Rediscovering Gandhi within us
“Mamma, is raising the three of us a very difficult job?” Aliza, our 12-year-old middle child, asked me. It was 9.30am and we were in a dusty hotel room in Porbandar.
“No, Aliza,” I faltered. After a pause, I said, “Doing it well is hard work.”
Our three children and I had been travelling together for two days. The first night we had taken a train from Delhi to Ahmedabad, and on the next night, we had been on a 400km bus journey with Harsh Mander’s Karwan-e-Mohabbat—a month-long journey of shared suffering, atonement and solidarity with communities that have been targets of hate crimes. In the final phase, we were travelling to Porbandar to commemorate the birth anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi at his birthplace.
When Aliza asked me the question, I certainly didn’t want to say yes but I also didn’t want to say no, because she wasn’t going to believe that.
Our children have witnessed my frustration, inabilities, meltdowns and rage like no one else has. I have articulated my distress to them. I have cried sometimes when my carefully curated plans or our over-scheduled lives seem to come apart at the seams, making me crash with disappointment.
As Aliza watched me open our bags, organize their clothes, encourage them to bathe, and manage everyone’s travel kit, something had prompted the idea in her head. Instead of making a judgement about me or themselves, she was framing the thought as a question.
“You know the biggest lesson I have learnt as a parent is to not try to do it all by myself. I keep forgetting again and again to ask for help, but I keep learning it too.
“Also, I have learnt to choose who we surround ourselves with. We make an effort to connect with those whose company nurtures us. Not be stuck with people who sap our energy and make us feel inadequate, even if they are friends and relatives. All this takes time and effort, but it is worth it,” I said, giving the children an essay-type answer.
After we had all had a bath and worn fresh clothes, we repeated the classic mistake people from landlocked cities make when they first meet the sea or the ocean. We stepped on to the beach fully dressed and soon we were completely drenched, happy and covered with sand—our clothes and shoes soaked in the water of the Arabian Sea.
Before we left Ahmedabad for Porbandar, our group had sat together at the Prarthna Bhoomi (place for prayer) in the Sabarmati Ashram. Harsh Mander had spoken about the last year of Gandhi’s life and the sheer fearlessness and courage of the love with which he pushed back the forces of communal violence in various parts of the country, notably Bihar, Bengal and Delhi. A time in his life that historian Irfan Habib has described as Gandhi’s “finest hour” and that Dilip Simeon refers to as “love at work”.
The Karwan-e-Mohabbat’s journey to Porbandar was inspired by the same spirit—to seek to harness the power of love. To collectively express solidarity and reiterate harmony with minority communities and serve as a call of conscience to the majority community.
For me, this was also an essential journey as a parent. As the children get older, we frequently travel farther from each other than we ever have before. Sometimes we don’t realize how important it is to come back to each other and be one again.
As we travelled away from home, the inessential began to fall away. As time passed, we became more and more a core unit, within a larger group that looked out for us. When they missed their father, the children called him. When they missed him more, they narrated anecdotes about him to their new friends.
“Mamma, your friends are funny,” they said by way of compliment.
In the lobby of our hotel room in Porbandar, we met a troupe of folk dancers—a group of Siddi men from the Gir forest. Young men who spoke Gujarati, Swahili, Hindi and English. A community of African origin, who have been living in India for 300 years.
We visited Gandhi’s birthplace on 2 October. We looked at the photographs of him as a child and as a young man. We admired his charkha. We broke away from the main group to look for ice cream. We settled for biscuits instead.
“Mamma, can you ask in your phone when the lunch is coming?” the youngest child interrupted me as I was searching for some other information.
Finally, in the evening, the Karwan-e-Mohabbat concluded its journey with a grand finale of cultural performances and experiential sharings by various members. We found ourselves among artists, singers, dancers, musicians, poets and others, who had all come together to reiterate the relevance of Gandhi’s vision in today’s times. We shared own personal stories and spoke about the crisis in current politics and society. We sang and danced together. We inspired each other. We held up candles and pledged to keep the flame of love shining bright.
Our children received something that will stay with them and guide them.
On the sidelines of the event, we met Salma Bano from Ahmedabad, who had broken away from the crowd to recover from a case of recurring hiccups.
“It’s gas,” she said, making it rhyme with case. She lightly touched my three children on their heads and said, “1-2-3, all yours?”
“Yes, all mine,” I said, beaming.
“I also have three daughters,” she said, showing me three fingers. “Your girls must be in school?”
“Yes, they are.”
“I have educated my daughters very well. I have married them well too. The youngest, Uzma, is engaged to a man called Shahrukh Khan. He has hair till his shoulders and he is such a good dancer!”
I clapped my hands in response. “What do you do?” I asked her.
“I’m a teacher,” she said. “I run an anganwadi with 50 children.” She called Uzma to meet us.
“Mamma, will you write about her?” Aliza asked me, when they left.
“Yes, Mamma, she is so interesting. She is such a happy mother.”
Natasha Badhwar is a film-maker, media trainer and author of the book My Daughters’ Mum.
She tweets at @natashabadhwar
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