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The Last Hours of Mahatma Gandhi

The Last Hours of Mahatma Gandhi

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Published by Vishal Johri

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Published by: Vishal Johri on Jun 24, 2012
Copyright:Attribution Non-commercial


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The Last Hours Of Mahatma Gandhi
By Stephen Murphy
PUNCTUALLY at 3.30am on Friday, January 30, 1948, Mahatma Gandhi awoketo greet the last morning he would ever see.
He was in the tense atmosphere of Delhi, staying in a ground-floor guest roomof Birla house, the mansion of industrialist and benefactor G. D. Birla located inAlbuquerque Road. Gandhi had arrived in the strife-torn capital of newlyindependent India on September 9, 1947 from Calcutta, where he hadperformed a miracle of peace-making. By January 30, almost four months hadpassed since his 78th, and last, birthday. It was 12 days since the successfulend of his fast to bring about a reunion of hearts in Delhi. But 10 days before,there had been an aborted attempt on his life during the evening prayermeeting at Birla House. With the situation in Delhi having stabilised, Gandhiwas again looking to the future, but his life was in grave danger - and he knewit.
The Mahatma's last day would be as methodical and crowded as any other.Upon getting up from his wooden plank, he roused the other members of hisparty. They included attendants Brij Krishna Chandiwala and Manu and Abha,his grand-nieces. His physician, Dr Sushila Nayar, who was normally with him,was away in Pakistan. He brushed his teeth with a twig like any ordinaryIndian.
At 3.45 am prayers were held on the same cold verandah where the party hadslept. With Sushila away, Manu led the Bhagavad Gita recitation. They recitedthe first and second shlokas. Another female member had failed to rise in timefor prayers. This disturbed Gandhi. He mused whether she should leave him,and concluded by saying, "I do not like these signs. I hope God does not keepme here very long to witness these things." When Manu asked Gandhi whichprayer she should chant for him, Gandhi chose a favourite Gujarati hymn. Thesong begins, "Whether weary or unweary, O man, do not tarry, stop not, yourstruggle if single-handed - continue, and do not tarry!"
After prayers, leaning on his "walking sticks", Manu and Abha, the old manmoved slowly into the inner room where Manu covered his legs with a warm
blanket. It was still dark outside as Gandhi began his day's work. He correctedthe draft of his proposal for a new Congress constitution written the previousnight. This document was to become known as his Last Will and Testament tothe nation. At 4.45 he drank a glass of lemon, honey and hot water, and anhour later, his daily glass of orange juice. While working, because of weaknesscaused by the fast, he became tired and allowed himself a sleep.
Waking after only half an hour, Gandhi asked for his correspondence file. Theprevious day he had written a letter to Kishorlal Mashruwala. One of twomatters the letter discussed was a tentative plan for Gandhi to soon leaveDelhi and go to Sevagram. The letter had been mislaid, by Manu, and notposted. But it was found and Gandhi gave it to be posted, the last of manythousands. Manu had also wished to convey a message to Mashruwala, whohad recently left Gandhi's service. She asked Gandhi whether they werereturning to Sevagram on February 2, in which case they would be seeingMashruwala soon anyway. Gandhi replied, "Who knows about the future? If wecome to a decision regarding Sevagram, I shall announce it at the eveningprayer meeting. It will then be relayed on the radio at night."
Also a consequence of his fast, Gandhi suffered from a bad cough. To treat ithe would take palm-jaggery lozenges with powdered cloves. But by thismorning the clove powder had finished. Instead of joining him in his morningwalk, a stroll up and down the room, Manu sat down to prepare some more. "Ishall join you presently," she said to Gandhi. "Otherwise there will be nothingat hand at night when it is needed." But always focusing on the here-and-now,Gandhi replied, "Who knows what is going to happen before nightfall or evenwhether I shall be alive. If at night I am still alive you can easily prepare somethen." Manu, although well aware of Gandhi's principled stance against modernmedicines, could not refrain from offering him penicillin lozenges instead.Unyielding, Gandhi asked her how she could offer him such things when hisfaith was in Ramanama and prayer.
The Mahatma's first appointment for the day was at 7 am, with Rajen Nehruwho was going to America. Gandhi spoke with her while taking his morningconstitutional in the room. He had not yet regained enough strength for hiscustomary long walk in the open air.Next Gandhi was to have a massage. Passing through his secretary Pyarelal's
room, Gandhi handed Pyarelal his draft submission for the new Congressconstitution, written for the forthcoming Congress Working Committeemeeting. Gandhi asked him to go through it carefully. "Fill any gaps that youmay find in my thinking," he instructed. "I have prepared it under heavystrain." Brij Krishna gave Gandhi the half-hour massage in a room adjacent tohis sitting room. Two electric heaters were needed to warm the chilly air. Whilelaying on the table Gandhi digested the morning newspapers.
After the massage Gandhi asked Pyarelal whether he had finished the revision.Gandhi also requested him to write a note on how, in the light of his work inNoakhali, he believed an impending rice crisis in Madras province could behandled. Manu then gave Gandhi his bath. During this he asked her whethershe was doing the hand exercises he had prescribed. Manu told him that shedid not like the exercises, then listened to a long but gentle rebuke from hermaster, who told her of the responsibility he had taken for her health andmoral development.
After the bath Manu weighed the little man (who was about five feet and fiveinches tall). He was 109 1/2 pounds. He had regained two-and-a-half poundssince ending his fast. His strength was returning. Pyarelal thought he lookedrefreshed after his bath. The strain of the previous night had disappeared.When someone told Gandhi that a woman member of Sevagram Ashram hadmissed her train that morning because there had been no conveyance for theseveral mile ride to Wardha station, he asked in all seriousness, "Why did shenot walk to the station?" Then Gandhi did his morning Bengali writing exercise.Today he wrote, "Bhairab's home is in Naihati. Shaila is his eldest daughter.Today Shaila gets married to Kailash."
By now it was 9.30, and time for Gandhi's morning meal. The meal includedcooked vegetables, 12 ounces of goat's milk, four tomatoes, four oranges,carrot juice and a decoction of ginger, sour limes and aloes. While eatingGandhi talked with Pyarelal about the draft Congress Constitution, to whichPyarelal had made some alterations. Pyarelal also reported on the outcome of a meeting the previous day with the leader of the extremist Hindu Mahasabha,Dr Shyama Prasad Mookerjee. Gandhi had sent Pyarelal to inform DrMookerjee of speeches of a particular Hindu Mahasabha worker inciting theassassination of some Congress leaders. Could not Dr Mookerjee stop these

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