One hundred years ago, today, India’s struggle for independence from the British took a decisive and inspired turn, when Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi had a dream that would catapult him towards ‘Mahatma’-hood.
On March 18, 1919, Gandhi met C.Rajagopalachari in the City that used to be known as Madras, in a home on Cathedral Road that belonged to Kasturi Ranga Iyengar, the lawyer who had bought The Hindu for Rs 75,000.
Eight days earlier, the Imperial Legislative Council had pased the “Anarchical and Revolutionary Crimes Act of 1919”, also known as the Rowlatt Act. The Act provided for, among other things, stricter control of the press, arrests without warrant, indefinite detention without trial.
Gandhi spent the night in ‘Tilak Bhavan’, as the Kasturi Ranga Iyengar home was known, tossing and turning, on the path ahead, when he had a dream, an epiphany actually, which blossomed into the non-violent, non-cooperation movement.
“I was still in that twilight condition between sleep and consciousness when suddenly the idea broke upon me that we should call upon the country to observe a general hartal,” the greatest Editor-in-Chief* to have walked the planet later wrote.
*Gandhi edited Harijan and Young India
The first hartal took place the same month.
Madras in now Chennai. ‘Tilak Bhavan’ is now the location for the Chola hotel. But a plaque outside its entrance reminds us of its significance.
Gandhi had made his first visit to Madras four years earlier, in 1915, when Kasturba and he were given a rousing reception at the Central railway station, the likes of which “had been equalled in few instances before”, according to a report in The Hindu.
Nirmala Lakshman, the great grandaughter of Kasturi Ranga Iyengar who rose to be Joint Editor of The Hindu, quotes the newspaper report of the day in Degree Coffee by the Yard (Aleph):
“Long before the arrival of the Delhi Express, the station platform and the compound had been filled in its strictest sense with people who had come to welcome Mr and Mrs Gandhi.
“When the train arrived, they searched all the first and second class compartments but in vain…. A long search discovered Mr and Mrs Gandhi sitting in the third class compartment.”
Gandhi’s meeting with Rajaji in the home of The Hindu owner in 1918 also led to a cementing of ties between the two families.
The Mahatma’s youngest son Devdas Gandhi (who was to become Editor of the Hindustan Times) married Rajaji’s daughter Lakshmi. One of their three sons Rajmohan Gandhi was briefly the Editor of The Indian Express in Madras.
Another son Gopalkrishna Gandhi became a diplomat, governor and a towering public intellectual.
“The original idea [of a non-violent movement], which he fleshed out later, actually came under that roof, under Kasturi Iyengar’s roof. It was a remarkable thing and everything changed after that,” Gopal Gandhi tells Nirmala Lakshman.
It also led to the Jalianwala Bagh massacre on April 13, 1919. It also led to India’s independence, 28 years later.
Needless to say, #NewIndia represents the very anti-thesis of Gandhi’s dream.
Screenshot: courtesy Nirmala Lakshman, Degree Coffee by the Yard; Aleph