Gandhi’s exile

Published January 30, 2014
Gandhi has not left the city of lights as yet. -Photo by Akhtar Balouch
Gandhi has not left the city of lights as yet. -Photo by Akhtar Balouch

Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi is as big a name in the history of today’s South Asia and the pre-partition sub-continent.

Gandhi Jee acquired a degree in law from England. He was a gentleman with nice suits in his closets.

On page 18 of his book, Gandhi Aur Nehru Ka Tassawur-e-Zindagi (Gandhi and Nehru’s Perception of Life), Syed Abid Hussain writes that about a life changing event that Gandhi Jee himself narrates:

“It happened a week after I had reached South Africa. My purpose of presence in the country was purely materialistic and quite selfish. I was young man then who had only recently returned from England and wanted to earn some good money.

“The client who had called me there asked me to travel from Durban to Pretoria. It was not an easy journey. Trains only went as far as Charles Mount, whence one had to ride a horse wagon to Johannesburg. I had a first class ticket for the train, but it did not include a sleeping berth or bed. These exclusive tickets could be acquired from Pietermaritzburg. Before that, the sentry asked me to vacate the seat and move to the freight bogie. When I disagreed, they left me behind. I was left behind shivering the cold.

“Here comes the real life changing creative experience. I feared for my life as I entered the dark waiting room. A gora (Caucasian) sat there. He was all the more reason for me to be afraid. I asked myself: What am I to do now? Should I return to India or should I move on in putting my faith in God?”

That was probably the reason he chanted the slogan for Ram Raj as soon as he got to India. He started wearing his dhoti (a traditional men's garment worn in India, Pakistan and Bangladesh) and flew the flag of rebellion against the British Raj, joining the struggle for the Indian independence. Gandhi Jee’s movement had its foundations in nonviolence. People of all faiths answered his call.

Professor Muhammad Masood Ahmed writes in his book, Tehreek-e-Aazaadi-e-Hind Aur Alsawad Al’Aazam (The Indian Independence Movement and the Vast Majority) on page 108:

“In 1920 in Bareli, on the eve of Mr Gandhi’s arrival in town, the secretaries of the Congress Committee and the Khilafat Committee coordinated to run an advertisement in that paper next day. It said, ‘Thank God that on October the 16th, 1920, the leader of our country is coming to our city. We hope that our city welcomes him in the manner that is appropriate for a man of his calibre.’

“The members of the Anjuman Islamiya (Bareli) issued a press statement, which was published in the Punjabi Gazette, Bareli. It was more a song of praise and appreciation, and is quite long to be presented here. However, following are a few lines from it:

چل فخر قوم حضرت گاندھی کو دیکھ آئیں
جوش و خروش کی آندھی کو دیکھ آئیں
فیض کرم سے جن کے بریلی بنی دلھن
اک اک گلی ہے رشک خیابان نسترن

“Let us go and witness the pride of the nation, sir Gandhi Let us go and witness the storm of enthusiasm [The one] By whose grace Bareli is a bride [The one] Whose welcome makes the streets themselves envious”

Gandhi Jee was the leader of both the Hindus and Muslims of India. However, he would never compromise his policy of nonviolence. That was the reason behind his almost non-existent stand over the death sentence issued for the communist revolutionary, Bhagat Singh by the British court.

In appreciation of Gandhi Jee’s services to the people and in acknowledgement of his greatness, a vast garden in Karachi was named after him. It was the biggest garden from the British times; and stretched across the same points where the East India Company had erected its first factory in the year 1799.

Before 1934, this garden was called the Victoria Garden. However, when Mahatma Gandhi visited Karachi in 1934, he received a huge welcome in the very same garden. It was arranged by the Karachi Municipal Corporation. In that event, it was announced that the name of the place was changed from Victoria Garden to Mahatma Gandhi Garden.

This is proof enough that roads and historical places have been receiving favours, wanted or unwanted christenings even in the days of a united India. What is interesting is that Gandhi Jee himself did not utter a word of disagreement over the garden being named after him.

After the partition, the habit of changing names of places overshadowed any respect for history in Pakistan, most probably another bloom from the seed of hatred. We made sure not a single street, road of place which carried the name of a foreigner, British or Indian, or even Hindu for that matter, remains associated with its identity and historical importance. We changed them all.

In the past three years the pious and righteous administration of Saddar Town, Karachi has changed the names of about 400 streets and roads in its jurisdiction, a gift of novel christenings only for those streets and roads that carried a Hindu’s or a non-Muslim’s name.

Renowned researcher and historian, Dr Mubarak Ali writes in his book, Gumshuda Taareekh (Lost History):

“It has been the tradition of the conquerors to create their own selection of memorials, signs, removing all those historical presences which reminded the conquered of their past. All this so that the conquered people would not ever get inspired to rebel against their latest conquerors, and that the subjugated would always acknowledge the rulers as the sole power without any references to the past.

“The British even gave renaming Taj Mahal to something of their choice a try. They were more interested in proving that the people of the sub-continent were not as skilled a people to have managed the construction of such a beautiful architectural wonder.”

Dr Mubarak sahib is right in saying so, but in perplexing times such as ours, the small population of Hindus and Christians in Karachi, minor minorities, if you will, does not seem to be the lot that will be inspired so much by the names of streets, roads and places that they will actually give the venture of liberating themselves a free country some thoughts, and that, too in the Islamic Republic of Pakistan. Or do they?

Some time ago the British Prime Minister visited India. He went to the Jalianwala Bagh. He also apologised for the actions of Michael O’Dwyer, Lieutenant Governor, Punjab, in British India, the man who ordered his battalion to open fire on the nonviolent protestors in Jalianwala Bagh. However, the British PM denied the Indian request of returning the Kohinoor to the it’s rightful owner state, India.

There was statue of Mahatma Gandhi in Karachi. According to a senior journalist, Abdul Majeed Chapra, the statue stood on the present Court Road, previously known as the Kings Way, opposite the Sindh High Court building. Prominent journalist, Abdul Razzaq Abro says that the statue had been raised by the Indian Merchants Association. It was a bronze structure, the size of grown man, and was nothing less than a masterpiece. Mahatma Gandhi was shown a dervish in that statue. The commemoration under this bronze Gandhi’s feet read: “Mahatma Gandhi – the reputability of freedom, truth and nonviolence.”

The Gandhi Garden was one of the main centres for political gatherings before the partition. Muhammad Usman Damohi writes on page 529 of his book, Karachi Taareekh Kay Aaeenay Main:

“It was Lady Hidayatullah’s efforts that made the first political gathering of the women of the Muslim League of India in Gandhi Garden possible. It was such a successful endeavour that the people of Congress in Karachi were left biting their nails. The second political gathering of the Muslim League women was also the result of Lady Hidayatullah’s efforts. It, too, was held at the Gandhi Garden.

All this proves that a Gandhi Garden existed in Karachi before Partition. However, its location is unknown today.

Although Pakistan has exiled Gandhi Jee along with his statue, but Gandhi has not left the city of lights as yet. He still lives here in the cornerstone of the Karachi Chamber of Commerce, which he inaugurated on July 06, 1938. He can also be seen with his emblemised spectacles by the iron railing in front of one or two rickety buildings in the Tyre Wali Gali of the Urdu Bazaar in Karachi.

It would have been better had Gandhi Jee disagreed to renaming the Victoria Garden as Gandhi Garden. Perhaps that would have saved him from being exiled from Pakistan. We, Pakistanis only exiled him, but his fast until death so that Pakistan could collect its assets from India earned him an exile from the world as a gift from the Indians.

Translated by Ayaz Laghari

Read this blog in Urdu here.


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