(Ramachandra Guha is an Indian historian, writer and public intellectual. This column first appeared in The Telegraph on August 14, 2021)
- Like all other Indians, I grew up thinking of August 15 as the day when, back in 1947, the first government of independent India was sworn into office. However, in recent years the day has acquired for me another meaning, not unrelated to the first. In my consciousness, August 15, 1947 has been joined by August 15, 1942, which is the day that Mahadev Desai died in prison. Without his contributions, India might never have become free of British rule at all, and yet this great patriot and freedom fighter remains largely unhonoured today. Perhaps he would have wanted it that way. From the time he joined Gandhi in Ahmedabad in 1917 until his death in the Aga Khan Palace a quarter of a century later, Mahadev entirely submerged himself in the service of the Mahatma. He was Gandhi’s secretary, typist, translator, counsellor, courier, interlocutor, trouble-shooter and much more. He even cooked for his Master, his khichdi in particular attracting Gandhi’s praise.