The day Mahatma was killed

mahatma gandhi, birla house, mahatama gandhi photos digital, tushar gandhi, delhi city news, indian express

Mahatma Gandhi. (Express archive photo)

Written by H Y Sharada Prasad

When the horrifying news came on the teleprinter, my mind went back to my meetings with the Mahatma. His grandson, Kantilal Harilal Gandhi, who was a friend from my student days in Mysore, had taken me to meet him a few times. The Mahatma had wanted to meet his friends, because, as he told him: "I will judge your character according to the company you keep". The Mahatma asked me what I wanted to become. “A journalist", I had replied. "Oh, out to change the world, eh,” he had remarked.

I worked in The National Standard in Bombay then. I had joined the Indian Express in Madras in 1945. Ramnath Goenka bought The National Standard in 1946 and he brought a number of sub-editors and press workers from Madras. I was one of them. The office of the paper was situated in Sassoon Dock in Colaba. On January 30, 1948, I was on the afternoon shift which would have ended at 8 pm.

When the horrifying news came on the teleprinter, my mind went back to my meetings with the Mahatma. His grandson, Kantilal Harilal Gandhi, who was a friend from my student days in Mysore, had taken me to meet him a few times. The Mahatma had wanted to meet his friends, because, as he told him: "I will judge your character according to the company you keep". The Mahatma asked me what I wanted to become. “A journalist", I had replied. "Oh, out to change the world, eh,” he had remarked.

But there was no time to reflect. Pothan Joseph was the editor. He told me to take charge of the edition, because there was no knowing when the night chief sub-editor would be able to turn up. To a young journalist not yet 24, this was a big challenge and responsibility. It was quite a task to keep track of the flow of news. Apart from PTI (or was it still API?) we had UNI, AP of America, UPI and any number of feature services flooding us with reports and statements. Joseph had told me: “Don't disturb me until I finish the edit, which I expect to do by 11.” We had an assistant editor called V B Kulkarni who was given the task of producing a life sketch of the Mahatma. He was able to come up with a fine piece of some 4,000 words in just a couple of hours.

The night shift chief sub-editor, who was senior to me, came in well after 8 pm. But I continued to function as chief sub-editor of the night shift as well. We had a very enterprising chief reporter called B S V Rao. His team was able to track down the relatives and friends of Nathuram Godse in Bombay, Poona and other towns well before the police could. Our man in Poona traced a photographer who had shot Nathuram’s portraits several years earlier. Luckily the studio owner had kept the negatives and so we were able to publish photos of the assassin.

It must have been 9:30 or 10. A frail elderly figure approached my desk with a sheet of paper in his hand. Irritated to be interrupted, I snapped: “What is it?”. He replied: “My tribute to Bapuji”. In my youthful arrogance I said sharply: “Today, everyone is issuing their own tribute to Bapuji". The man said very gently: “But I am his son”. I looked closer and it was indeed Harilal Gandhi.

I knew I should have left aside everything I was doing and attended to him, especially since I knew his son Kantilal in Mysore. But I was more concerned with coping with the flow of copy. I just called out to B S V Rao to handle him. I seem to recollect that we published his statement but if I am asked now what it contained I would not be able to say.

The next day, the police chief of Bombay came to our office and complained strongly to me that we had published photos of the wrong man. I asked him to give his objections in writing and that we would publish his version. But no such letter came. The police chief was jealous that we had published photos of the assassin long before his force could identify him, and he wanted to find out if we knew about the conspiracy in advance.

In fact, I have now even begun to wonder whether it all happened at all. I wanted to see the files of the National Standard to make sure that we did carry Harilal’s tribute. I contacted the Express office in both Delhi and Bombay but was told that they do not have copies.

I have not tried to find out whether the Asiatic Society has kept the paper on file. It has struck me that if Harilal Gandhi came to the National Standard, which was in a remote corner of Bombay, he must have also gone to the Bombay Chronicle and the Free Press Journal, which were more centrally situated. Someone might look up their files. The Asiatic Society might have files of the Bombay Chronicle even though that paper died long ago.

I can’t recall anyone else alive today who was working in the National Standard on that particular shift. B S V Rao could have confirmed but he also died a long time ago. The twenty odd colleagues whom I recall as being on that particular shift are no longer alive. Julio Ribeiro joined us much later...

Prasad was press information advisor to three Indian Prime Ministers: Indira Gandhi, Rajiv Gandhi and Morarji Desai. He wrote this to Gopal Krishna Gandhi in May 2004 and passed away in September 2008. This was published in Indian Express first in February 2009