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Another Man Called Gandhi: excerpts from an article by Janaki Venkataraman

There is little that he admits to not knowing, less that he does not love arguing about. Ramesh Gandhi would have been a mahatma, if he hadn't spotted the catch in that vocation early enough. As it is, he is the genuine eccentric.


"That's how I discovered the mystery of the universe," said Ramesh Gandhi. Coming from someone else, that would have sounded flippant, or in bad taste. From Ramesh it sounded as normal as 'pass the salt'. "I found out that there is, in fact, no mystery," Ramesh added, a moment later. He then uncrossed his legs and extended them neatly in front of him. There is a great compactness about his appearance. From the top of his square-shaped, thick-haired head to the tips of his carefully-shod feet, he looks perfectly organised, like a geometrical diagram. Even the bushy eyebrows have definite contours to them, and are neither wild nor straggly. But there are tell-tale purple shadows under his eyes, and the eyelids are puffed up.

Besides, there's his voice. That is something else again. It is permanently hoarse from over use. … It cascades upon the listener like a waterfall, it mangles diction in its eagerness to get across an idea, it grates, it growls, it turns harshly sweet and persuasive, it exults, it draws the listener irresistibly with it on its feverish journey from thought to thought.

"I am weary of life," Ramesh said at one point. But that was a purely academic statement. Few men love life's activities more. Industrialist, photographer, fighter of causes, poet, self-taught intellectual, … Ramesh Gandhi is a true eccentric. "I began my quest for the mystery of the universe when I was thirteen," Ramesh stated perfectly seriously.

At that time Ramesh was going to school in Calcutta, where his father, a Gujarati businessman, had emigrated from Bombay. "It was thought that my father would be able to make a better living in Calcutta than in Bombay," Ramesh recalled. "Unfortunately, what he earned was never enough..." But in other respects he was a wonderful man. He loved his children madly and constantly borrowed money in order never to let them feel any want. He was the kind of father who noticed all the little things about his children. If he knew that anyone of them particularly liked a vegetable, he would quietly refuse his own portion of it at meal times, giving some excuse, so that it could go to the concerned child. He was also an extremely tolerant man for his times. He treated his wife with a gentle respect which in itself, in his day, was a rather wonderful thing. As for the children, there was nothing they could not discuss or argue with him; no action that they needed to hide from him.

While Ramesh was well into his search for the mystery, “the morality of his birth perplexed him. Precocious Ramesh as a child (10 or 11) was very disturbed one day and waited for his father to come home so that he could confront him. When he arrived and saw his son restless, he gently asked, ‘Any problem?’ Ramesh replied, ‘Yes, a big one. I would like to know if I have any responsibility in the process of my conception and eventual birth..’

His father patiently replied, ‘You ought to know very well that you couldn’t have been consulted.’ ‘So,’ Ramesh said, ‘I am a product of your caring, your physicality, convention, social obligation, need for perpetuation of clan, security, sex, whatever, and not of my own volition, right?’ His father replied, ‘Absolutely. But what is the point you are trying to make?’ Ramesh replied, ‘What is baffling me is, ethically and morally, what is one’s debt to one’s parents, from whom his or her existence emerges without his or her will? And my inescapable answer is, unfortunately, none.’

His father pondered and said ‘Yes, you are right, you owe us nothing, but now that you have established this, what would you do? How would you plan your life?’

Ramesh said, ‘Well, if I don’t die or kill myself, at least I will not bring a child of my own.’ Then his father laughed and felt that he had the clinching argument. He said, ‘How do you know your child also would ask you such a question?’ But Ramesh had a reply for that, too. He quickly chortled, ‘If my child were not to ask me such a question, nothing lost in having such a stupid child. On the other hand, if I were to be asked such a question, I am a coward; I would not have the courage to bear the burden of somebody else’s existence when I find my own already unbearable.’” [excerpted, to be completed]