Yesterday, I officiated at our regular meeting as Pres.Jayaram was out of town. I was apprehensive on how this meeting would turn out. My worry was on two counts;
- The first because the Vice President of India chose to cross paths with us and caused a major traffic block at the junction before our hotel. I feared a drop in attendance and fretted more hoping for the timely arrival of our speaker for the day , our very own Rtn.Gandhi.
- The second of my worries was that once he arrived, just what topic he would address. Pres.Jayaram had vaguely told me that more than the topic, he wanted bonding within our club and so had decided that the more prominent members should speak about themselves!
Surprisingly the attendance was good and speaker came just in time.
My worries extinguished, I sat back to hear a most interesting impromptu speech, for Rtn.Gandhi had confessed that he too was not sure what to speak about!
I am putting down some of what he said for the benefit of those who missed the meeting. He gave us only a glimpse into his life and I want to put it down for there are lessons to be learnt.
He started in a matter of fact way, by saying that his mother had died of cancer when he was barely 3 years old and a month later, his father, who was involved in the freedom struggle for our country, was arrested and take away to prison by the British. He and his siblings were left behind to live the life of orphans.
Financially, the family had a well established agricultural backing, with large tracts of farmland and plenty of livestock etc. Still, with no parental guidance, he began his education at the small village school, near Erode. What he said next was reminiscent of a poem from my schooldays – The Village Schoolmaster by Oliver Goldsmith.
One village schoolmaster and kids of all ages siting together on the verandah and repeating the Tamil alphabet after him, in a sing song chorus. They leveled handfulls of sand on the floor and used their forefinger to trace each letter in unison with their song, leveling it again for the next letter! He did a small demo of this process which proved the thoroughness of this method of instruction!
When Sir got bored of teaching, he would escort the entire class into the wilderness and they would return with a large bundle of stout sticks. This the schoolmaster put to good use on the children, for the parents believed that a well spanked child meant that the teacher was doing his work well!
One fine day, the boy was sent to a school in Erode, where he studied many years to get to the intermediate level. After five attempts at the intermediate exams, young Gandhi managed to pass with a little help from a sympathetic invigilator.
He now wanted to become a lawyer. The prerequisite to enter the Madras Law College was a bachelors degree, which at his pace meant many more years of study. So he was sent to the Law College at Poona for direct admission. He recounts this first instance to illustrate the shape of things to come. Introducing himself as Mr.Gandhi, he was surprised when the supervisor at the admissions desk said “… and I am Godse!” He insists “… but my name is Gandhi!…” to hear “… Yes, unfortunately my name is Godse…” He did not last long there, and was politely asked to leave after an episode when he had accidentally tipped a bucket full of rubbish on the head of the hostel warden! Two more law colleges later, Rtn.Gandhi emerged a lawyer – the only one in 150 yr history of the Madras High Court to have been to three law schools for his law degree!
Once he started practicing there was no looking back. Today he is proud to say that several of his juniors have become judges and even Chief Justices of the Madras High Court.
In the question and answer session, he replied that one reason for his success was his frugal upbringing. It gave him the flexibility to adjust and be happy with the worst of situations and also enjoy the best of times.
A turning point in his life was when he decided to emulate his senior Justice Veerasamy who was a man of smart turnout, with a no nonsense attitude. He compared his transformation to that when Sister Nivedita asked Bharati why he had not brought his wife to the Congress and he apparently answered, “We do not usually bring our wives to meetings; moreover, of what use would it have been to bring her to the Indian Congress”? Nivedita explained to Bharati the greatness of women and the importance of recognizing that women are free beings, like men, and that woman should be treated as the equal of man. At that very moment, Bharati’s vision of a “New Woman” (pudumai penn) was born in his poet’s heart. Such was the paradigm shift, that even today, Rtn.Gandhi is always of smart turnout, punctual and a no nonsense person.
I was glad to get this rare insight into a fellow Rotarian’s life and hope you also found some value in reading this little note.
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