A Gandhi for Every Poet

Among the thousands of events to mark Gandhiji’s 150th anniversary, the one I was privileged to attend was indeed special. A evening of ‘Gandhi music’ by the renowned Shubha Mudgal, at the Bangalore International  Center.

What made it special was that it was not the usual ‘Ashram bhajans’.  It was a bit disorienting to not have the performance begin with ‘Vaishnava Jan’ or ‘Raghupati Raghav’ or even ‘Ekla chalo’. But one was soon in the flow…not only of Shubhaji’s voice, but also the unknown…at least to me…songs.

This was a collection of poems on Gandhi and about his leadership of the freedom movement which the artist had researched, curated and set to music. Nothing else could have brought home more powerfully how wide and deep the Mahatma’ s influence was. There were pieces written by literary figures. A Bhojpuri folk song which talked about the charkha. A Holi song from Uttaranchal urging people to get immersed in Gandhi’s colours. A poem by someone who had lived in Gandhi’s ashram for 30 years and had written 500 poems reflecting on his experiences. A contemporary poem written a few years ago by an educational administrator from the Delhi government.

But the one that left a special mark was a song by a courtesan. In a characteristically out of the box move, Gandhiji had apparently addressed a ‘Tawaif Sabha’ in Benaras to urge them to do their bit for the freedom movement. His request was they should include  at least one protest song in their performances. In response, one well-known artist, Vidyadharibai, wrote and presumably performed a very powerful song castigating the British.

And the evening was limited to Hindi songs. It is mind-boggling to think what wealth of poetry there must be in all our languages! How did Gandhiji touch so many people, so many different kinds of people, people in so many places? How did he relate to all of them and all of them to him? Businessmen, farmers, rich, poor, professionals, weavers…..How did he inspire them and change them all?

The memory persists down generations. But the change?

—Meena