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The Inner Voice

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 agree.

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 should die!”

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 background?”

“That’s why I seem to have made such progress, Gandhiji.”

He then spoke words that were manna to my ears.

“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 take leave.

He bade me sit down.

“Did you see a group of people in front of the house?” he asked.

“Yes”.

“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, slowly:

“…. 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 angry”.

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”.

Source : Darshan, New York, September 1982