"BAPU"(2)

Reminiscences of Mahatma Gandhi

His laughter - so childlike, so serene - so full of human warmth and understanding, still rings in my ears.

It was in Patna that I heard it for the first time. It was during Dr. Naicker's and my visit to India almost a year ago. It happened thus. We were sleeping out in the open, 'neath a clear starry night, on the lawn of Dr. Mahmud`s residence close to the banks of the Ganges. Viewing it from the lawn one was struck by the awe and majesty of the mighty oceanic river as she elegantly meandered on her life-sustaining mission into the Bay of Bengal.

On that particular night, not many feet from where we slept, there lay on an Indian peasant bed, Bapu, the soul of India's freedom.

While the Ganges, the life-stream of India and its millions, flowed quietly in the dark, this grassy piece of Indian soil on its bank held demurely within its embrace one of the greatest moulders of Indian history.

Just before sunrise, I was awakened from my sound slumber by ripples of laughter. I put out my head from underneath a hand-woven khadi bed sheet which I was using as a covering and lo! what did I behold! Bapu, with a staff in one hand: and the other resting securely on the shoulder of a devotee, just about to begin his daily morning walk. He stood in front of my bed and laughed heartily - a laugh which was all his own. And then I heard him say: "Are you still sleeping, my son - don't worry - go on sleeping." And he went on his way.

His laughter will not be heard again. It has been silenced by the bullets of a mad man. But the reverberations of his laughter will not cease to ring in my ears, as I am sure, it will not, in the ears of all those who had the privilege of being in his intimate company.

His laughter was the embodiment of India`s will to freedom, of the hope of the countless millions of peasants and toilers for a better life, of the desire of the common man everywhere for peace.

Bapu is dead. He gave his life's blood for his people`s happiness. It was spilled on the road of India`s freedom which he, with his sublime spirit and superhuman strength, had blown into the rock of British imperialism.

His laughter will never again issue forth from his toothless ascetic mouth. But the characteristics of his laughter have not gone with him. They are repeated a million-fold in the simple folk of India, the children of the Ganges, from whom he sprang and of whom he was a part. Bapu`s laughter is a laughter of a people, which at long last has stepped across Freedom`s threshold.

I hope that his laughter, the laughter of universal goodwill and brotherhood, will help to dissipate the clouds of communal dissension which have gathered on the Indian horizon and transcending above its confines pervade the world sorely in need of peace.


2 From Passive Resister, Johannesburg, February 13, 1948