Gandhi saw first film at 74, reveals Nepali follower

February 8th, 2010 - 1:25 pm ICT by IANS  

By Sudeshna Sarkar
Kathmandu, Feb 8 (IANS) When did the father of the Indian nation Mahatma Gandhi watch his first film? Which movie was it and how did the vegetarian and boycotter of foreign goods like it? The answer to these questions come from across the border in Nepal.

Veteran Gandhian from Nepal, Gopaldas Shrestha, was a teenager when he was taken to Gandhi’s Wardha ashram by Tulsi Meher Shrestha, a Nepali social worker known as the Gandhi of Nepal who forced to go into exile in India to escape imprisonment by Nepal’s draconian Rana rulers.

“Mahatma Gandhi saw his first film in 1943 (when he was 74!) and that too with hundreds of followers,” Shrestha, who spent nine months in Gandhi’s company, said in an exclusive reminiscence carried by the Naya Patrika daily.

A well-wisher obtained the equipment necessary to screen the film at his own residence where Mahatma Gandhi saw his first film: “Mission to Moscow”.

Directed by Michael Curtiz, the 1943 film was adapted from the book by the same name written by an American ambassador to erstwhile Soviet Union, Joseph E. Davies, chronicling his experiences in the Communist republic.

According to Shrestha, Gandhi did not like the film, especially because of the ball dances and scantily-clad women in it.

The viewing of a western film by a man who had given a call to boycott all foreign goods created a controversy and soon afterwards, Mahatma Gandhi viewed a film closer to his liking.

It was “Ram Rajya”, an over two-hour film in Hindi and Marathi directed by Vijay Bhatt and based on the Hindu epic “Ramayana” by Valmiki, the Mahatma’s favourite book.

Shrestha, who was gradually given the task of making Gandhi’s bed, described life in Wardha as one of the most disciplined and the Mahatma as a man with an iron resolution.

Once when sectarian riots broke out in India, the Mahatma began a sit-in praying for peace and would not leave the dais, even to sleep at night.

When it started raining he refused to budge and the frantic followers had to devise a plan to prevent his getting soaked to the skin.

“Two persons would stand on either end of the dais holding a tarpaulin over his head to keep him dry,” Shrestha reminisced. “When the cloth became soaked, another two would rush in with another tarpaulin.”

During his stay with Gandhi, Shrestha remembers meeting most top Indian leaders, including Rajendra Prasad, Jawaharlal Nehru and Nehru’s daughter Indira, who, as a young woman looking after her father, herself made tea for the visitors.

Shrestha also remembers the spartan Mahatma wearing a pair of khadams - traditional wooden slippers - that were worn-out due to use. But he refused to get a new pair.

Finally one day, Tulsi Meher, who was close to Gandhi, quietly replaced the old ones with a new pair.

The ashram residents braced for a show of annoyance by Gandhi when he asked what had happened to his slippers.

“Nepal has no memento from you,” the diplomatic Tulsi Meher said. “Your old pair will fulfil that need.”

The answer brought a smile from the Mahatma.

Shrestha says the old slippers must be still in Nepal and should be found and kept in a museum.

Nepal has another memento of the Mahatma, an autographed photograph of him that has pride of place in Shrestha’s house.

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