Gandhigiri in the family

It has taken Munnabhai to bring Gandhiji and October 2 back into focus. However, 50 years ago, as children we associated Bapu's birthday with flag-hoisting and community charkha spinning. Our father was an enthusiastic Gandhian and he was as excited about Gandhi Jayanti as mother was about the pujas that followed. Until he passed away 10 years ago, dad organised the local children in 'shramdan' and is still remembered as Gandhi-tata.

My two younger brothers were differently initiated into Gandhian ways and we interpreted him selectively. I was often at the receiving end of father's wrath for straying from the straight and narrow. But when the penalty had been paid and the mood grew more congenial, I would ask father about the contradiction between his professed faith in Gandhian ahimsa and the way he used the cane. The stoical reply was that this was in keeping with the Gandhian spirit: legitimate force could be resorted to in pursuit of a higher duty, in this case disciplining a wayward son.

One of my brothers who was the most well-behaved of us used Gandhian strategy to out-flank father. When he wanted his way, he would resort to long periods of silence and victory would be his. But it was the other one who had the most endearing interpretation of the Gandhian dictum. As a toddler he was addicted to sugar. The only food he liked was milk and rice with lots of sugar. Dire predictions were made about his health but he would not budge.

The story about the mother who sought Bapu's advice when faced with a similar predicament was narrated to him. He heard it with the rapt attention of a five-year-old and zeroed in on the part about Gandhiji asking the mother to come back after a month, because he wanted to himself abstain before proffering advice. "OK, give me also one month and then I will decide," said he. The deal was struck and our dear brother tucked away into huge amounts of sugar. The month was up. Will you give it up now, he was asked by father. "No, I am not like Bapu. I like sugar and this is the truth. And we have to respect the truth." Satyameva jayate in the garb of a toddler's 'gandhigiri'?

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