We had read much about the constructive work that Anna Hazare was doing in Ralegan Siddhi and had never thought it necessary to visit his village over the years. We sometimes got a glimpse of this short, lean, dark man with an ever cheerful face, during the last two decades when he was in and out of our city. He was then pushing for the Right to Information which has today become our best tool for social activism. I saw him on two short fasts, once in front of Pune’s collector office, and another time in the pilgrim town of Alandi on the city outskirts. Then Anna undertook his historic fast in New Delhi this year and the whole country woke up to listen to this little man. I too felt compelled to march in two big rallies in my city supporting his ‘India against corruption’. Unfortunately most of my local Gandhian and socialist friends never joined.
What charisma did Anna have that drew so many young people to his calling, I wondered. He was seen to splash Gandhi’s photo all over his protest banners and utter Gandhi’s words often too. The English media reported favorably about his honesty, his simple living and his love for his village Ralegan Siddhi. There were many criticisms too and conspiracy theories of his saffron links. I decided to find out for my self by visiting his village.
We visited Ralegan Siddhi on Dassera. Anna was in the news almost everyday since he had broken his Delhi fast. He had moved residence from the old Yadav Baba temple in the village to new quarters in the Padmavati temple. As expected, a few Hindi TV channels were waiting in the mid-day sun for Anna to come out of his room and address the small crowd of simple farmers who had come from all over the district. The last of the monsoon showers kept the weather pleasant and our energies high. An old, majestic banyan tree in the temple compound was an awesome sight, but even more eye catching was a large, brand new, statue of Mahatma Gandhi which was being prepared outside Anna’s living quarters. I thought, this must be the first time that such a big statue of Gandhi was placed within a temple premises.
Then Anna emerged from inside and the farmers squatted on the ground. He was the same man I had seen visit my city before, only this time he was potbellied. He looked so chubby and healthy that no one would believe that he had just ended a long fast! His face was ever smiling, calm and alert. He gave his message in simple words. Dassera is the victory of good over evil, when Ravana is destroyed. We must destroy the Ravana in our hearts first, before we destroy the Ravana of corruption in our nation, he said; as Gandhi would have said. Only when we have purified our own selves must we go out to purify the society around us. Similarly, start working at the local, village level first and then move to the nation level, he advised the activists present there. Most social workers want to reach the top, they want to reach Delhi and in the process forget their own villages and towns.
Give up alcohol, smoking and uncleanliness, were his next messages similar to Gandhi. He had never visited a doctor nor fallen ill because he had no addictions. In fact, he laughed, he had never even married, and unlike married people who constantly worry about their homes, the whole nation was his family. Do not accumulate possessions, he said. Death is inevitable. We come into this world with nothing and will leave with nothing. I was reminded of the Buddhist teachings I had just read.
As Anna kept talking, the crowd listened silently without moving. As soon as he finished, everyone pushed their way forward to touch his feet and hands or talk to him. He remained unmoved with all the affection. I too got close to him and handed him a book of Gandhian sayings. He looked up at me, smiled and said thank you. In that brief moment, I saw the heart of a man full of equanimity and serenity. I thought in that instant, here was a soul that must be liberated. No wonder he could follow the difficult Gandhian path that most of us young Gandhians were struggling to tread. Yeah, the trip was worth making just to realize that.