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.
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.