Just like the Mahatma was part of the world community before his return to India, 154 of his descendants also live abroad in six different nations
Life in the shadow of greatness is never easy. Mahatma Gandhi’s four sons discovered this the hard way. The eldest son, Harilal, rebelled against his illustrious parent and died a broken man. The tension between Harilal and his father sprang from the conflict between Gandhi’s twin roles as a father to a nation and to his children. Gandhi was only 18 when his first son was born and Harilal was just six months old when his procreator left his family in South Africa to train as a barrister in London. Though Gandhi understood the importance of spending time with his family later and his two younger sons benefited from that, he was absent during Harilal’s growing years, which proved to be a rankler in their relationship. However, Harilal’s son Kantilal and his grandfather shared a warm relationship.
The Mahatma’s second son, Manilal, stayed back in South Africa to continue the civil rights crusade, while his younger siblings, Ramdas and Devadas, stayed with their mother Kasturba and their father. It’s a tall order to live up to a legend, who, inspired an entire generation and continues to inspire the world even after seven decades of his demise. Gandhi’s descendants, his grandchildren and great grandchildren, in their own individual ways, carry forward a difficult legacy.
After Gandhi was cremated on the banks of the Yamuna River, members of the clan gathered at the funeral site to collect his ashes. Among them was 11-year-old Ramchandra, who was sifting through his grandfather’s warm ashes and helping his kin fill the copper urn. One of the bystanders gently wiped the ashes from Ramchandra’s hands with his handkerchief and then took it away as a memento. Though the young boy could not comprehend the significance of this reverent gesture at that time, as he grew up, he realised what the Mahatma meant to the people of the country. Ramchandra, who was the son of Gandhi’s youngest son Devadas and Lakshmi, grew up to be a noted philosopher.
His siblings were Rajmohan, Gopalakrishna and Tara Gandhi Bhattacharjee. He had a doctorate in philosophy from Oxford and a doctorate in physics too. He taught at the University of Hyderabad, Visva-Bharati University, Punjab University, California Institute of Integral Studies and Bangalore University. An intellectual, he lived a frugal life and died at the India International Centre in 2007 at the age of 70.
Just like Gandhi, who was part of the global community before he returned to the land of his birth, the descendants of the Mahatma are also global citizens and 154 of them live in six different nations, other than India.
Born in 1934 in Durban, South Africa, Arun Manilal, who is the son of Gandhi’s second son Manilal, is the Mahatma’s fifth grandson. After working for 30 years as a journalist for The Times of India, Arun along with his late wife Sunanda left for the US in 1987 and is now a renowned activist and writer. The couple founded the MK Gandhi Institute for Non-Violence at the Christian Brothers University in Memphis, Tennessee. In 2008 the institute was moved to the Rochester University, New York, and they took the message of non-violence and peace to hundreds of thousands of high school and university students around America and much of the western world.
Arun’s son Tushar Gandhi runs the Mumbai-based Mahatma Gandhi Foundation, an organisation involved in spreading Gandhian values and principles. Tushar recently criticised US President Donald Trump for calling Prime Minister Narendra Modi “father of India” and said, “Those who feel the need to replace the Father of the Nation with a new one are welcome. Trump may also like to replace George Washington with himself.”
Another of Gandhi’s grandsons, Kanu Ramdas, known to all of us as the child who walked ahead of the Mahatma, holding one end of his stick during the 1930 Dandi march, grew up to be a distinguished NASA scientist. He passed away at a hospital in Surat in 2016 at the age of 87.
The Mahatma’s great granddaughter Medha, who is the daughter of Harilal’s son Kantilal, was born and brought up in America and lives there with her family. She is famous not just because of her lineage but also because she herself is a glamorous TV personality and a DJ. She produced one of the most famous shows in Ohio, The Dave and Jimmy Show.
Most of the Mahatma’s family has kept away from politics, except for Sumitra Kulkarni, the eldest daughter of Gandhi’s third son Ramdas, who completed a six-year term in Rajya Sabha, Rajmohan Gandhi who had contested and lost a Lok Sabha election in 1979 and Kantilal’s son Shantilal, who won an Assembly seat in Kansas in the 2012 US elections as a Republican candidate. Kantilal’s son Shantilal and his American wife Susan were in politics since the 1980s, when Ronald Reagan was the US President. A doctor by profession, in 2011, Shantilal retired to enter active politics.
In retrospect, the lack of sufficient representation of Gandhi’s descendants in politics might have been a big loss for Indian politics, given the way it has evolved. Rajmohan Gandhi once admitted, “Some of us may be self-effacing to a fault. We may have got lulled into the belief that to appear to be seeking leadership or position is bad. If there is a fire to be put out, you shouldn’t be self-effacing. You should put the fire out.”
Wherever, they are, Gandhi’s descendants live life across all continents on their own terms, holding up his legacy in their own unique ways.
(The author is a retired finance professional and a freelance writer)
Wednesday, 02 October 2019 | V Venkateswara Rao