Saturday, February 3, 2001

unparalleled humility
By R.N. Sharma

A number of anecdotes and incidents related to Mahatma Gandhi’s life reflect his luminescent personality. I too have preserved within the folds of my memory, for over 50 years, an event that illustrates his unmatched humility while dealing with common people.

In the 1940s, during my student days in Panjab University, Lahore, I nursed a desire to have Gandhiji’s darshan and to attend one of his prayer meetings. During the Partition of the country, I was forced to shift to Delhi. After I settled down in a job there, I placed fulfillment of the above said desire on top priority. On the first Saturday of January 1948, I made up my mind to participate in Gandhiji’s prayer meeting the next evening. Four of my friends expressed their keenness to join me. Unfortunately, Sunday morning began with a heavy downpour that persisted till the afternoon. But the bad weather failed to dampen my enthusiasm. By 4 pm, the rain had dwindled to a drizzle.


So, five of us decided to cycle down to Birla House. We reached the gate of Birla House around 4.55 pm, absolutely drenched. About five more persons were standing outside the gate. Just then, Gandhiji’s personal secretary Pyare Lal came to the gate from within the building, and announced, "Gentlemen I am sorry, due to inclement weather, there will be no prayer meeting today." Obviously, everybody felt extremely disappointed. On the spur of the moment, I requested Pyare Lal to give me a minute’s hearing. I pleaded: "Sir, we have come in the rain to have Gandhiji’s darshan and shall be very disappointed if we miss this opportunity. Can you convey our plea to Gandhiji, asking him to give us just a minute of his?" Pyare Lal reflected for a minute and asked us to wait. He went into the building and was back within a minute. Opening the gate, he told us that Gandhiji had changed his mind and the prayer meeting would be held as usual. He advised us to walk through the lawn and wait in the small verandah along the boundary wall. We followed his instructions. Within a couple of minutes, Gandhiji was in our midst. He sat with just the 10 of us. He looked straight into the eyes of each one of us with a faint smile on his face. When his eyes met mine, it was almost like a laser beam striking me. The memory of the intensity of that glare has not left me till this day.

Gandhiji then began his discourse with the following remarks: "Dear brothers, today I felt ashamed at myself — at my weakness of mind, my lethargy — to have got so frightened by a little rain as to take the decision to cancel the prayer meeting. When Pyare Lal came to me and told me that a few bhagat log had come to attend the prayer meeting braving the rain, I felt immense remorse at my erroneous decision. Brothers, I seek forgiveness from you...."