Mahatma Gandhi Community Forum

"Travelling with Gandhiji is a remarkable experience. I accompanied him on his tour in Bengal, Assam and Madras in the cold weather of 1945-46. Everywhere the enthusiasm of the people for him was unbounded. In some cases it was beyond control, and people stopped his train and demanded darshan (auspicious glimpse) even at odd hours of the night before they would let the train pass. On the night that we were travelling from Wardha to Calcutta, he was so tired with the noise and the shouting throughout the day that he sat in his seat exhausted, with his fingers in his ears. It was a pathetic sight. He went to bed at 9:30 p.m. with cotton wool stuffed in his ears.... Our worst experience was as we travelled through Bengal to Assam. Mobs stopped the train repeatedly by pulling the alarm chain. They flashed torches on Gandhiji's face to have a look at him, and banged the windows of his compartment to make him get up and give them darshan. We were entirely at their mercy. Because of being held up the mail took 131/2 hours to cover distance usually made in 61/2 hours. After this bad experience, the Government of Bengal would not allow him to travel by ordinary trains. Gandhiji protested in vain, saying that as a public worker he did not want any special facilities. He believed that public money should not be used for providing comforts to people who were journeying at public cost. The Government, however, was adamant. If ultimately he yielded and permitted a special to be provided for him, it was because he was told that the Railway could not afford to have ordinary trains detained for several hours on the way, and that such delay caused other passengers and the Railway great inconvenience. So thereafter we had to travel by special trains. During the journey, whenever the train stopped at stations, he collected money for the Harijan Fund. People often underwent torture to get through the crowd to place money in his hand. They pushed their way through, and in the process got crushed, or tore their clothes, or lost their chappals. Still they persisted till they could reach his outstretched hand. It often happened that someone was at the point of placing money in his hand, and Gandhiji was bending (down) to take the gift, holding on to the window sill to prevent himself from falling out, the crowd would push and the gift receded. He would laugh like a child heartily stretch his hand out all the more till he secured the money with evident glee. At one station in Andhra, I noticed a woman holding in her hand a pair of gold bangles and trying hard to get to him. She struggled for well over five minutes although she was within a few feet to where he stood. At times she was pushed towards him, at tines away from him. She could make little progress and seemed in great distress. In the meantime Gandhiji went off to the other side of the compartment to give darshan to the throngs who demanded his presence there. The woman, however, continued to struggle to get to within reach of his window, thinking that he might still come back to it. On seeing this, I spoke to him about her and brought him back. But just as she was pushing through desperately, the train whistled and started off. She made one last frantic effort, but was mercilessly pushed back by the police. And there she stood on the platform, disconsolate and weeping, with the gold bangles still in her hand. For most of us, to give is no pleasure; to this woman as to thousands of poor people, not to give to Gandhiji what was often their sole possession was untold deprivation.
Source: The Great Experimenter - By Bharatan Kumarppa, Incidents.
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