Excerpt: The Dying Of The Light
A new biography of the Mahatma explores hidden facets of his life. A section from the first chapter, ‘The Final Hours’: Pramod Kapoor
There is a widespread belief that living saints are given some intimation of their own mortality. Mahatma Gandhi often talked about living to 125 years or more, like some Hindu seers had done, but on January 29, a day before his assassination, Gandhi was unusually eloquent about mortality and his own death. On that day, members of the Nehru family had arrived at Birla Bhavan around lunchtime. They included Krishna Hutheesing, Jawaharlal’s sister, his daughter Indira with her four-year-old son, Rajiv, as well as Sarojini Naidu, the nationalist leader.
They headed straight for the garden where Gandhi was basking in the sun wearing a Noakhali hat. Looking up at the approaching group, all wearing bright coloured saris, he greeted them, saying: “So, the princesses have come to see me.” In winter, Gandhi liked to enjoy his frugal lunch, mashed fruits and goat’s milk, in the open garden at Birla Bhavan, where he always stayed when in the capital and where he held his daily evening prayer meetings. Recalls Nehru’s sister, Krishna Hutheesing: “Gandhi looked exceedingly well that day; his bare brown body was absolutely glowing. This was because, even during his fasts, he took very good care of himself; for he had high blood pressure and used to have mud packs on his head and an oil massage to keep his strength up…. We sat in the sunshine talking. He teased me about my lecture tour, asked about my husband Raja and the children and we gossiped, nothing serious, just gay, idle family chatter.” Rajiv picked up some flowers that visitors had brought for the Mahatma, and started placing them around Gandhi’s feet at which Gandhi playfully pulled the young boy’s ear, and said, “You must not do that. One only puts flowers around dead people’s feet.”