborate attempts to create the divide between the Muslims and Hindus, and in spite of everything the after-effects had begun to show.
“I understand,” Wazir responded. “I see many of the leaders, Hindus and Muslims, following the path of Gandhiji but his way of approaching this grim situation will only heed us very slow results. Most likely we may never be able to get any equal rights from the British.”
Indu looked on as the two adults spoke about things she gathered no comprehension of. But every time the conversation mentioned the name Gandhiji, her eyes would light up with curiosity.
Indu could not understand the essence of the conversation but could figure out their differences. Her innocent mind could only capture one name ‘Gandhiji.’
“Baba, I am hungry. Let’s go home,” he suddenly said, trying to gain her father’s attention.
Baldev tapped Wazir’s shoulder and said, “See you brother. The little one is becoming impatient.”
Baldev walked towards his house thinking about the outcome of his efforts. He could sense an unrest and uneasiness in Wazir’s tone. His defiance and disagreement could be traced in his thoughts.
Over the shoulder, he called out to Wazir, “Don’t forget to join us in 3 days.” Wazir waved acknowledging his friend’s invite.
“Baba, what is in 3 days?” Indu asked whilst playing with her tiny glass bangles that clinked on her wrists.
“Arrey, in 3 days only Gandhiji will cross our village while on his way to Dandi,” Baldev joyfully remarked
“Really?” Indu’s eyes shone again. “Will he meet me, Baba?”
“He will meet all of us, my child,” Baldev finally said, anticipating Gandhiji’s visit and stay for a few hours.
“Baba, why are all the people taking about Gandhiji? What does he really do?”
“He is committed to Indian Politics. The torchbearer of our Freedom Movement. He is a great leader and people look up to him.” Baldev ensured to explain in as simple words as he could but he knew that given the circumstances, whatever he says will never be completely understood by her young mind. So he simply smiled and brought her back home.
While at home, his wife Kamla informed him how she was refused groceries because there were not enough for distribution. Baldev knew that the situation was grim and with imposed taxed even the saahukaars were facing the flak. Many were forced to quit their businesses and resort to taking up something else that could escape the British axe. He was one of them to have faced this, so he understood the plight of the others well. Regardless, food was required to sustain. And so he found his feet moving in the direction of Wazir’s home. Wazir and his whole clan had a large farm and they would sell vegetables to the local vendors.
He was lost in his thoughts as he walked towards Wazir’s house. “I hope he has some extra to lend. I cannot stand Indu sleeping empty stomach. Will he…”
“Look out Beldev Bhai,” Aslam screamed his lungs out.
Aslam was Wazir’s youngest brother who called out to Baldev and saved him from hitting against the wall.
“Thank you, Veere,” obliged Baldev towards the little one and stood in front of the main door thinking to knock or not.
“Wazir Bhai jaan, Baldev Bhai has been postponing to come inside the house.” It was Rabia, Wazir’s sister yelling to inform his brother from the terrace.
Wazir rushed to open the gate and invited Baldev in. Hesitant, Baldev explained the incidents and the stringency occurred at home.
“Bhaijaan we are sailing in the same boat. And what is the point of brotherhood if we cannot help each other.” Wazir tried to assure Baldev. “Of course you can take some vegetables and don’t bother about paying me now,” said Wazir. “And yes about what you were talking about this morning. Do tell me what you want me to do. Count me in on whatever Gandhiji wants us to do.” Wazir’s final assertion made Baldev experience a fresh wave of trust in his friend.
Baldev smiled happily. “Thank you so much, Wazir. On both counts. The vegetables and for agreeing to come for the March.”
The excitement he had seen on Wazirs face seemed to be infectious. Next day, Wazir helped him put up the flyers. There was a silent comradeship between the two that was endearing.
As they went about their work, more and more villagers became interested as the duo patiently explained what was the Salt Act and why it was important to support Gandhiji.
Two days later, it seemed like the villagers in all their fine khadi clothes, lined up the streets at end to have a glimpse of ‘The Mahatma’. In fact, people from the neighbouring villages flocked as well, lining the streets, climbing on top of trees or any tiny piece of land they could place their foot on.
Indu, merrily perched on Baldev’s shoulders, looked on in every direction the crowd cheered from. Every time someone would make a noise, the crowd would move in that direction. After a couple of hours standing in the sun, the crowd was loosing their spirit when suddenly some cheered from the crowd, ‘Mahatma, Mahatma,” the voice reverberated from every corner and there Indu spotted, following Baldev’s pointing finger, a tiny man clad in a dhoti, holding a stick and cloth satchel slung cross-bodied, leading a trail of marchers behind him.
Indu craned her neck to catch a close glimpse of the man she had heard so much about. The crowd surged forward. It was as if a spell had been cast over them. Those standing on the sides joined steps and became one with the crowd, zing in their feet, freedom song on their lips. Baldev and Wazir started walking too, behind the leader.
After walking a mile in the heat, Indu was exhausted and was beginning to faint with hunger and thirst. Baldev stopped by the side. Wazir came and asked, “what happened bhaijaan? Is she fine? I think she needs rest, she’s too young to walk that far.” A woman from the crowd gave her little water and piece of bread.
This was not going to be as easy as it sounded, Baldev reckoned. Wazir empathised. Having to decide to join the march came easy but challenges which were closer to home were never considered when the country was at stake.
“You should not have brought the little girl along,” the woman chided Baldev.
“Actually, it is the girl who refuses to leave her father,” Wazir pitched in. Smiling at Indu he held her hand and asked her if she was okay. Baldev stood worried, beating himself to have let Indu tag along when it was clearly not an easy task covering the next 150 kms or so with Gandhiji and the other marchers.
Little did he know that Indu was frail in the body, not in the mind. “I am okay, baba. Can we go now? We don’t want Gandhiji to leave us behind. Do we?” The adults smiled with pride witnessing the bravery of the little girl.
Looking at the enthusiasm and steely determination in the five-year-old’s eyes, many people came forward and said, “Don’t worry there are other children too in the crowd, though not as young as her. Also, there are some elderly people as well. We are all here to care for each-other. We will carry Indu on our shoulders taking turns. She is our cheerleader, our little ‘Bharat Mata’! “
For the next few kilometers Indu was on Wazir’s shoulders. Baldev was relieved to see that Indu was fine and more than that he was happy that Wazir had joined them in the march. He thought in his heart, the British will never succeed with the policy of “Divide and Rule” till there are people like Wazir. He was proud of his friend that he joined them in the cause but on the way.
Wazir, Indu and Baldev were joined by thousands of men women and children too, each encouraged and encouraging . Driven by the idea sparked by a frail old man, an idea soaked with the spirit of freedom. Suddenly, a young boy of 7 walked up to Gandhiji , held his walking stick and surged ahead. Click! The moment was captured forever. The essence of the movement encapsulated in that one moment… uniting young and old!
That pic was to go on to becoming a symbol, an iconic click for generations to come! Indu would see it later and be proud to have been a part of, even when she was old and frail herself.
Baldev and Wazir walked in togetherness… Like never before. This march would bond them for life.
Covering the last leg of Gandhiji’s march to Dandi was an achievement they were so proud of. But as soon as Gandhiji broke the salt law, the whole country stood up and took notice. Baldev and Wazir along with Indu returned to their village soon after. It was only the next month that they got to know that Gandhiji was arrested. Thousands of people along with Gandhiji got arrested in Dandi and adjoining areas. The news spread like wildfire all over the world with massive news coverage. The Viceroy was now under immense pressure to review the taxes.
“Did you hear what happened?” Baldev aired his concern as Wazir approached his shop.
“Yes, of course. I am also carrying the daily. Here, have a look.” Wazir responded passing on the newspaper to Baldev.
Baldev flipped through the pages of the newspaper. From the first page till the last, the newspaper was covered with news related to arrests, the noncooperation movement and speeches of leaders from all over the country.
The entire nation was now fired up. Azaadi, Swaraj, Swadeshi became household words. Women and children were as enthusiastic. Indu would be a teenager by the time the dream was realised. Wazir and Baldev would discuss the newspaper events extensively as Indu looked on and imbibed it, consciously and subconsciously. Till the idea of Swaraj became a part of her.
She read everything possible about the freedom movement going around the country. Her urge to join the movement amplified with her growing age. On her 16th birthday she declared to her father, “I am going to join the freedom movement following the principles of Gandhiji.”
Baldev and Wazir were happy but expressed their concern. “She is too young to stand against British.”
One day, a local newspaper read, “Nari-Swaraj is protesting against the arrest of freedom fighters.”
Baldev rushed to Indu’s room.
She was obviously nowhere to be found. “Indu, Indu…'” Baldev called out in the whole house.
Kamla who was just returning from the cowshed became anxious too. “What happened?” she inquired.
“Indu is nowhere to be found. Considering that the whole condition the world over is becoming grim and that is forcing the British to have a strict stance on us all, it is worrisome that Indu is engaged in activities that can be dangerous,” Baldev’s fears were now coming to the fore.
“Don’t worry,” Kamla assured. “She had told me that she would be away for some task at Gayatri’s home after school. I am sure she should be back soon.”
“Oh, Gayatri’s home? I think I should go and get her then.” Baldev said as he marched out of the house.
Baldev took the shortest route to Gayatri’s house. Gayatri was the daughter of the snobbish land lord, living in a palatial haveli. Baldev was worried for Indu. Though Gayatri had a soft corner for everyone, the landlord did not. Baldev feared that he might humiliate Indu there.
Gayatri was Indu’s closest friend. She was also the member of Indu’s ‘Nari-Swaraj’. Baldev was relieved to find Indu safe but as soon she told about the meeting and the plans for the next week he was shocked.
His little girl had grown up. It was a big, impactful but a risky step. Nari-Swaraj was a women-specific separate wing of a small army of men and women that was beginning to take form at the time. Indu and Gayatri would get together after school and gather at the latter’s house to meet with their other comrades. The mood of the people was more aggresive than assertive. Baldev feared that Indu was beginning to forget the vales of non violence that he had instilled in her, all of her childhood. The girl who had been mesmerized by the aura of Gandhiji was now beginning to speak of revolution.
He remembered those days when the little girl cried days and nights when The Salt Satyagrah was called off by Gandhiji. Gandhiji said that no violence of any form to anyone will be tolerated.
Indu had said that day, “He should have asked me. I worked for days. Everyone did.”
Baldev had thought it as the immature thinking of Indu. Who would have thought that she would change her course of movement?
That night they argumented over fundamentals, policies, views, steps, aspects and the consequences. Baldev was scared for the path Indu had chosen. Indu, on the other hand, was almost clear of the path she had chalked out for herself. Baldev kept imploring to her to follow the path laid out by Gandhiji, but till now Indu had already made up her mind.
At the behest of Rash Bihai Bose, youth from various parts of the country was assembling to join him in his fight against the British. Indu was well on her path to move away from home now and join the fauj.
Worried Baldev went to Gayatri’s house to request her to persuade Indu not to go on the path chosen. Gayatri sought apology and told him she believed what Indu was doing was right and she would not ask her to step back. They had been friends since long and she was going to support Indu in whatever way she could. Baldev was disheartened to hear that. On his way back, he remembered how he looked for Wazir’s support in Gandhiji’s march. He desperately wanted his friend to accompany him and how glad he was when he did.
People are not wrong. They just follow different ideologies. He had a different belief when he was young and his daughter had chosen her own path now. He was glad she had a supportive friend like Gayatri.
All of them had only one aim- to see an independent India. They were like the different fingers of the hand, different yet together.
Years later people did see the light of an independent India. Some followed the path of violence while some were firm believers of non-violence. Like the saying goes, ‘Every drop makes an ocean’, every effort made its impact. In the process some great tales of camaraderie were woven just like that of Baldev and Wazir or Indu and Gayatri spanning across different generations, religions, regions and age, each one special in its own special way.
Contributed by- Kajal Kapur, Preethi Warrier, Shilpee Prasad, Anjali Sharma, Rashim Rohit Brutta, Aruna Menon, Shristee Singh.
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