We were at Calcutta with Bapu at the time of the attainment of freedom after years of slavery.
The Hindus of Noakhali feared an outburst of
disturbances on the 15th August 1947, and hence Bapu went to Calcutta from
Kashmir to reach Noakhali on that day.
At the time he reached Calcutta, there was an
outburst of communal violence there and so Shri Prafulla Ghosh, the then
Prime Minister of Bengal, asked him to stop there for two days. He agreed to
do so. Though the outrage took a turn for the worse in Calcutta he decided
to adhere to his original programme to go to Noakhali; and we packed up
accordingly. But just then Shri Shaheed Suhravardy came to see him and said,
"You please proceed to Noakhali after you have quelled the riots in
Calcutta. Nobody but you can quench the fire that is aflame here." Bapu
replied, "I cannot do anything single-handed. I am prepared to be your
secretary; but as I have promised to go to Noakhali. I ought to proceed.
However, I am prepared to stay here and quell the riots, provided you take
up the responsibility for Noakhali. But tor bringing peace here you shall
have to stay with me all along and live like a fakir."
After thinking for a while Shri Suhrawardy
said, "All right, I shall send a man to Noakhali and try my best." Bapu
said, "Trying your best won't suffice. You give me your answer after mature
consideration; because, just as, I have said that I shall go on a fast unto
death if anything happened in Bihar, so also I shall be justified in taking
the same course for Noakhali if further disturbances lake place there."
These talks were held on the 13th August. How
cleverly Bapu can find a way out! He put all the responsibility for the
outrage at Noakhali and for future peace on the people there and so Shaheed
Saheb was baffled for a while. For him it was not a difficult task; for
responsible Muslims of Noakhali, who had charges brought against them, had
been acquitted, and were used to obeying Shaheed Saheb. Bapu had indeed a
wonderful method of getting work done by the guilty person himself, by
putting all the responsibility for future good behaviour on him. Thus he
would venture to hand over all that he had to a servant who daily stole and
in this manner appeal to the best in him, and awaken his sense of honour and
The next day Shaheed Saheb came with his
group. Ail of them promised, "We will see that there is perfect peace in
Noakhali and we will be on the guard to prevent future trouble. But you
please stay here." Thus Bapu accomplished his work in Noakhali without
stirring out of Calcutta. Muslims went to Noakhali and offered every kind
of help to Hindus in order to allay their fear Suhrawardy Saheb agreed to
stay with Bapu day and night. They both agreed not to have any interviews
without the presence of the other and to issue joint statements only. On the
14th afternoon we went to stay in Haidari Mansion, Beliaghata, where Muslims
dared not go.
The building was very dirty and we had not
experienced such inconveniences as we did here, even in the Noakhali tour.
There was only one room and numerous people came for darshan. Bapu could not
get even a moment's peace. Some young men were angry with him on the day we
went to stay there. They said, "You are an enemy of the Hindus. You have
come here only because a few Muslims have been killed the last three or four
days. Where were you up till now?" Bapu smiled in reply and calmed them down
by saying. "You are all youths. But to me you are like children. Even my
youngest son Devadas is older than everyone of you. Why can't you realize
that I, a Hindu by birth, a Hindu by action, can never be an enemy of the
Hindus? Who was it but I that went to Noakhali? I was going there today too.
I want help from you. I can't do anything single-handed. It is in your
hands to be either protectors or destroyers. If you destroy trie I do not
mind. I am old. I don't wish to live long. I have served enough. I have come
here merely to explain and calm you down if I can. I am a servant of both
Hindus and Muslims. To me all religions are the same. Now see, have I not
arranged for permanent peace in Noakhali, even from here?" He then told them
how Shaheed Saheb had joined him in this work.
Could it have been a premonition when he said,
"It is in your hands to be either protectors or destroyers?" For in the end
it was the Hindus who turned out to be his destroyers!
Those young men were pacified and they
themselves then began to spread Bapu's message of peace. And in Calcutta,
which was till then the scene of mutual
slaughter between Hindus and Muslims, people of both the communities came
together in a lorry to Bapu, with sky-rending shouts of Hindu Muslim Bhai
Hain (Hindus and Muslims are brothers), Hindu Muslim Ek Ho (Let Hindus and
Muslims unite), at 11-30 p.m. i.e. just half an hour before the clock
ushered in the day of freedom. This noisy atmosphere of warm fraternization
continued for the whole night. Bapu could not get a wink of sleep, as not
only men but also women and children of both communities came together to
him as if for darshan of the father of their freedom, and as if begging
forgiveness for their misdeeds and vowing not to behave so in the future. So
at any rate it appeared. Every city celebrated this great day with blazing
lights, processions, etc. but Bapu's way of celebrating it by creating
permanent Unity within half an hour, surpassed them all. And ever since
there has not been any serious untoward incident in Noakhali. Bapu's workers
are there now as they were then.
Bapu had asked us to fast that day but I
objected and said, "Bapu, shouldn't you give us sweets today?" To that he
replied, "You know that I ask you to fast on occasions like marriage, birth
or death and especially so on auspicious occasions. Besides, from today we
shoulder a great burden of responsibilities. Just as when we fast on
ekadashi (a holy day) our minds are drawn more towards devotion, so also we
shall become more conscious of our responsibilities by observing a fast on
this day. Moreover, the spinning wheel is the weapon of freedom and
we can hardly afford to forget it. The observance of silence is equally
important, for through it we pray to the Almighty to keep us always awake to
our responsibilities. All this is necessary to save us from pomp, luxury and
pride when we get power. From today we should become more and more humble."
Bapu's face was serene. Within half an hour he
had brought about an unimaginable change in the whole atmosphere and yet
there was not even an iota of pride in him. On the contrary he said, "What
can any man do single- handed? Why do you congratulate me alone? This
achievement is due to the co-operation of all of you."
Bapu and the rest of us observed the day by
spinning and a fast. He addressed all the local Ministers who had come to
him for his blessings, "You see, from today onwards you wear a crown of
thorns. Even after getting power you should remain as simple as you are
today. Take care that pride does not possess you; for power is a great
allurement. Don't go in for pomp and luxury. Do not be tempted by the
glamour of authority. Set an example to the public by your simplicity,
humility, non-violence and tolerance. Villages have to be uplifted. The
down-trodden have to be raised. Never give up truth. Now starts your real
test. During the British days, in a sense, there was no test for you; but
from today a series of tests begins. May God give you complete success in
The 15th August, 1947 was a Friday and it was
on a Friday that he died as a victim to a Hindu's fury. It is our fault that
he is no more with us to advise us! Let us remember his wise words and pray
to God to give us strength to follow them, as a means of repentance for that
crime of murder committed by us on him.