We always wondered what triggered Mahatma Gandhi to become what he is known today….the “father of the nation”….the first of its kind who created the non-violence movement to free India from the British rule. No… This is not about the history of India’s freedom struggle. This is rather about an incident that took place one day when M. K. Gandhi was at a social gathering in London.
The Indian Institute of Physics was known for its path breaking inventions under the apt leadership of Prof. Ashwin, who was also an accomplished scientist. Located at a place far away from the hustle and bustle of the city, it had lush green grass growing around it with pine trees lined up to the entrance of the main building.
It was late afternoon. In a particular laboratory the Professor was in an absorbed state looking at a strange machine sitting in the middle of the room. He wanted to reward himself when he gave the finishing touches to the machine, but could not do so. It is understandable as he knew he wasn’t too sure about the machine’s functioning.
Prof. Ashwin was not just a scientist but also an ardent follower of history. Besides this, he loved to read biographies of great personalities. This was to break away from his constant immersion in scientific thoughts and activities.
“Professor…is it ready?” Asked the curious assistant.
“Almost…there is just one thing to take care of.” Replied the professor.
“Whether it will work, or not… everything is done….the only thing is left is to test it…..”
“So, when will you test it?”
“Tomorrow, this will be put to test….you will know…while I occupy the machine.”
“Professor, I have been assisting you in the construction of this machine and yet I don’t fully know what its use is. What is the secret of this machine?”
“Be patient. Tomorrow… meet me here at eight in the morning…it is a Sunday, a good day to try anything new.”
The Professor sounded confident and yet he knew that from tomorrow he would be venturing into the unknown…a bit of apprehension was nagging him. And even as he lay on his bed after setting his alarm clock he thought of the risk he was taking, that is, the sound working of the machine.
“I will do it, come what may…. and who knows I may be creating history”. Thought the Professor.
“Turn off the lights except for one.” Said the Professor, next morning at the lab, to his assistant. It was almost nine in the morning when the Professor was on to last minute checks of the machine.
“Well this is it.” Said the professor in finality. He opened a metal flap on the machine which looked like a door big enough for a man to go through it. The assistant saw a compact seat inside the machine. In front of the seat was a panel with various buttons and some levers.
As the professor sat himself in the machine, his assistant grew curious. “Professor, now will you tell me what it is?” Asked the assistant.
Taking a deep breath the professor glanced and then looked above the assistant’s head. “This…….is a time traveling device.” Announced the Professor.
“What? But how…..” The assistant looked totally surprised and before he cold raise any more words, the Professor was already pressing some buttons.
The professor was actually checking the power generating capacity of the machine and giving a last minute check to the levers. While doing this he had a flash of thought about M. K. Gandhi, who is always remembered for his simplicity and dedication to work. He did not know why such a thought came to his mind, but he did know that he followed Gandhi’s ideals. The Professor, there and then, decided that he would visit the time of Gandhi’s formative years at London. He wanted to inaugurate the “time machine” with a visit to the icon of fearlessness and non-violence. He pushed a lever and set a time that showed on the panel. The time set was 1889 and the place set was London of England. Now, he was ready, taking a deep breath he slowly pulled a lever that created a low vibration with a humming sound.
When he looked out the window of the machine, he could only see haze in grey colour. The colour kept on changing to various hues of deep green to orange yellow and then to black and grey. A dial on the panel kept spinning what looked like some numbers scrolling away rapidly. And the Professor was in almost a state of trance while the machine was giving off a humming sound. The sound started to lessen as the Professor began to come out of his stupor. At that time there was silence and no sound emitting from the device.
He slowly opened the door and stepped out to what appeared to be an enclosure between two buildings. He walked a little further and came face to face with the streets of London. He could see horse driven carriages and crowds every where. Both men in their tuxedos and top hats, and women in their heavily laced gowns of deep colours, were moving about with their shopping activities. As he stared around, passers by looked at him strangely and some even curiously….after all, his attire was different and out-of-place.
Regaining his composure, the Professor stopped an individual and asked him where the London Vegetarian Society would be. In 1888, the London Vegetarian Society emerged from the original Vegetarian Society based in Manchester. Its purpose was to advocate the complete abandonment of the flesh of animals as food, and promote extensively the use of fruits, grains, nuts, and vegetables. The individual without hesitation instructed the way to the Society. Fortunately, it was not very far from where he had “landed”. The Professor walked his way to the place taking note of how much London has changed relative to present times, that is, circa 2012 A.D.
So, why would the Professor chooses to go this Society? It is his innate curiosity and interest in M. K. Gandhi that drove him to the place….he was pretty sure he would find the young Gandhi there. M. K. Gandhi would be 19 years of age who had come to London to study law and train as a barrister. The Professor had read about Gandhi’s simple and frugal lifestyle while studying at London, and that he had a life-long passion for vegetarianism. Being a vegetarian, Gandhi found and joined the London Vegetarian Society. The Professor was not alien to the fact that the Society at that time consisted of intellectuals like Henry David Thoreau and Leo Tolstoy.
The Professor reached the place and easily made out the simple building with pillars that identified the Society. He was not wrong with his guess that the members of the Society would be present in a get-together; after all it was a Sunday. The Professor had seen the black and white photos of the young Gandhi in his collection of books on M. K. Gandhi. While he mingled in the crowd of members at the get-together he made no mistake in recognizing Gandhi. He appeared just the way he had seen in the photos, only now, he was in “3D” and alive. The Professor made his way slowly to the personality that was yet to become famous.
“Hello…may I introduce myself?” The professor asked a surprised Gandhi.
“Yes, you may.” Allowed Gandhi.
“I am Professor Ashwin and am a physicist. I am from the East…”
“Then you must know the German physicist Heinrich Rudolf Hertz.” Gandhi said this on the basis of Germany being East of London.
“Yes…I know him, but not personally.” Said the Professor. Then he thought “I know him not of this time zone but from my time zone”. It would be difficult to explain time travel, so he kept quiet about it and carried on with is normal conversation. To the Professor, Gandhi appeared to be a mild-mannered and a shy person. He talked in a typical English accent.
“Mr. Gandhi, why have you joined this Society?” Asked the Professor.
“How did you know my name?” Countered Gandhi.
“Well…I knew…you appear to be so different and I’ve heard about you…”
“I am not a very famous person that you heard about me.” Interjected Gandhi.
“Well…I just asked a person at the entrance and he gave your name…” The Professor lied.
“Fine, I joined the society because vegetarianism has a lot of merit in itself and it is my mother’s wish that I follow it. All intellectuals here are vegetarians.” Said Gandhi.
“Can you tell me about the merits?” Asked the Professor softly.
“Being a vegetarian reduces violence in the mind…it brings peace and one can think more clearly. There is a moral aspect to it also….you don’t have to kill an innocent animal to satisfy your hunger. We cannot bring it back to life, so what right have we to take it? It is a wrong notion that eating beef gives you strength.” Answered Gandhi.
“The Bhagavat Gita also indicates that by killing an innocent animal we only accumulate bad deeds and we cannot take life when we do not have the capacity to restore life.” Added the Professor.
“The Bhagavat Gita….I have heard about it from my mother, but I never read it. It is a great epic…is it not?” Gandhi wanted to know.
“Yes it is and I think you should read it thoroughly….you will get all the answers you seek.” Agreed the Professor.
“I shall ask other members about it also….lets see what they have to say about it.” Said a curious Gandhi.
“Even if I am a physicist, the Gita has always guided me during rough times and helped me sail through life smoothly. It has taught me to be brave and take daring ventures that one can never imagine.” Concluded the Professor.
By the time the Professor left the premises of the Society, he could see and even hear the young Gandhi enquiring and discussing about the Bhagavat Gita.
“I wonder if this quest is going to influence Gandhi to his eventual greatness.” Thought the Professor.
The Professor felt overwhelmed and wondered whether he was part of the history that changed the course of an individual who took on the mighty British Empire. The Professor quietly left the place as it was time to leave. He scurried towards his machine and with one smooth move he seated himself, very much in his thoughts and awestruck of the encounter.
“No, it’s not possible….how can I be part of influencing Gandhi…I am from the present time….and yet I have told him about the Gita where he may derive new ideas and concepts that may set the foundation for his later beliefs.” Thought an unbelievable Professor.
Whatever it is, we now know the history of the freedom struggle and its outcome. The Professor seated in his time traveling devise set the present date of the year of 2012. When he moved the lever he heard the familiar humming sound and before his thoughts of the Gandhi encounter could fade he saw himself in his lab.
“Professor….Professor….are you alright?” Asked the assistant as he tapped the closed door repeatedly.
“I am okay…..” Replied the Professor as he opened the door of the machine.
“You appear to be dazed.”
“Not dazed…..overwhelmed! I met the great M. K. Gandhi.” Announced the Professor.
“Wow! Was he leading a march or something?”
“No….No, I went much earlier….I was at London when he was a student of law.”
“What was he like then?” Asked the curious assistant.
“Even for his age, he was very matured…..and I could see in his eyes the spark and hunger for more knowledge.” Surmised the Professor.
The Professor did not want to reveal the details of the encounter and he wanted to leave it at that. It is a little secret that may have a very significant connection with the Mahatma’s freedom struggle. Or for that matter a question will forever remain unanswered: Did the Professor sow the seeds of transformation in the young mind of Gandhi that subsequently led to the creation of history?