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Gandhiji’s Impressions of My Uncle

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Raja Ramanathan

Raja Ramanathan was born in Independent India, in Calcutta. He has spent the last sixty years or so growing up in different parts of the world, Singapore, England, India, the Middle East, and, in the last twenty years, Canada.

 

Before Independence, Reuters functioned in India as the Associated Press of India (API). Soon after we got freedom, it became Press Trust of India, or PTI, as we now call it.

When Gandhiji was imprisoned in the Aga Khan palace, in Poona, between 1942 and 1944, my uncle, P S Gopalan, was assigned by API as the reporter to attend Gandhiji's daily press conference. My uncle later become PTI's Chief Editor.

Only the Brits would do something so crazy, arrest a person for alleged anti-Empire activities, imprison him in a palace, and allow him a daily press conference where leading news agencies sent their reporters. Can you think of any political power doing that today? The deepest and dirtiest dungeon is where they would throw their critics.

(Editor's note: An answer may be found in the Historical Dictionary of the British Empire, Volume 1, edited by James Stuart Olson and Robert Shadle, which states (page 564) : ... the intensification of communal and nationalistic politics in India after World War II, combined with the financial realities and postwar priorities of postwar Britain, made it clear to most that the British could no longer continue their sovereignty over India without the consent of the majority of the Indian people. In other words, in 1942, possibly the British had already begun to unwind the British Raj.)

Anyway, my uncle lived quite far from the Aga Khan palace. So he got API to sanction him the princely sum of perhaps Rs 10 or 20 to buy a bicycle. Every day, my uncle would cycle the distance from his home to the Aga Khan palace to see Gandhiji, listen to him, and file the press report. Several other press reporters would also come.

One day, my uncle was late in coming. The other press reporters were getting restive.  One of them told the Mahatma, "Why are you waiting for Gopalan, we are here ..."

Gandhiji, I am told, looked up and said, "If you write what I say, India will hear. When Gopalan writes and sends it on the news wire, the whole world will hear. So, I am waiting for Gopalan."

This story is based on family lore.  However, given how shrewd Gandhiji was, I suspect it was true.

I once asked both my uncle and my dad to write down their memories of India's great leaders, since they were journalists during the days of the freedom struggle. They both shrugged off the suggestion, saying that that they had better things to do; my dad, for the Theosophical Society, and, my uncle, in his pursuit of spiritual matters. In fact, my father had asked my mother to destroy all his lecture notes, writings and correspondence after his death, which she did.  The only written document he allowed to remain was his hand written book of prayers, which he willed to me.

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© Raja Ramanathan 2014

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