JOURNEYS OF THE MAHATMA
Satendra Nandan is Fiji’s leading writer. This is a poem from his forthcoming volume of poems, Gitanjali for Gandhi. Today is Mahatma Gandhi’s birth anniversary. He was born 2 October, 1869 in Gujarat, India and assasinated 30 January 1948, in New Delhi.
They shot him dead: Three rust-riveted bullets – Pierced a brave breast, a vulnerable heart. Who knew the old man had so much blood in him?
He died with palms folded As he fell in the new garden of Gethsemane? Two words, like two birds, escaped from his parched lips.
They said he died peacefully. Really?
Then they ceased to kill And the land that spilled his blood Was still surfeited in its sorrow Like a mother holding Her dead child by any seashore.
When he went to England They wanted to trap him? Master-mahatma: What do you think of our civilization? Not a bad idea, he said, whenever that happens.
That rather fat man of victory with a cigar Fumed: How dare a half-naked fakir Striding on the palace steps To parley with the King-Emperor? In those awful clothes: At best in a diaper, a khadi shawl, In the dead of winter, after the Fall.
The bright British journalist, Ever searching for shallow answers : Will you parley with the Emperor dressed thus, Mr Ghandi? He looked at the young man Making his career in Fleet street And so fleet of tongue: Oh, no worries, old chap, The Emperor will be wearing enough for both of us!
This wasn’t a story of rags and riches. It was a little more: The sun set in its shame.
He adjusted his rough shawl A burden on his bare shoulders, His feet firmly on the ground And turned around the other cheek.
Then they remembered the Salt March To Dandi with a danda! A 230-mile journey on foot. The sartorial semiotics was smart. They mocked: how can you dismantle The largest empire with a lathi? But he marched: that was his art.
When he broke the Salt Laws Remembering a sermon: Ye are the salt of the earth… Feel blessed.
The Viceroy called him for tea In golden cups with a single silver spoon After all it was tea in the afternoon. The lord asked : Mr Ghandi, care for a spoon of sweetest sugar Made by the toil, sweat, tears of your own people?
Gandhi glanced at the church steeple: No , he smiled: But a pinch of salt could do!
Between salt and sugar A mighty empire fell: India, like his soul, was broken into bits : And the oldest mahatma Was cremated among the dead.
His ashes were left to rust In Delhi’s ruins and dust; But a patch of green grass grew On a river’s bank Out of some ancient roots As birds twittered, flew:
Three blood-red flowers in silence bloomed.