Somewhere on the outskirts of the capital city of Delhi lives Mahesh Chaturvedi. His quick pace may hide the fact that he is in his late sixties. His simple, kurta pajama clad, almost missable personality may not lead you to look back at him again if you bump into him in a busy bylane of Ghaziabad. That however holds true only till he takes on, what he calls his “true” persona, that of Mahatama Gandhi.
I met Chaturvedi in his small one room residence where he lives alone. The space was given to him by one of his followers. The 65 year old lives a humble life in which he seeks to implement Gandhian teachings and urges others to do the same.
In my interactions with him I was made privy to many aspects of his life. Chaturvedi was very open to sharing with me not only his space and walking me through his transformative process but also sharing with me his inner thoughts as well as details about his personal life.
He tells me that it was in the year 2002, that he started having the belief that he was a living embodiment of the late Mahatama Gandhi. On the question of how this belief came onto him, he has no clear answer.
This belief marked a great turning point in his personal life, as, till then he had a regular job, a family and two grown up kids, all of which he has now left behind. He accepts that his children are not proud of what he does and are rather embarrassed by it. His remaining family too has severed their ties with him. Chaturvedi too does not dwell too much on his past, his small residence bears no photographs of his days as a journalist and a teacher or of his wife and children. He now lives a life in which his image is completely transformed from what it was before.
Since his transformation, Chaturvedi has wholly adopted the Gandhian principles in his everyday life. He either lives in his humble home or at Rajghat, Mahatma Gandhi’s memorial where he “meditates on Bapu” .
His daily activities are numbered, he either spends his time reading or meditating or he goes out, in his “true persona” to help, educate and interact with the general public in an attempt to inspire them to the Gandhian way of life. His travels are made either on foot or by public transport if the distance is too great. His possessions are limited, some clothes, just few dhotis, a couple of slippers and some essential household items such as utensils and a table and chair. His close personal items include: a pocket watch, a pair of spectacles that resemble Gandhi’s and the Bhagwat Gita, one of Hinduism’s most sacred books on which most of the Gandhian philosophies are based.
Urging people to adapt to the Gandhian way of life is one of his primary motives. “Aajkal log Gandhi ko bhoolte ja rahe hain ” (Today , people are slowly forgetting what Gandhi taught us.) The gap between the rich and the poor is rapidly increasing, there is enormous greed and corruption. Also, there is so much violence in the world now ” he tells me in a worried manner while handing me a cup of tea.
As Chaturvedi prepares to step out from his home, he prepares to build his persona by putting on his spectacles and dhoti, picking up the Gita in his hand as well as his lathi (walking stick). It is now that it dawns on me, the real, living image of Gandhi begins to take shape piece by piece. I ask him about the image of Gandhi today, “zayadatar log note wale Gandhi yaad rakhte hain.” (most people today chose to only remember the Gandhi printed on our currency notes) he says promptly.
“When I go out, my mission is simple, I am addressing the needs of the entire world. I want to align the entire world with Gandhi’s ideals. Today, when there is no serious thought (such as Gandhi’s) in the world, ofcourse there will be violence.”
“At this point in time, I think it is imperative for the world to completely adopt Gandhi’s principles” he tells me as he talks of a future filled with peace, fraternity and brotherhood.
” I meet all types of people when I go out and I get many different reactions. Some are serious and some are funny. I remember a kid once pulled out a 10 Rupee note from his pocket to show me that ‘he also had Gandhi with him’ ” he remarks cheeringly.
Perhaps in a true sense of Gandhi’s message for tolerance and respecting diversity, Chaturvedi says that he meets with even those who may not agree with his ideologies. ” I meet people who love Gandhi and those who hate Gandhi, be it kids, young adults or older people. I listen to all of them.”
” Some people are indifferent, they just walk by” he accepts ” but those who are believers come near and talk to me.” His resemblance though does attract a crowd as he has been invited to speak at many public rallies and demonstrations. He is not always keen to accept the invitation though.
On me asking him a simple and obvious question- if he really believe that he is Gandhi, he firmly replies “Haan mein Gandhi hun! (I am Gandhi!) He resides in all of us, not just me, you just have to discover him.”
In a parting away moment, perhaps preempting my final question he says “Till there is life in my body, till there is this soul, till then I will keep doing this.
Images and text © Kshitij Nagar