Be­ing stalked by the Ma­hatma

His­to­rian Ra­machan­dra Guha on in­vest­ing over three decades on re­search­ing and writ­ing about the ex­tra­or­di­nary life of Gandhi

Mid Day - - GALLERIE - JANE BORGES jane.borges@mid-day.com

EACH time chef Varun Ra­machan­dran steps out of his Shivaji Park home, he en­sures there are a clutch of vis­it­ing cards on him. The bad**s cards — bathed in black — have noth­ing to do with the pro­fes­sional life of the 35-year-old, who heads a food and life­style tele­vi­sion chan­nel. It reads: “Con­grat­u­la­tions on own­ing a TUV. We are a group of pas­sion­ate own­ers and would like you to be part of this jour­ney. Join us on What­sApp...” The cards have been printed with the sole pur­pose of net­work­ing with IN Bol­ly­wood, it was Sanjay Dutt, who first por­trayed an ec­cen­tric ob­ses­sion for the Ma­hatma in the epony­mously ti­tled film Lage Raho Munna Bhai. Hav­ing spent a night por­ing over dust-laden lit­er­a­ture re­lated to Mo­han­das K Gandhi in­side a li­brary, Munna Bhai starts hav­ing hal­lu­ci­na­tory vi­sions of the leader. It’s this vi­sion that later guides the goon to the path of truth, in­tegrity, and what film-maker Ra­jku­mar Hi­rani wit­tingly made us re­mem­ber as Gand­hi­giri. His­to­rian and scholar Ra­machan­dra Guha, who has just re­leased an 1,100page bi­og­ra­phy, Gandhi: The Years That Changed In­dia 1914-1948 (Pen­guin/Allen Lane), and has spent over three decades re­search­ing him, may have never suc­cumbed to this glo­ri­fied rev­er­ence to Gandhi, but he still ad­mits to be­ing a “great ad­mirer of the man.”

This also ex­plains the 60-year-old writer’s never-end­ing quest to un­der­stand Gandhi, which “ac­ci­den­tally” be­gan in his teens. “I grew up in the In­dia of the 1950s, when ev­ery year on Oc­to­ber 2, you com­mem­o­rated Gandhi and sang Raghu­pati Raghav Raja Ram. So, there was al­ways this halo around him,” Guha re­calls, in a tele­phonic in­ter­view from Delhi. But, his first tryst with Gandhi was fel­low own­ers of the Mahin­dra TUV, the lux­ury SUV man­u­fac­tured by the au­to­mo­bile brand. In­ter­est­ingly, Ra­machan­dran was the first Mum­baikar to buy the model when it launched in 2014. Since then, there have been three up­grades with Mahin­dra TUV 300 Plus be­ing the lat­est in the mar­ket. “The one I drive with 80 bhp doesn’t ex­ist any­more. But, it doesn’t mat­ter which ver­sion you own, as long it is a TUV,” he says. His love for the car is such that if he spots one, he makes it a point to go over and hand the card to the owner. “And if it’s in the park­ing lot, I sim­ply place it on the wind­shield,” he laughs. More of­ten when he read his au­to­bi­og­ra­phy (The Story of My Ex­per­i­ments with Truth) as a col­lege stu­dent. “I was struck by his de­scrip­tion of tak­ing off his sa­cred thread. Af­ter that, I re­solved to never wear one. For me, a sa­cred thread was a mark of caste dis­tinc­tion, and I felt if Gandhi aban­doned it, so should I.”

The mo­ti­va­tion to ex­plore the Gand­hian nar­ra­tive, how­ever, got hold of him, when he was pur­su­ing his PhD on the his­tory of en­vi­ron­men­tal move­ment in In­dia in the 1980s. On re­al­is­ing that its “main ac­tors [Chandi Prasad Bhatt, Medha Patkar] were in­flu­enced by Gandhi’s meth­ods of anal­y­sis, cri­tique, strug­gle and re­con­struc­tion,” Guha’s cu­rios­ity piqued. From thereon, he started ex­ten­sively con­sum­ing sto­ries about Gandhi. The first book that had a sig­nif­i­cant im­pact on him was Bel­gian writer JTF Jor­dens’s Gandhi’s Re­li­gion. “It was a very mov­ing and sym­pa­thetic ac­count of Gandhi’s re­li­gious plu­ral­ism, and pro­vided an in­sight­ful un­der­stand­ing of every­thing he stood for,” Guha says. Later, while writ­ing about the so­cial his­tory of cricket, he once again re­alised how Gandhi had in­flu­enced the man­ner in which the game was watched, played and talked about. “I was be­ing stalked by Gandhi’s shadow,” he ad­mits.

It wasn’t long be­fore he started gath­er­ing ma­te­rial and books than not, he re­ceives a call back from cu­ri­ous own­ers ea­ger to learn more.

A step up

Meet Mum­bai TUVians, a group of 88 car own­ers with a self-pro­fessed love for all things au­to­mo­bile. Their ac­tiv­i­ties have not only been no­ticed by Anand Mahin­dra, chair­man and man­ag­ing di­rec­tor of Mahin­dra and Mahin­dra Ltd, who of­ten retweets their posts, but also Ma­ha­rash­tra chief min­is­ter Deven­dra Fadnavis, whose of­fice has in­vited them for a chat, on learn­ing that they re­cently adopted three vil­lages in Pen, a town in Raigad dis­trict around and about the re­mark­able his­tor­i­cal fig­ure. “And I did it with­out re­ally think­ing that I would one day write a bi­og­ra­phy on him. That idea struck me only 15 years ago, when I re­alised that Gandhi in ei­ther an in­flu­en­tial or mar­ginal way was seep­ing into what­ever I was work­ing on.”

His new mag­num

So, what is it about a car that is mak­ing Ra­machan­dran and his group build a com­mu­nity around it? “This is about ev­ery per­son who al­ways dreamt of own­ing an SUV be­cause at one point of time in In­dia, say even three years ago, the SUV was re­served for the cream of so­ci­ety. It was like the Amer­i­can dream,” he says. For Ra­machan­dran, the tran­si­tion from a hatch­back to a SUV was a chance to tread ter­rains that were ini­tially out of bounds. “Fi­nally, I had to the op­por­tu­nity to go of­froad­ing and drive on prac­ti­cally road­less ar­eas smoothly, which is not al­ways pos­si­ble with a small car,” he says.

No busi­ness, please

opus, a The con­ver­sa­tions on the group re­volve strictly around cars — from hacks that cus­tomer ser­vice won’t tell you to iden­ti­fy­ing anom­alies and fix­ing them. As a rule, the group for­bids any­thing that is done with a com­mer­cial in­ter­est. De­spite own­ing an SUV

PIC COUR­TESY/SANTINIKETAN ARCHIVES PIC COUR­TESY/SAAA

Sar­aladevi Chaud­hu­rani (seated), with whom Gandhi once con­tem­plated a ‘spir­i­tual mar­riage’, pho­tographed with her sis­ter. Gandhi’s re­mark­able sec­re­tary, Ma­hadev De­sai, at his side as al­ways, as so of­ten ex­plain­ing a word or phrase to him.

Co-founder Varun Ra­machan­dran; (in­set) The TUVians at a so­cial meet-up

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