Review On Gandhi and Godse in Indian Literature (Journal of Sahitya Akademi)
GOING BEYOND GOOD AND EVIL
Though technically Gandhi and Godse is a novelette and political fiction, it is much more than a mere piece of fiction. It is a brief bur remarkable and thought provoking document based on a very important event in Indian history. The book is set against the backdrop of series of events coinciding with the onset of 1948 and culminates with the assassination of Mahatma Gandhi by a young Nathuram vinayak Godse. Maalan, the author of this novelette uses these events to kick-start a debate about the brand of politics practiced by Gandhi and direction that India took after Gandhi’s sudden departure.
Maalan V. Narayanan, who introduces himself as “a writer by choice and a journalist by profession,” has woven a wonderful story in a very small space but a story that India cannot afford to forget. He begins the book thus: “This [sic] story is about people who lived in India at a time when politics was a noble calling, still untouched by corruption, deceit and all the ills that plague it today…..there were people those days who had such a tremendous sense of integrity; the determination to fight till their last breath for their beliefs, ideals and values.”
It is important to note that Maalan includes beliefs of Nathuram Godse and his friends too in his categorization of ‘noble politics’. Maalan genuinely believes that Godse’s voice should also be heard instead of blindly rushing to label him in various ways on the basis that he killed a great soul that the nation respected.
When the state governments banned Me Nathuram Godse Boltoy (This is Nathuram godse Speaking), a play by Pradeep Dalvi based on Gopal
Godse’s May It please Your Honour, Maalan voiced his reservations against such bans……”Icons can’t be beyond the pale of criticism. If Gandhi’s values are valid today, let those who are protesting against Dalvi’s play follow them and become role models. Such bans only prove that politicians can be more dangerous than playwrights.” [Outlook, August 3, 1998]
The book under review here, Gandhi and Godse is the English translation of the immensely popular Tamil novelette, Jana Gana Mana. The author Maalan is well known in literary circles both in India and abroad for his focused efforts in writing for young readers. His works have won him many awards and like the legendary M. T. Vasudevan Nair from neighbouring Kerala, Maalan too has guided a generation of young authors, journalists and media personalities.
The “Appa” (the Father) in this fiction narrates the sequences of events, dream and efforts of the police detective Ramanan and ultimately the killing of Mahatma Gandhi to his son Sugan. After narrating the events with great drama, twists and turns, he finally leaves his son with lots of questions, and asks him to seek answers. Especially, he wants his son to think if Gandhi’s thoughts and guidance still make sense or the world (at least India) has moved away from his methods.
Sugan’s Appa doesn’t support Godse. In fact, he doesn’t seem to support anyone. He just presents the story and tells his son, there is an alternative view point to anything and everything. Someone can disagree with even a great soul, there must be room for such disagreement and debate.
The presentation and depiction of Ramanan, the police detective adds fizz to the narration. Ramanan, the only fictional character in this story, has a premonition about Gandhi’s assassination in a dream. He wonders why anyone would want to kill Gandhi. As a police officer, Ramanan witnesses a failed attempt to take Gandhi’s life and becomes very alert. Now he is convinced that someone is really trying to kill Gandhi and tries to catch them before they succeed. But alas, Ramanan is only a small cog in the wheel. His superiors laugh at his “dream” and they ask him to focus on other important tasks. Everyone aroung Raman seems to be fully convinced that no one will ever kill Gandhi.
Hence, even though Ramanan gets enough leads, the investigation takes its own sweet time. Even before policemen could see the photos of Godse, he kills Gandhi in a prayer meeting. Ramanan witnesses this too, with the same helplessness he felt earlier.
This is where Maalan finished the story. What happened to Godse and his friends is only a footnote in the history. The bigger question is who really killed Gandhi? Is it a few individuals, or a system, or a political conflict, or something else? How did it impact Indian society? Maalan urges Sugan (and us) to think on these. It is an interesting exercise to imagine what happened after Sugan read that letter. Did India continue to progress in the same direction (against Gandhi’s beliefs) even further? Or, did we change tracks? At least, did we think have we thought about which path is good for the nation? Politically, socially and culturally, how can Gandhi’s philosophies and guidelines be considered obsolete in less than a century?
Except for the two short letters before and after the novel, Maalan doesn’t raise any explicit questions before the reader. That is where his mastery lies. He prods Sugan and through him the readers to explore the unexplored channel and ideas unexplored so far. But that is precisely the point, if Godse is considered a villain for killing Gandhi due to conflicting political or religious or social ideologies, what are we doing now as a nation?
Gandhi and Godse may sound like the title of a documentary film. But this is really a racy script which one can read very fast. With some historic personalities and one fictional character, Maalan has presented a highly volatile political fiction as a immensely readable one without a moment of dullness. Practically the way government engine handle the failed murder attempt of Mahatma Gandhi makes you wonder if government agencies of this nation will ever change such an attitude.
Shanti Sivaraman’s direct and effective translation does full justice to this modern classic. New Horizon, the publishers, have been doing yeomen service to the cause of Indian Literature for some time now by bringing our popular classics and new and innovative titles in English translation. They too have to be commended for taking up an unusual story like Gandhi and Godse.