On 2nd October, preparations were in full swing for observing Gandhi Jayanti in a Girls' College in Meghnapur --- a small, remote village in Rajasthan. The maximum strength the college could ever boast of was hundred or hundred-and-ten. The tiny building of the college could not accommodate more students than this number.
Freedom fighter Raja Ram established this college in the beginnings of 1950s in his ancentral land of two acres with a large, dilapitated building in the middle. Before the college was started, the building was used by the villagers for community purposes. Raja Ram kept just two rooms under his control --- one was a small room in a corner where Raja Ram lived his simple life and the other was a largish hall in the middle where Gandhiji had stayed for four days during 1934.
It was during his stay in this hall in 1934 that Gandhiji gave the name Raja Ram to him. Till then he was known as Bhiku Bhai, the name given by his parents.
On that morning Gandhiji was conversing with about thirty villagers when he suddenly pointed to Bhiku Bhai and remarked, "He is devoted to duties like Raja Ram." The words went straight to Bhiku Bhai's heart and echoed there ever after, as if Gandhiji had said this just yesterday.
From that day on, everyone began to address Bhiku Bhai as Raja Ram. He also loved the name.
Raja Ram did not marry. Whenever someone talked of marriage to him, he would say, "How can a mother tied up in chains by a foreign power conduct the marriage of her son?" No one would argue after this. Such were the times. Youngsters proudly claimed that they were in love with Death and went around singing "Rang De Basanti Chola."
By the time the nation became free, Raja Ram had crossed the age for marriage. So, he never gave a thought to it and others also never mentioned it. The question of what to do with the two acres of land with the old, large house in the middle troubled him. Then, one day, he decided to start a college in this building.
In a few days, the old building got a facelift and became Mahatma Gandhi Girls' College. Out of respect for Raja Ram, young, educated girls from neighbouring villages came forward to teach in the college for meagre salary, and the modest educational institute began to match the best in the area in terms of educational standards. And yet, while the cities and the educational institutions were developing a modern, jazz, touch, Raja Ram's college retained its pristine innocence and simplicity.
In January this year, Raja Ram attained the age of one hundred. On second October a few days ago, he planned a bigger function to celebrate Gandhiji's birthday than had been done in any of the previous years. The reason for the larger scale celebration was not the attainment of a hundred years by Raja Ram, but the fact that Renuka Meera, a former student of the college and a native of Meghnapur, had been posted as the Collector of the district in which Meghnapur was situated. A month ago when, after taking charge of the district, Renuka came to take Raja Ram's blessings, he requested her to come as Chief Guest during the Gandhi Jayanti function and she accepted.
The function on 2nd October was to start at 10 in the morning and all preparations had been done. Two elegantly dressed girls stood at the threshold of the function hall with aarti plates in hand, ready to welcome the Chief Guest. Students sat quietly inside the hall and listened to patriotic speeches by teachers.
One hour, two hours, three hours --- the hands of the wall clock in the hall moved minute-by-minute, but there was no sign of the arrival of the Chief Guest. Meanwhile, the principal of the college kept contacting Renuka every half hour and informed Raja Ram that the Collector was engaged in some important work and would take time to arrive. At the end of three-and-a-half hours' delay Renuka rang up and told in a voice overwhelmed with regret that she would not be able to come.
The principal announced on the public address system the Chief Guest's inability to come. This sent waves of sadness through the hall. The students in the college respected Renuka as their own elder sister and as a model. They had not met Renuka for a long time, as she had lived away from the village ever since she completed her college studies and joined the IAS. Now, they were waiting eagerly to meet her as the seniormost officer in the district. They had worked since morning to decorate the college for Renuka Didi's reception. Now when they came to know that she would not be able to come, they felt heart-broken.
As the grief-stricken girls stood up and prepared to go to their classes, they were taken aback to hear a strange voice say, "Stop!"
They saw a sight their eyes could not believe. They felt that an Image like Gandhiji was moving out of the life-size picture of Gandhiji kept at the rear of the stage. The Image sat in the middle of the stage in the usual pose in which Gandhiji sat and began to address the students.
"Don't be overcome by amazement," said the Image. "Although the body gets destroyed, the philosophy lives on. Your college follows my philosophy of life to the last word. That is why my philosophy floats around like molecules in the air of this college. Now when so many of you focused your mind, my philosophy that had been floating around attained a clear shape and that is what you see now seated in front of you."
The Image looked around with a smile on its face and said, "It is the power of the Mind alone that can give lasting and unequivocal victory."
A student stood up and interrupted, "The time you lived in was different from the time we live in."
The college principal rebuked her mildly, saying "Don't argue!" and moved towards her. But, the Image intervened, "Let her speak out her mind. Let her speak out the Truth as she sees it. Then alone can Truth be victorious."
The student gained courage. "Why is it," she questioned, "that no one today is able to get the support you received during your days? Have times changed?"
"Yes, times have changed, indeed!" said the Image. "During that period those who asked for their rights were mowed down with a shower of bullets in the Jallianwala Bagh in the same way as you crush hundreds of ants when one of them dares to sting you. Youngsters like Bhagat Singh, Rajaguru and Sukhdev were hanged for demanding freedom for their Motherland and their dead bodies were not given to their relatives for cremation. And those who even talked of freedom were incarcerated in cells in Andaman that provided no more space than for a person to just stand and were treated like animals. But, countrymen of those times were motivated by a noble mission in front of which everything else appeared trivial."
After a short period of silence, a girl stood up and asked, "What is the most important for attaining success in life?"
"Faith," said the Image. "We had unshakeable faith that we would some day or the other achieve our goal of freedom for the nation. We had faith that we would be able to attain freedom through non-violence. Even when we faced hurdles, we did not let faith slip out of our hands. Have faith in your goals and in yourself. A heart established firmly in faith never faces defeat."
Another student stood up, "You lived at a time when life was simple and straightforward. Now, the bare necessities of life make one struggle and strive."
The Image answered, "You should assess your actions from two points of view: one, are you doing something to fulfil a need, or are you doing it only for ostentation and show? May be the resources you spend on ostentation and show are vital for the growth of the nation and the society! Secondly, work to give back to the society more than what you take from it."
"OK, time has come for me to leave now," said the Image and stood up.
Students and teachers clapped to express their gratitude. The Image moved into the picture-frame and disappeared.
Everyone kept standing and clapping with great admiration for the Image and what it had said. Raja Ram alone did not stand. He seemed to sit with eyes closed. The principal called out to him, addressing him as "Sir! Sir!" But Raja Ram did not show any signs of movement. The principal pushed him a little to draw his attention. But Raja Ram fell to one side --- dead.
The principal looked around at the teachers and said, "Was it perhaps Raja Ram sir's soul that was talking to us?" Then she paused for a while and said, "He has left his earthly body on the auspicious day of Gandhi Jayanti to go and be with his guru and guide."