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‘Waiting For The Mahatma’: An Intriguing Read With Hints Of Comedy Amidst Tragedy

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The success story of the non-violent Quit India movement led by Mahatma Gandhi made me a sceptic. How can the colony of tyranny kneel before the illusory inner-power of Ahimsa? I accidentally came across some lines from the RK Narayan’s delightful novel Waiting for the Mahatma. It goes:

“There was not a blank wall in the whole country which did not carry the message. Whenever one turned, one saw Quit India.” 

The whole story revolves with 20 of age Sriram and Bharati, a zealot devout in Mahatma Gandhi’s service. Mahatmaji plays a live role as a connecting character between the relation of Sriram and Bharati and Independence.

It starts with Granny and Sriram in the numbered “14” house of Kabir Street in Malgudi Town (a famous imaginary town produced by the author). “Fund Office” of the street brings a turning point in the life of introverted Sriram. Being an owner of a large amount for the first time, he went out to the market.

At that moment, Bharati, a pretty girl, came up rattling her money-box for any contribution. Sriram was arrested by her sparkling appearance and moved, following her to the entourage of Mahatmaji. However, by no means, Bharati tends to compromise the true principles of her guru.

Basically, it wasn’t easy for Sriram to make up with Bharati outside the Gandhi sphere. Still, the upshot was that he should be bound to the same school as Bharati. Being a disciple of Mahatmaji and Bharati and spending a long time with them, it turned out that the Satyagrah principles had rubbed off on Sriram perfectly. He kept on the activities of free India, but he remained a Bharati’s student for the best part of his mission.

mahatma gandhi
Gandhi leading his followers on the famous salt march.

Sriram had joined the Gandhi cadre, turning his back on his Granny. Therefore, he remembered her, his house and everything on Kabir Street and felt depressed sometimes. However, Bharati and Sriram jointly visited villages, met with people of indigent livelihood, and worked hard to spread the message of Satyagrah. Eventually, they went off each other for the sake of a free nation.

At one point, Sriram came across a photographer, Jagadish, who secretly forced pressure against the imperial administration. It left a deep influence on Sriram too. He became a violent warrior for Independence by performing Herculean activities, like derailing the British train, leaking army news, invoking them for revolt etc. In the nick of time, the imperial police start searching for Sriram and detain him. 

Mahatmaji, Bharati and other non-violent activists, on the other hand, were arrested for political reasons, but they were released in the wake of Independence. Meanwhile, the life of Sriram was not plain sailing. He wept and sobbed in a void in his cell, remembering Bharati. Sometimes he was bothered thinking Bharati didn’t like him and that Mahatmaji was the barrier between their relations. He rode it out and did nothing.

As soon as he was released, he ran to Delhi to meet Bharati. He felt the utmost bliss to get time with her. Both threw caution to the wind and asked Bapu, residing in the Birla House, for his “blessed permission”. Mahatmaji was sincerely ready for them. However, the scene ends in a tragedy with the sound of two shots.

Every scene of the novel entices the inner appetite to look forward and think of the forthcoming happening of Sriram, Bharati and Independence; and the relation of Sriram and Bharati and result of the entourage of Mahatma Gandhi for Independence with peace.

While half-read, the reader misses the presence of Granny after her shelter out of the village. Further, one expects the ending of both themes either in comedy or tragedy. So, deftly, both themes were decorated with fascinating imaginations, enhancing inspirations, struggling thoughts and life-criticising principles.

Sriram thought seeing the huge gathering to welcome Gandhi, Waiting for the Mahatma makes one very thirsty. Sriram realised the thirst himself when he practised the waiting for Gandhi to fulfil the wish of Bharati of getting blessed permission to marry.

The novel encloses different pictures of Indian Independence. Paradoxical movements of Mahatmaji and Jagadish merge into the prime goal of Independence or Quit India. Sriram takes part and plays a vital role in both stages of movements, respectively.

The social and economic condition of the time was portrayed dainty with impressive satiric. For instance, the British dacoity and Indian poverty were presented in these lines: “He wished that he didn’t have to write the letter Q (in Quit India Movement), which consumed a lot of black paint.”

A novel is waded through a centralised theme. All other scenes and plots are hypothesised typically to adorn that one particular subject. Relating to this, Waiting for the Mahatma goes over the theory. The loving story of Sriram and Bharati and Independence activities under the shade of Mahatmaji is retold in a simultaneous interpretation.

Meanwhile, the conclusion takes places in comedy and tragedy respectively. Sriram and Bharati got the blessings of Bapu for the happy occasion, but Bapu himself couldn’t become the priest as he had expected.

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Read more about her campaign. 

A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

Read more about the campaign here.

A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

Read more about the campaign here.

A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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