Ramachandra Gandhi : A reminiscence (2007)


The enigma that was Ramu

Rajesh Kochhar

Indian Express, 25 July 2007

Ramachandra Gandhi would have suggested a correction to his obituaries. He was not Mahatma Gandhi’s grandson, but Mohandas’s. The distinction was lost on most, leaving Ramu with a heavy burden. Not that he minded it. Only that he had a sufficiently high opinion of himself to demand that he be judged in his own right. He was conscious of humanity’s claim on Gandhi but did not approve of his branding.Eight years ago, as a new-comer to Delhi, I started visiting the India International Centre bar. Ramu was pointed out to me, just as later I would point him out to my guests, often to their disbelief. Most people expected to see Gandhi’s grandson in a dalit colony rather than at a bar. Ramu would sit at a table reserved for him by convention. If a newcomer did happen to occupy an empty chair, it soon became clear to him that he was not entirely welcome. Later, Ramu would bring in a chair from the garden and seat himself near the bartenders’ counter. This served two purposes: the chair was good for his back and it occupied less space. Upon leaving the bar, he would personally restore the chair to its original place. 


The plastic chair solved the space problem but the curvature that Ramu effected in space-time lingered. Most people came to the bar to unwind; for Ramu it was a solemn place. The tidiness with which he organised his thoughts he hoped to see around him too. Once, he rather rudely pointed out to a new member that he should not have taken off his shoes. But such instances were rare; by and large he was unobtrusive.
He lived in a room not too far from IIC. He was always dressed in kurta-pyjama and a jacket, with a scarf around his neck. Late into the evening he would proceed to the bar with his chair and drink rum in small doses. He would leave when the bar closed, take a simple meal, specially prepared for him by IIC. It is most befitting that he died in an IIC room rather than in his own solitary quarters. 

The last time I met him was a couple of months ago, when I was at IIC organising a lecture on female foeticide. He recalled the story of Krishna’s son who dressed himself like a pregnant woman and asked a sage whether it would be a boy or girl. As is well-known, the enraged sage’s curse destroyed the Yadava clan. Ramu’s contemporary interpretation of the story is remarkable for its originality. He said that the Yadavas were punished for inquiring into the sex of an unborn child. Ramu had deeply studied the Mandukya Upanishad. Was he planning to write a book? No, he was not yet ready. I remonstrated with him that instead of setting his sights too high, once he started writing, he would find his way through. He thanked me profusely for my encouragement but, I suspect, more out of politeness than conviction.


The writer is a former director of National Institute of Science, Technology and Development Studies, Delhi



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