Author, Burning for Freedom

Author, Burning for Freedom
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Friday, September 21, 2012

Savarkar, a hero of the schoolboys

Hi, Everyone! Savarkar’s personality, his words, his books, his speeches, all had stirred Indians, young and old, into patriotic fervor. Today, I have an anecdote of Mr. P. L. Gokhale who as a young school boy had traveled from his hometown Baroda to Ahmedabad in 1937, just to get a look at Savarkar.

Meeting Savarkar was never an easy job for anyone! His hectic schedule and his insistence upon visitors making advance appointments practically guaranteed that. Upon descending casually upon him, many a visitor, important though he may be, had found himself returning home with neither a whiff nor sniff of Savarkar.
Generally speaking, grabbing an opportunity to meet Savarkar at conferences and meetings was a great idea. Gokhale and his friends did just that for their first meeting.

The Hindu Mahasabha Convention was being held in Ahmedabad in 1937. Savarkar, now free from British bondage, was to attend it. Upon hearing that, Gokhale and his three-four friends were tremendously excited. They had heard many stories of Savarkar from Gokhale’s father, who had been a member of Savarkar’s Abhinav Bharat Society in the bygone days in Nasik. The boys had also devoured a couple of Savarkar’s banned books, My Transportation for life and Mazzini. They found Savarkar inspiring. He was their hero. They had to meet him, and Ahmedabad was not so very far from Baroda. They managed to wangle an invitation to the convention. And now here they were in Ahmedabad, right outside the bungalow Savarkar was staying in.

Gokhale and his friends crouched against the wall, peeping over it. In the room beyond the yard they saw a small-framed man, a little bent over, engrossed in straightening out the folds of his dhoti with both hands. His light skin glowed, the golden frame of his glasses shone. Is this Savarkar . . . ? they all thought.

“Arre, Gokhale, that does look like Savarkar!”

“Yes, it does. If only he will lift his head . . . .” Gokhale snapped his fingers. “I know! Let us hop over the wall and take a closer look.”

There was a brief babble of “Do we dare?” and “Oh, yes, let’s!” Then the boys hopped over the wall and tiptoed toward the veranda door through which they could see the man.

Suddenly the man looked up, fingers still straightening the fold. Oh, yes, this was indeed Savarkar! The boys gazed speechlessly at their hero, tremendously happy and excited to see him in person. With all the stories Gokhale’s father had regaled them with, they felt they knew him well.

“Tatyarao! We schoolboys have come all the way from Baroda expressly to meet you!” cried Gokhale.

A slight frown marred Savarkar’s brow and a faint irritation flashed across his face—a typical telltale sign of his dislike of being accosted without appointment. Seeing that, the boys subsided nervously.

Then Savarkar smiled. Training his penetrating eyes at Gokhale he asked, “What, boys, haven’t you come to attend the convention?” Without waiting for an answer he added, “Come, tell me about yourselves, your names, the classes you are studying in.”

When all the questions were asked and answered, Savarkar asked Gokhale again, “Are you Gokhale from Baroda?”

“Tatyarao, my father works in Baroda now, but before we lived in Nasik and Pune.”

Immediately Savarkar exclaimed, “Arre, I knew it! You must be the son of a Gokhale from our Abhinav Bharat Society. You look very much like like him.”

Gokhale’s face flushed with pleasure. Oh, Tatyaro still, inspite of all the hardships he had gone through, remembered his father well enough to recognize him! Oh, he was a great man, indeed!

But,” Savarkar was continuing, “He was such a well-built man, so very dedicated to exercise. You are just skin and bones. Hmm, don’t you exercise regularly? You must, it is very important.”

Gokhale didn’t know whether to stand tall and proud at being addressed so familiarly by Savarkar, or to cringe in embarrassment at having the slightness of his frame brought under such scrutiny!

This was Gokhale’s first meeting with Savarkar. He went on to become a close and trusted member of Savarkar’s entourage. He has written a book recording his many, many memories of Savarkar.

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