Days at Agakhan Palace
"Bapu must have been very comfortable in that palace?" asked Hari.
"No, my son, how could Bapu, the friend of the poor , the father of Our Nation, how could he be comfortable, living away from his suffering and sorrowing children? He could find no peace inside that large and luxurious palace. Bapu could never find happiness, if he could live and spend all his time with the poor and the lowly.
Even in that palace he lived like a poor man. He would get up early in the morning, say his prayers, take a little fruit juice and then get busy with his work. All his associates would have their meals with him, and the poetess Sarojini Naidu, the Nightingale of India, would entertain him with his jokes and anecdotes. There would be prayers again in the evening, and then they would all settle down to some more work. And then they would retire early, after having worked the whole day.
Loses his dear colleague
Mahatmaji had been in detention only for a few days, when his old and trusted colleague, Mahadev Desai, died suddenly of heart failure. Gandhiji and Mahadev Bhai had been very closely associated with each other for over thirty years, and Bapu loved him as his own son. Mahadev Bhai too had dedicated his life to Bapu and to the country. They had shared each other's joys and sorrows: Bapu would open out his heart to him, and he would always give Bapu his frank and well-considered opinion on all matters.
Bapu bathed Mahadev's body with his own hands and then decked the bier and performed all the funeral rites himself, even as a father would have done. The funeral pyre was lighted in a comer of the palace garden, and a memorial was erected on that spot, and as long as Bapu stayed in that palace, he went to that samadhi36 and laid flowers there everyday.
After Gandhi's arrest, there was no one to guide the people in their non-violent struggle against the British Government. People were burning with the desire to win independence, and they carded on the fight in various ways according to their lights. Some, in their enthusiasm, even forgot the teachings of Gandhiji, and secretly incited people to violence. And the government answered back with all the violence that it was capable of. Bullets were rained on innocent gatherings, and whole villages were burnt down. A reign of terror prevailed in the country. Men, women, and children were killed by the thousand, and the jails were full. The leader of the nation was in prison, and without his guidance the people had gone astray and run mad. Bapu had never thought that if he was removed from the scene, the fight for freedom would take such a bloody and violent turn. He did not know that people would so misunderstand his slogan of 'Quit India', that they would throw all restraint to the winds.
While in jail, Gandhiji was in touch with the day-to-day happenings in the country. He was cut off from us physically, but all his thoughts were with us. The Father of the Nation could not rest in peace while the people, misguided by their enthusiasm, risked every hardship and suffering.
The government threw the entire blame for the prevailing confusion and chaos on Bapu. Gandhiji made earnest efforts to secure the release of some of the leaders, so that they could lead the people back to nonviolence and discipline. But the government turned a deaf car to all his requests. In utter helplessness, on the 10th of February 1943, Bapu decided to go on fast for twenty-one days as the only way of convincing the world of his sincerity.
The government offered to release him for the duration of the fast, but Bapu would not agree to such a proposal. Gandhiji grew weaker and weaker every day. Kasturbai was all the time by his side and looked after him. The whole of India was in great suspense and anxiety. Men and women prayed for his life, and all eyes and ears were turned anxiously to the Aga Khan's Palace. There were protests and strikes all over the country, and in Delhi three Indian members of the Viceroy's Council tendered their resignations. But the government did not yield an inch.
At long last the ordeal was over; Gandhiji, on the 3rd of March, broke his fast with a glass of orange-juice given to him by Kasturbai. Miraben sang some Christian hymns, friends recited the Holy Koran, and Parsees, Hindus and Buddhists all read to him passages from their Holy Scriptures.
The country heaved a sigh of relief when the fast ended.
Kasturba Passes away
But Bapu's trials were not yet over. He had hardly recovered from the blow of his dear friend Mahadev Desai's death, when Kasturbai fell ill. Efforts were made to persuade her to return home, but she would not leave Gandhiji. It seemed as though she knew she would die, and so did not want to leave her husband. Her health continued to decline, and at last she died."
"How bitterly Bapu must have cried over Kasturbai's death !' said Hari.
"My child," answered the mother, "any one else would have completely broken down in the face of such a calamity. But even in such a crisis, Gandhiji did not lose faith in God, nor did he forget to pray for his suffering countrymen.
A memorial was raised for Kasturbai alongside that of Mahadev Desai, and as long as Bapu was detained in the Aga Khan's Palace, he would lay flowers on both the samadhis and offer prayers everyday. And even today hundreds of people visit the palace on Sundays and pay their homage to the memory of the departed souls.
There was sorrow and calamity on all sides, and Bapu was trying to brave all this alone. But there are limits even to the endurance of a man like Gandhiji. His strength began to decline and he fell ill. When his condition became serious, the government felt that it would be both safe and wise to set him free. They knew that his death in jail would throw the whole country into chaos. And, so, on the 6th of May, Gandhiji and his companions were unconditionally released. Before leaving the palace, Gandhiji paid his last homage at the two samadhis, and as he laid the flowers, everyone's heart was touched, and all eyes were moist with tears."
"Yes, mother, I remember very well how happy we were when we heard of Bapu's release, and how we celebrated it in our house."
"My son, we were not the only ones who were happy at his release. There was rejoicing and happiness all over the country."