A Gandhian who stayed the course

A Gandhian who stayed the course

Aditya Mukherjee

Naidu was bold and outspoken, whom the residents dotingly referred to as the ‘hero’ of our colony. They could recognise him from a distance by his white stubble and amiable smile. He looked up to Mahatma Gandhi as a role model, and was inspired by his philosophy of nonviolence. Like the Mahatma, Naidu, all his life, never fought shy of speaking up against injustice. He was a man of impeccable integrity and simplicity.

After his retirement, he would spend morning hours making threads with his small charkha in his modest flat. With his two daughters well-settled and married, he now had plenty of time to work for the betterment of the colony. As a member of the welfare association, his activities ran the gamut— from meeting the area councillor regarding civic issues to inviting the area SHO once a month for an interactive session with colony residents. Patience and a silver tongue were the two weapons in his armoury. Whenever he found any resident on the wrong side of the law, or indulging in illegal construction, he never got into a verbal spat. He would gently request them to not violate the rules. Most of the time, people listened to his advice, but there were times when some residents, much as they might respect him, refused to keep on the straight and narrow. Naidu’s wife feared for his safety, because she knew that not everyone would behave in the way you expect them to.

He even kept track of the civic developments in his locality, whether or not the local MLA was utilising the funds meant for public welfare.

The Stakhanovite Naidu’s biggest challenge came when a polluting factory was operating illegally from the colony and was posing a health risk. So, the task of cutting the Gordian knot fell on him. He met the factory owners and requested them to stop their business activity. They gave him the hairy eyeball and threatened him with dire consequences. The residents, who had thrown in their lot with Naidu, got cold feet as the police looked the other way. But that didn’t unnerve Naidu, who knew that working for a cause goes with the territory. Repeated threats failed to cow down his pugnacious spirit.

One evening, a group of lathi-wielding goons waylaid a defenceless Naidu near his flat. Their intention was to intimidate him into submission. How wrong they were. The spunky Naidu didn’t even panic, and stared them down. He believed that the valiant die only once. The factory was sealed after a month and Naidu emerged as the real hero of the colony. But he was humble enough to thank the residents for their support.

A few years ago, Naidu passed away in his early seventies. If today the colony has become a better place to live in, it is all because of this feisty social crusader.

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