Book: Waiting for the Mahatma by RK Narayan
#74 on the Telegraph’s 100 greatest novels of all time.
What is the story about?
Sriram is an orphan raised by his grandma in South India. He became infatuated with a girl, Bharati, who happens to be one of Gandhi’s pupils. He leaves the comforts of his grandma’s home to join the Mahatma’s calling. Their love story intertwines with the historical facts of the Indian Continent at that time till the country got its independence from the British and the end of Gandhi.
Let me say, I really enjoyed this book. The story flowed beautifully and was very easy to read. Not just that, but it was very interesting too.
Sriram is very likable. He is an impressionable young man who fell for a beautiful woman and followed her into Gandhi’s service. At one point in the story, he wishes that she wasn’t a political activist and just a normal girl so he can easily marry her without obstacles.
This shows you that people can join a political movement or cult (not that Gandhi is a cult, far from it, I’m just saying in general), for different reasons, like a girl, and not just pure belief in the political agenda of that group.
Also when Sriram joined Gandhi, he was so adamant and committed to the non-violent nature of the movement but as soon as both Gandhi and Bharati were in jail, and he didn’t have a clear guide, he got influenced by others and became violent to reach the goal of “Quit India.”
But the best and most meaningful part to me in the story is the end.
I love how when things in the country were not going very well after the British left, Sriram said: “We ought to rejoice that it’s our own people that are blundering, isn’t that so?”
Then after the country’s independence, you can feel the start of the religious segregation. Like when Sriram was confronted by two thugs on the train going to Delhi. They were looking for Muslims to throw out of the train and he was spared because he was a Hindu.
But as the book goes on to describe, you can’t say that it’s this group who are aggressors or the other.
As Bharati explains: “what one community did in one part of the country brought suffering on the same community in another part of the country.”
I also loved how Gandhi changed the names of the refugee kids they took in to unbiased names such as fruit and flower names. “Even a number would be better than a name, if a name meant branding a man as of this religion or that.”
I really enjoyed this book. It was entertaining and was easy to read. It taught me a number of things about India’s history and shed some light on Gandhi’s teaching. But mostly, it made me think.
” Human beings have done impossible things to other human beings.”
Next book on the list:
All Quiet on the Western Front by Erich Remarque