MY FOREFATHERS, LIKE GANDHI’S, were Kathiawari banias who worked as administrators in the courts of the petty princes of Kathiawar. My grandfather, Prabhudas Kamdar, was of that generation of Indians who came of age in the late 19-teens, just in time for the publication of Gandhi’s manifesto, Hind Swaraj. As a youth, Bapuji, as we all called him, gobbled up each issue of Gandhi’s
political tract, Young India, as it came off the press. Naturally, he joined Gandhi’s satyagraha movement. In 1920 or 21, he left home to live in Gandhi’s ashram in Ahmedabad on the banks of the Sabarmati river. Though he didn’t stay more than a year, those heady youthful days as a satyagrahi marked him for life.
In my family, devotion to gandhian principles died with my grandfather, a man who wore khadi dhoti to the last and inveighed passionately against such evils as Bollywood movies and Western technology. If this was the case in my family, I wondered what, if anything, remained of Gandhi and his life’s message in the land of his birth. Last December, I went to Gujarat to find out.