Gandhi and the 'Bridal Chamber'

Everybody in Santiniketan was on a tiptoe of expectancy. Students and teachers, men and women, and even the great poet Rabindranath Tagore (Gurudev) shared in the excitement. Gandhi, accompanied by Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru, was arriving on a three day visit. The guest house was soon set in readiness. Student volunteers were enrolled to maintain order, peace and tranquility of Santiniketan. The very abode of peace would surely be invaded by crowds from the villages around. The reception was to be held at Gurudev's beautiful little cottage. After the reception Gandhi would be taken to the guest house in procession, with boys and girls chanting the soul-stirring melodies set apart for Bapu, and the students of Santiniketan's renowned 'Kala Bhavan,' artists all, who learnt at the feet of the great Nandalal Bose, set about decorating it. And what a thing of enchanting loveliness they made of it! They used only simple little things - green ferns, flowers, painted mud vases, hand printed khadi. But the beauty of it all took one's breath away.

Gandhi arrived early one morning. With Bapu were Jawaharlal, Mahadev Desai and Satish Bapu of Khadi Pratisthan. The reception at the Poet's cottage was an impressive ceremony, in the ancient Vedic style, as is the custom at Santiniketan. Gurudev himself smeared Gandhi's forehead with sandal paste and kum-kum and embraced his guest. The women sounded the lulu-lulu. After this ceremony, the poet himself conducted the party to the guest house, and they were shown into their different apartments. Gurudev led Gandhi to the room set apart for him. Bapu stepped across the threshold, took one glance at the resplendent decorations and burst into peal of laughter.

"What is all this?" he demanded. 'Why bring me to this bridal chamber?'

Gurudev joined in the joke. 'Please remember you are in the abode of a poet,' he said.

Gandhi would not give in,'Well, where then is the bride? he queried with irrepressible merriment. There were ladies present; did they blush, one wonders. But the poet's answer was prompt; 'Santiniketan, the ever young queen of our hearts, welcomes you.'

'But, surely, she would hardly care to look twice at the old toothless pauper that I am'!

'No,'rejoined Gurudev, 'Our Queen has loved Truth and worshipped it unreservedly all these long years.'

'So, said Bapu,'there is hope even for the tooth less old man? With a few more pleasantries Gurudev left his distinguished guests to settle down to rest.

Early next morning the poet strolled to the guest house with all a host's anxiety and solicitude for his visitor's comfort. He found they had long been up. Gandhi and party had performed their accustomed prayers at 4.30 in the morning. The whole camp was now busy. Satish Babu was demonstrating to a group of boys and girls how to card cotton with a hand-bow. The hum of the bow was music to the ears of Gurudev.

'Are you trying to put the Ashram girls and their Sitars to shame?' Gurudev asked Satish Babu.

Shri Mahadev Desai was teaching spinning to another bunch of youngsters. The poet passed on to Bapu's room. What a sight, alas, met his eyes! All the adornments thrown helter-skelter. The cot had been dragged out into the open terrace, for Gandhi always slept under the open sky. The vases and ferns had been pushed into a corner to make room for spinning wheels and a heap of files. Now it was Gurudev's turn to laugh.

'Hare Ram-Hare Ram,' he cried in mock horror. 'Where has the bridal chamber gone?' The bride's room I see is here, but has the poor bride fled?'

Gandhi, as he stood up to receive Gurudev, said with an answering burst of merriment, 'But I warned you, the bride would not care to look at an old toothless man!'

It was all such glorious fun, this thrust and counter-thrust; one might imagine the Gods themselves eavesdropping.