(Note: This piece first appeared in the December 2015 issue of Teacher Plus, a beautiful magazine for school teachers.)
Dear Mohan bhai,
I hope you do not mind my addressing you so. Mahatma somehow sounds too distant for an intimate letter like this one. You might find this funny but sometimes I forget that you have an actual name, not just a title.
Mohan is such a beautiful name to have! It means charming, doesn’t it? Of course, it also reminds me of Krishna, the flute-playing cowherd who stole butter and flirted with women on the riverbank, the young man who lifted a mountain on his finger.
Now that seems antithetical to the image I have grown up with of you — smiling at me from walls in schools and government offices, perched beside a clock or a calendar.
I wonder about stories from your life that did not make it to the books or movies, and experiences that do not fit neatly into bite-sized quotes for sprucing up essays in school examinations.
I cannot imagine anyone, including you, being pedantic at all times. I am sure you too had an appetite for the absurd and outrageous, the silly and naughty. You see, I like my heroes human. I want to be able to relate to them.
These days, writers can look up what is being written about them, check if anyone is misquoting their words to get a juicy story. All you have to do is type your name on Google Search.
You are lucky that you are dead. Otherwise, you would have died under the weight of all that is written about you. Well, this is what you get for being a hero. People want to analyze your intentions, public statements, gestures, decisions, relationships, sex life even.
Now, tell me, how is an ordinary school-going child supposed to make sense of you? The textbook paints you as a poster boy. Museums pack you into a timeline of important events. The television brings home people quoting you at their convenience.
Well, I have given up on knowing the real you, for there isn’t one. Even if I were to magically meet every person you ever interacted with, and get them to tell me about you, what I would have at the end would be a bagful of perceptions. People cannot be summed up, can they?
If you were here, I would have made you a cup of tea. Did you like yours with or without milk? I do not know. I like mine with lemon grass, crushed cardamom, and grated ginger.
Okay then, I’ll go make some for myself. It has been wonderful writing to you.