THERE Come to moments in life," said Mahatma Gandhi "when, about some things, we need no proof from without. A little, we need no proof from without. A little need no proof from without. A little voice within us tells us you are on the right track, move neither to your left nor right, but kept to the straight and narrow way."
Pyarelal, Gandhiji’s trusted aide and biographer,
has recorded how, on the 20th of January 1948, two days after the termination of
his fast, undertaken to promote Hindu-Muslim amity, in Delhi , a bomb was thrown
while Gandhiji was delivering his post -prayer address, and exploded not far
from where Gandhiji was sitting. Soon after the explosion, and action upon
information from Bombay that there was a conspiracy to assassinate Gandhiji,
Sardar patel who was the Home Minister, told Gandhiji that he wanted to tighten
up security measures at the prayer meetings. But Gandhiji absolutely refused to
During the week following the fast,
Vincent Sheean, the American author who was interviewing Gandhiji, asked, "How
was the Mahatma certain that it was the Mahatma certain that it was the
"innervoice’ that spoke to him, whereas there were others who had an inner voice
and were not sure?" Gandhiji answered that every reason was against it, but the
law which was above all reason commanded it against reason.
Vincent Sheean’s question about
other’s inner voices, and Gandhiji’s words about the law above all reason
commanding against reason, come to my mind whenever I see two pictures that are
among my cherished possessions,- two photo-graphs taken unknown to me, of my
meeting with Gandhiji the day before his assassination. Shot within minutes of
each other, they depict, as in a cine film, my feeling of happiness in one, one
of shock in the next.
For it was at the moment the second
photograph was taken - in which Ganhiji’s hand is raised in a characteristic
gesture, and the smile has vanished from my face- it was at that poignant
moment, laden with grave foreboding, that Gandhiji was telling me of a man that
had come to see him in a voice full of anger, "My inner voice tells me you
What could have made the man say that
to the Mahatma? How did I happen to be there?
ON the 21st January 1948, the day I
laid down the office of Vicepresident of the Council of Ministers of Gwalior
State (of which the Maharaja was the President) I got a message that Gandhiji
would like me to meet him at 2.30 P.M. on the 29th January.
Though I did not know why he had
called me, I could not help feeling excited and indeed elated at the prospect of
meeting and talking to him.
My first glimpse of Gandhiji was when
I was at college and I saw him, in coat and turban, at public meeting in Madras
on his return from South Africa. The next time I saw him was nearly twenty years
later, on the Nandi hill, not far from Bangalore, where he had come for
convalescence and rest.
Years later, my work took me often
to Delhi where I saw him, mostly at prayer meetings in the Bhangi (Sweeper)
Colony. There was no opportunity for conversation, but I came back from every
meeting fascinated by the unique combination I had seen in him, of saint and
politician, courage of a lion in a heart of gold, will of steel in a frail body
full of infinite compassion and tolerance.
Montoring from Gwalior to Delhi after
taking leave of the Maharahja, I kept wondering what could be the reason for
this entirely unexpected summons to meet him.
1947, was a year in which ten years of
Indian history were telescoped into one. It witnessed partition and its tragic
aftermath, the attainment of independence and the attainment of independence and
the attainment of Independence and the accession of the Indian States to the
Union. The end of the year presaged the merger of the States. In my thirty and
odd years as a public servant I had held varied and interesting posts, but none
so full of excitement and challenge as the one I held the year in Gwalior. I was
fortunate in enjoying the confidence of the young Maharaja, despite the fact
that on may despite the fact that on many occasions he must have found my advice
extremely difficult to accept amidst dynastic and traditional ties, and
conflicting, deep-rooted interests.
I WAS at Birla House at the appointed
hour, and was shown to the place where Gandhiji was sitting, bent over and
deeply immersed in writing on a pad held on his knees-which I later realized was
his last testament and advice to the Congress Party. It seemed a pity to
disturb him; but least he should think I was late, I decided quietly to say
"Namasthe" (a form of greeting). He looked up and putting the papers aside,
said, "Ayeeye, ayeeye, Sreenivasan, baiteeye" (Come and sit down).
I sat down. He smiled and asked, "Aj
kal apka Hindi kaisa hai?" (How is your Hindi these days?) He always made it a
point of wanting to know the progress I was making with my Hindi.
"Thirty-three and one-third percent
deliver kartha hoon, sixty-six and two-third percent absorb kartha hoon", is
said. ( I understand twice as much as I speak).
He rewarded this answer with a broad
smile and said, "Good. Now you may speak in English".
Then - and this is where the first
photograph was shot-pointing fingers, at me, he asked :
"What is your difficulty, you have a Sanskrit
"That’s why I seem to have made such
He then spoke words that were manna to
"I understand you are retiring. Why do
you want to retire? You are still young and fit. The Sardar and other friends
have told my you have done very well."
"It is most kind of your informants and of you,
Gandhiji, to say this of me. I have now done thirty years in Government service,
and feel I should now do something else. The Maharaja was kind sometime as
Adviser, but I begged to be excused. I wish to go while the going is good and
people still think well of me."
"No, you should not go now. We want
good men with administrative experience. Sardar won’t let you go. He has plans."
My heart was swelling with happiness
and pride. How difficult, this from what I was worrying about!
"I have submitted to you, Gandhiji, my
plans and my decision. I shall esteem and cherish as long as I live the generous
words you have said of me. This is indeed a great day in my life."
Saying that, I rose to thank him and
He bade me sit down.
"Did you see a group of people in
front of the house?" he asked.
"Those poor people are from Bannu. They have come
all the way to see me. One of them was quite angry with me. He told me,
"Gandhiji, you should die.’ I shall I will not die until my inner voice says I
should. And do you know, Sreeni-vasan, what he said?"
Gandhiji raised his hand in a
characteristic gesture (which the second Photograph has caught), and said,
"…. He said ‘my inner voice say you should die’."
I was aghast.
"They use your words, Gandhiji, without knowing
the meaning of the words".
"I pity them. I am sorry for them.
Would you not be angry if your house was burnt or looted, your women were beaten
up or worse in your presence?" he asked.
"Angry with whom?" I asked.
"They think I am responsible," he said
calmly." I am full of sympathy for them. I can well understand their being so
I did not know what to say.
Thanking him again for asking me to see him, and
for his great kindness to me, I took leave.
I was at a friend’s house in Hastings
Road the nest evening when the new came that Gandhiji had been shot dead.
I ran to Birla House.
The next day, as I watched the flames
and the smoke rise from the funeral pyre, I seemed to hear a medley of inner
voices, now cruel, proclaiming the "law which was above all reason that
commanded it against reason".