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When the light went off and darkness prevailed

Mahatma Gandhi was assassinated on 30 January 1948 in the compound of Birla House (now Gandhi Smriti), a large mansion in New Delhi. His assassin was Nathuram Godse.
Mahatma Gandhi was assassinated on 30 January 1948 in the compound of Birla House (now Gandhi Smriti), a large mansion in New Delhi. His assassin was Nathuram Godse

A few days before I did visit Mr. V.S.Dutta – legendary editor of ‘Northern India Patrika’ (erstwhile Amrit Bazar Patrika) in Prayagraj. He shared with me his experience of that evening of Friday, 30th January 1948 when Mahatma Gandhi was assassinated.

He told me that he was at home when his elder brother, whom they were used to seeing return at 10 p.m., was back home before sunset. There was panic on his face. His brother asked him, ‘Do you know what has happened? Mahatma Gandhi has been assassinated’. They were all stunned and couldn’t just believe it. There was sadness, anguish on every face. Further, he told them, ‘There was first a rumor that an angry Punjabi refugee had fired the gunshots. (A week earlier one Madan Lal, who threw a bomb in his prayer meeting, was a Punjabi.) Soon there was a rumor that a Muslim had killed him. There is thus tension’.

Rumor mongers had a field day saying so many frightening things. Those were the days when there was no TV.  All India Radio was the only source of news. So, they switched on the radio. It was playing sad, mournful instrumental music with intermittent announcements about the tragic happening. But no announcement was being made about the identity of the killer. Why the silence was being maintained is difficult to understand. Then finally the news came that the assassin was neither a Punjabi nor a Muslim but it was Nathuram Godse.

They were told between intermittent mournful music on radio that the Prime Minister and the Deputy Prime Minister would be addressing the nation at 8.30 p.m. Jawaharlal came on the air. He had a weeping expression and then he spoke those historic words, Friends, the Light has gone out of our lives and there is darkness everywhere’. He said that a ‘mad man’ had killed the Mahatma. He also hastened to add that although he had said that the light had gone out, actually that light would never, never go out but will shine till centuries acting as a source of inspiration to the coming generations.

A state of mourning was declared for 13 days. This never happened before and never again has there been 13-day national mourning for any leader. The radio was playing only mournful tunes. But one song emerged as the sole number hogging the limelight. It was sung by M.S.Subbuklaxmi: ‘Hari tum haro jan ke bheer’. And the radio kept on repeatedly saying that this was Gandhiji’s favourite bhajan.

Mr. Datta told me that in one cinema hall the film ‘Sindoor’ was running to full houses. It had a widow-remarriage theme. He was told that when the film was abruptly ended on receipt of the news of Ganadhiji’s assassination, the heroine was singing the song, ‘Koi rokey usey aur yeh keh de kuch apni nishani deta jaa’. The mournful nation seemed to have been crying out the same sentiments for the Mahatma.

The last time Bapu visited Allahabad, he did not come in person. Only his ashes came to be immersed in the Ganga, the Sangam, on the concluding lap of his journey to eternal peace.

Riyaz Khan

Written by Riyaz Khan

The author is Director at an engineering and IT services company in Hyderabad and a columnist.

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