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The Image-Maker ?
Every month Gandhi faced a host of meetings, a barrage of visitors, a flood of letters. How on earth was he to manage his time? How was he to decide from among these hundreds of visitors and meetings which really needed his time and which did not?
If Gandhi was able to find his way through this maze of appointments successfully, it was largely because of one man: Mahadev Desai. Mahadev was officially his secretary, but he was much more than that.
A highly educated man, Mahadev had a B.A. and L.L.B in days when it was not so common. It was at the time of the Champaran Satyagraha in 1918 that he threw in his lot with Gandhi. Soon he was at home in the office, the guest house and the kitchen. He looked after the many guests and, at the same time, must have saved ten years of Gandhi's time by diverting from him unwanted visitors.
In all this, he also found time to write week after week in papers such as Young India and the Harijan. His writings showed the people something of what the freedom struggle really meant. Few writers can have commanded so many regular readers of Mahadev's stories that made Gandhi real to millions. In them, readers all over the world came to see Gandhi as a lovable human being.
Perhaps the affection showered on Gandhi owes much to this portrayal. Mahadev always stressed on the human, witty personality of Gandhi. He depicted the Mahatma as one who reached out effectively to common people from all parts of the country and even the world.
But then, as Verrier Elwin questioned himself while writing on Mahadev, "Was the Gandhi that Mahadev showed us week by week the true Gandhi, or was he a Gandhi sentimentalized, romanticized, tidied-up as it were for presentation to the public?" Elwin, of course, goes ahead to answer this question. But in the meantime, what do you think?