Although a great deal has been written about Mahatma Gandhi’s life and his contribution to India’s freedom movement, what has not been explored in as much detail is his first satyagraha in Champaran, Bihar, and how that phase influenced his life.
How did he end up spending two years with Champaran’s indigo farmers against the original plan of devoting one day of his nationwide tour to them; how did the experience propel him to the national stage; what impact did it have on his life? All this forms the theme of the Pierrot’s Troupe production, Mohan Se Mahatma, which will be staged this Sunday as part of the The IIC Experience: A Festival of the Arts. The one-hour play was first staged in Champaran on April 10 this year, 100 years after Gandhi arrived there.
“When we were researching for the play, we were surprised to discover the lack of information on Gandhi from that period. He was 47 years old when he first arrived in Champaran. There is only one picture of him from that time. Even the government archive uses picture from a later period in his life when he began wearing the dhoti,” said M Sayeed Alam, director of the play.
The play recreates the Champaran satyagrah of 1917 – the symbol of Gandhi’s introduction to India and India’s to independence.
“Champaran transformed Gandhi from a political leader of importance to the most important political leader of India. Until then, there were other prominent leaders such as Tilak and Jinnah on the scene,” said Alam.
The play begins with 55-year-old Gandhi (played by Ravi Raj Sagar) making notes of the Champaran satyagrah which would become part of his autobiography “My Experiments With Truth”.
What follows is the depiction of events related to the movement: Gandhi (played by Alam) in Kathiawadi attire arriving in Patna on April 10, 1917 to his onward journey to Champaran to its successful culmination, when he was able to get justice for the indigo farmers who had been severely exploited over decades by British planters.
In the process, the play portrays the Champaran satyagrah not only as a political movement, but a larger one which resulted in social, educational and economic reforms with far-reaching consequence.
“Back then, many people including Gandhi were unaware of even the location of Champaran and the problems faced by its indigo farmers. It was agriculturist Rajkumar Shukla who convinced him to visit Champaran,” said Alam.
The play is as much about Gandhi as about his trusted lieutenants – the intelligentsia of Bihar, particularly Dr Rajendra Prasad who became the first President of independent India.
The first two shows of the play saw Tom Alter playing the older Gandhi. “ Tom saab often used to say that after Gandhi, he would like to play Nehru and Jinnah. In fact, he was to play Jinnah in Dilip Hiro’s play, Gandhi and Jinnah,” said Alam about the late actor who featured in at least 10 of his plays. Alter died last week of skin cancer. He was 67.
WHAT: Mohan to Mahatma (part of the IIC Experience: A Festival of the Arts. Events at the festival include film screenings, art exhibitions, dance, music performances. 7-11 October
WHEN: 6.30 pm, October 8, Sunday
WHERE: IIC, Max Mueller Marg
Nearest metro station: Khan Market