Monday, December 19, 2011

Mumbai April 27 1959: Nanavati's Story

Reading Time ~10 minutes.

K.M. Nanavati vs. State of Maharashtra
Mumbai District and Sessions Court, 
October 21, 1959.
A large crowd gathered and jostled at the Mumbai Sessions Court. Men left work and came to watch, women left their work and homes, children cut school. A pandemonium broke out when the police van with Commander Kawas Maneckshaw Nanavati arrived. It was as if a spark ran through the crowd. Some women screamed his name. Nanavati, tall and composed, cut a stately figure in his white Navy medaled uniform.

The court room was packed, for the verdict of the jury was due. For a murder that rocked the city. A naval commander on trial for murder, over love, was unheard of. The case was making headlines everyday. Newspapers sold like hotcakes, the Blitz jacked up its rate to Rs. 2 from the regular Rs.0.25. The street vendors weren't behind in making money. They sold Nanavati revolvers and Ahuja towels. Bang bang bang. Even Ram Jethmalani and Karl Khandalawala, lawyers hired for the prosecution and of the defense, had a hard time getting into the court premises past the reporters.
No one knew that the 9 member jury consisting of - 2 Parsis, 2 Christians and 5 Hindus would be the last jury trial in India.

4.20 PM.
April 27, 1959.
Bedroom of Prem Ahuja.
Jeevan Jyot Apartments, Second Floor, Nepean Sea Road, Malabar Hills.

Prem Bhagwandas Ahuja had come home early from his automobile store. It was a hot day and the weather was sticky. He ended his day early for he wanted to take a shower. 
After the shower, he was brushing his hair standing in front of the bathroom mirror when he heard the door open and a man enter, closing the door behind him.
Ahuja looked out, surprised to see the familiar man near the bedroom door.

The man came right to the point-
"You filthy swine, he said
Are you prepared to marry Sylvia and care for my children?

Ahuja became caustic with the unexpected confrontation-
Am I to marry every woman I sleep with?
Get out of here before I throw you out"

4.20 PM.
Bedroom of Mamie Ahuja, sister of Prem Ahuja.

Mamie Ahuja heard her brother in the shower. She was resting with a cup of tea. The doorbell rang and she heard Anjani Rapa, the maid, open it. Wonder who it is, she thought.
Soon, she a strange noise. Loud. Glass breaking. Is it from the street?
The streets are getting more crowded and noisier every passing day. No, it is from the inside.
Perplexed, she put her cup down and came out. The house-help came running too, curious. They went into Prem Ahuja's room
Prem was lying in blood, still in a bath towel. The glass was shattered, blood was on walls. 
What is this, she screamed, looking at Nanavati, who was there with a gun in his  hand. But Nanavati did not answer. Then he walked away. 

6.00PM April 27.
Gamdevi Police Station.

The Deputy Commissioner on duty, John Lobo, got a call from the Naval Provost Marshal, Samuel, that a Commander from the Navy had been looking for a police station, he had a confession and was coming over. Even then, the Deputy Commissioner was surprised to see a composed, well-dressed man in a spotless white shirt and trousers walk in, asking "Lobo Sahib ka kamra kahan hai?"
Nanavati repeated what he had told the Provost  "Something terrible has happened. I do not know what has happened. I have shot a man"
Lobo: "I know. The man is dead."
Nanavati apparently turned pale.  He refused tea but asked for a glass of water.  He gave a bunch of keys and requested they be given to his wife at a cinema theater. The police recovered a revolver and removed unspent cartridges from his car.
Do they put the Commander in a common lock-up? There was no precedent. The Deputy Commissioner wasn't sure what to do.

3.00 PM, April 27
The Streets

Nanavati was driving. He was very quiet. The children, all three, were quiet too. Just as how children sense when something is wrong with the grown ups and do their best to be proper. Sylvia sat quietly in front, preoccupied. Nanavati pulled into Metro Theater, where they had already bought tickets earlier in the morning for a matinée show of Tom Thumb. The family got off, Nanavati did not join them but said he would pick them up at the end of the show at 6.00PM.

1.00 PM, April 27
Nanavati's Apartment
Cuffe Parade

Nanavati had come home on April 18 after duty on the naval ship, Mysore, where he was second in charge. This time around, coming home felt different. Sylvia was aloof and there was much tension.
His feelings had deepened since they met and married in 1949 in England.  He was 24, she was 18. Elegant and lovely, she made their house in Mumbai into a home and was the glue that held and gave meaning to their family.
The morning of April 27th was very rough, with all the errands amidst the tension. After lunch, Nanavati sat on the other end of the sofa Sylvia was relaxing on and asked a different question as opposed to "Whats wrong, dear?" which wasn't going anywhere.
Sylvia, he said, "Do you still love me?" 
No reply
"Are you in love with someone else?" 
No reply
"Is it Ahuja?"
"Have you been faithful to me?"
Nanavati was stunned.
He was beside himself. He said he wanted to see Ahuja. Then he said excitedly he wanted to kill himself. 
"No, no", Sylvia said trying to calm him, "You are the innocent one in this"
He pleaded. He said they could still be together, he would forgive her if she stopped seeing Ahuja.
She did not say anything.
"Are you going to marry?"
She did not have a reply.
Nanavati's had to make his own conclusions.

3.30-4.20PM, April 27
The Streets

Nanavati drove away from the cinema theater still in a daze.
He drove or rather, found himself going to the Navy armoury. “Self Protection” he said and signed out a gun with six cartridges. The clerk put them in brown paper bag.
Nanavati drove to the Universal Motors Office on Pedder Road and asked for Prem Ahuja. He already left, he was told. (Interestingly, Nanavati did not take the gun with him when he went in and looked around for Ahuja in the showroom) 
Then Nanavati drove to Ahuja's home and rang the bell. Anjani Rapa, a maid opened.
She knew Nanavati and his family were close friends of the Ahujas. When asked where Prem Ahuja was, she nonchalantly said, "Bedroom".

K.M. Nanavati vs. State of Maharashtra.
Mumbai District and Sessions Court, 
October 21, 1959.

The public and jury sympathized with Nanavati, who had a decorated career with the Navy and an exemplary character. They felt, somehow, he had acted honorably.
Sylvia had been steadfast in her support to her husband all through the trial. She had gotten over her infatuation with Ahuja. She and Nanavati were the main witnesses for the defense. Sylvia was reportedly a teary-eyed witness. All her letters to Prem Ahuja became public and were served as evidence. Dressed in a white sari, her time in the witness stand was apparently rough.

The defense presented a picture of the 34 year-old, unmarried Ahuja being a playboy and of the death being accidental. The tabloid, Blitz, run by Mr Karanjia, stridently supported Nanavati as did the Parsi Panchayat and the Indian Navy. Nanavati was on the stand for two days giving testimony. 

The Sindhi community stood by Mamie Ahuja. She testified for her brother. “He was going to marry Sylvia provided she divorced Nanavati” was her contention. The prosecution argued that the murder was premeditated and Nanavati deserved maximum sentencing.
Interesting time it was for the country, Nehru was the Prime Minister, VijayaLakshmi Pandit was the governor of Maharashtra, India was trying to crawl out of a colonial mentality, Mumbai was building a new identity.

At 7.00 PM, the jury returned with the verdict of “Not Guilty”, 8:1.
When Nanavati came out of the court, the crowd went crazy. Rs 100 bills smeared with lipstick rained on him like confetti. He had already been receiving marriage proposals from women, who hoped he would divorce his firang wife and become available. He was a hero. A real one.

The judge referred the case to the High Court and an appeal was filed. Because of the many issues in finding an unbiased jury and problems in having a jury properly follow the judge's directive, the jury system was abolished, forever, in the country! This was the last case by jury trial in India.

In the High Court and later, the Supreme Court, a judge ruled on the case.
The case revolved on what happened in the bathroom on the fateful day of April 27, 1959. The prosecution stated premeditation, the defense rested on accidental firing.
Defense: Nanavati went to find out the future from Prem Ahuja himself. A fight broke out after a verbal spat and Ahuja tried to grab the brown bag holding the gun which Nanavati had placed on a cabinet. Nanavati reached for it too. In the struggle that ensued to control the gun, it got accidentally fired.
Prosecution: It was premeditated murder. A gun was methodically acquired. If there was a tussle, why didn't the towel of the victim fall off?
Witnesses were called to testify that the gunshots, three in all, were fired in succession (a fight would have necessitated pauses) and that subsequent to the shooting, Nanavati's clothes were stain free. He was composed enough so as to drive to the home of the Navy Provost to confess. He had calmly unloaded the gun and corrected the spelling of his name at the police station. 
One unanswered question remained as to why the towel did not fall, at all, even with the muscular contractions of death. Very unusual, apparently.

The High Court found Nanavati guilty of homicide amounting to murder and sentenced him to life in prison. The Supreme Court upheld the decision on November 11, 1961.
Nanavati had to resign his post in the Navy. He had already sold his possessions - car, refrigerator, camera, Sylvia's jewelry, and such to pay the legal costs. The children were having a hard time in school and had to be taken out.
The Parsi panchayat held a huge rally and submitted a petition to transfer Nanavati to the custody of the Navy, but that did not happen. Nanavati apparently was stoic, not giving to public display of emotion when the life sentence was handed. He disappeared behind the gates of Arthur Road Prison after kissing his sobbing wife goodbye.

K. M. Nanavati
Sylvia Nanavati

Prem Ahuja
In 1959, Nanavati and Ahuja were both 34 years of age and Sylvia was 28.

Three years passed. Much happened in the country and the world. Goa came back to India. There was the Indo-China war. Krishna Menon, who was the defense minister, resigned. Interestingly, Nanavati had worked for him when in England. JFK was killed. Nehru died.
After three years, in an unusual turnaround, Nanavati was pardoned by the Governor, but not before a letter from Mamie Ahuja that she has no objection to the pardon was presented. The pardon was quid pro quo: another popular person, Bhai Pratap, a freedom fighter who got caught up in a funds case, was simultaneously pardoned. He was from the Sindhi community.

I became intrigued when I read about the case. Another way of looking at it-

What started as a friendship and social meet-ups with the Ahujas, brother and sister, in time became more than that for Sylvia. Prem Ahuja, with his looks, charm and suave won her over and she became infatuated with him. But Prem was being elusive of recent and was breaking her heart. He even asked that they not meet for a while...
Prem Ahuja was in a fix. He had not expected Sylvia to fall in love with him and expect to marry. He was trying to let her down gently. It wasn't going well. Casually mentioning “all the girls available, one of whom he might marry”- upset Sylvia very much. She could not stand the thought.
After lunch, Nanavati's small world had came apart. In less than ten minutes. The walls around him collapsed and the ground disappeared. How to suddenly stop loving someone? He could not imagine living without his wife. There was nothing to go on. He moved in a daze.
He got a gun and wanted to go far away, far away and shoot himself. But a thought kept nagging, he needed to be sure. That Sylvia and the children would be taken care of. He drove to the dealership.
Ahuja left for home, they said. He went to the Ahujas home, walked into the bedroom in a trance. In desperation, asked the question of Ahuja himself.
Just out of a shower and already troubled by Sylvia's queries, Ahuja was flabbergasted. His shock, guilt and embarrassment turned into sarcasm and he said the now infamous words.
Nanavati was overwhelmed. Not only did Prem betray friendship, ruin his family, he wasn't acting honorably. So cheap he made it seem. Rage came over his usual composure. Three shots were heard.

Was there a fight for the gun? Or was it just a lunge? Was Nanavati too quick for Ahuja? Was it indeed an accident? Or was it intentional?
The prosecution proved there could not have been a fight- the shots were fired in succession, Ahuja must have slumped with the first injury and could not have struggled any more, the towel stayed on Ahuja and Nanavati's clothes were spotless. No fight--straight-off-shooting--no-accident--premeditation--guilty, was their premise. The case and conviction rested on that. They won.
The defense's version of a fight was also plausible,  it was not completely impossible.

Two things stand out for me. Or more.
First, no caring father or mother will ever ask someone else "will you take care of my children" unless the parent was planning to be missing in the future picture. Second, what if the entire conversation in the bathroom did not happen? We only have Nanavati's version. What if he just walked in and shot Ahuja?
The conversation was so raw, it had to be real. Nanavati's words on the stand were "If I intended to kill him, I could have riddled him with bullets as soon as I saw him". Also, Commodore Nanda testified that Nanavati was a very good shot and could not have fired as haphazardly as the injuries indicated if there wasn't a fight. (But the target was also not standard, the victim could have been trying to escape).

It is likely there was no tangible premeditation. In reality, it could not have been a 0 – 1 proposition. It rarely is. It is likely some thoughts of murder crossed Nanavati's mind. It is likely he was not acting on them up until Ahuja's retort.  It is much harder to prove to a jury that 'while intent to kill crossed the mind, it was sufficiently under control". Also he was trained and was methodical, which explains the fairly involuntary actions in unloading the gun and correcting his name. There was no attempt to flee, he confessed straightaway.

Just three years later, Ram Jethlamani after a proposal and a visit from a lawyer and Sylvia, managed to persuade Mamie Ahuja into writing a no-objection letter for Nanavati's release. If you were Mamie Ahuja, would you do it if you believed Nanavati was guilty of premeditated murder of your brother? 
I don't think so. One would do it only if one believes: a bad situation got worse, a death occurred in the heat of moment. Her brother lost his life, he was not coming back. Others suffered too.
Mamie Ahuja, she had the heart to forgive.


Abolishing the jury system in the entire country following this trial in the Mumbai Sessions Court was, I believe, an overreaction. Because being judged for a crime by a jury made of peers is a cornerstone of democracy.
Sure, a jury trial can be cumbersome, cost more money and stretch out proceedings. The judge has to work extra hard to make the jury understand some legal aspects. He also has to screen and select a jury.  In its defense, a jury is a representation of the society, as it is. A jury gets better and educated with time but only at the same pace as the average society.
A criminal justice system where an accused is judged by his/her peers seems so appropriate for a country like India, despite and because of all the complications. The society in the form of a jury deserves the right to punish those guilty of crimes against them. Is it possible, is it of interest, to bring back the jury system?

More than four decades later, a newspaper, Hindustan Times, reached Nanavati for a story. Here is his reply-

He wrote in his own hand: a letter which was polite and firm.
Back in 1959, he had no inkling, how his thoughts and actions on a summer afternoon, in a space of about three hours, would rivet the entire nation and change the country forever.
After the pardon that he chose to live quietly away from the public eye. He and his family exchanged their tumultuous high life in Mumbai for an anonymous, common emigrant life in Canada. Or maybe it was in the unspoken terms of the pardon, we don't know. He and Sylvia were together till he passed away, in 2003.

1. Images are from Wikipedia and Hindustan Times. Sources are various, all online. 
2. Troubles with jury selection and isolation during the OJ Simpson case are legendary. Judge Lance Ito became fodder for late night comedy shows parodying the entire case. Acquittal by jury of the police officers in the Rodney King beating case lead to riots. Both these cases are infamous examples of the  jury system in the US being put to a severe test. 
3. 12 Angry Men with Henry Fonda is a gripping movie dealing with jury conflicts amidst personal biases. 

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Spot the Difference!

Tomato and Basil were part of our summer science project. The baby tomato plant (~4 inches in height) wilted for a couple of days after re-planting before getting comfortable in the new soil and pot. The basil was quicker to adjust.

The wilting started as summer began to end. The plants dried and died as weather got cooler.

A life as long as one summer, sprouting buds and leaves with vigor, under the sun and sky as if each summer day was ever so timeless.


Sunday, November 20, 2011

Of all that Matters

Reading Time ~ 5 minutes.

Hebrew Symbol for Aleph.  (From MAAfoundMath)
The above picture, the Hebrew symbol for Alephcame in my Twitter feed.

Youuu, yoou, I love youu to Aleph_naught! I sometimes declare to my son. So much more hip than saying I love you to Infinity! But then, Aleph is not to be thrown around casually, is it? It may end up like quantum.

He and She were strolling in a park.
She: Look! A triple rainbow!
He: Oh! Marvelous! Each bow is taking me further into a quantum state of of happiness.
She being a physicist, a theoretical physicist at that, was not impressed with the use of quantum.

I am neither a mathematician to feel bliss in the magic of pure numbers nor a physicist to expand on quantum happiness. But I have, with interest, read some solid state physics. That was years ago.

Aleph reminded me of Alpha. Through the years, Alpha (α), the fine structure constant, has remained in memory with some of its allure. So I dusted my books, err, googled, I mean. And here I am.

Alpha is a fundamental constant in physics. It is dimensionless. It is equal to 1/137.
An anthropic explanation says: if α was any different from its value of 1/137, matter as we know would not have ever existed, would never have come into existence. Life would not have existed. Yes- you, I, your house, my laptop, blueberries and the atoms of a fallen pine cone, all count as matter.
Only space, everywhere. Poof.
For example, a 4% change in the value of α would not have created carbon, so carbon based life forms would not have been possible. If a > 0.1, fusion in stars would not have come about.
Your choice for α: A creative God's favorite number or another strange accident of evolution.

α is sometimes just referred as 137. Some like to think of it as symbolic of how much we humans do not know. I like to think of α as both: how much we don't know and how much we do know.
We are here now- have self awareness, awareness of self-awareness, have walked around with math, science, philosophy, desire, and- discovered this constant. But we do not know how and why this number has this value and not something else.
Niels Bohr would have perhaps agreed with me, for he said: Contraria sunt Complementa (Opposites are Complementary).

An abbreviated equation of α is:
α = e2/ћc
where e is elementary charge, ћ is reduced Planck's constant and c is speed of light. But what does it mean?

Richard Feynman had this to say about α.
..It's one of the greatest damn mysteries of physics: a magic number that comes to us with no understanding by man. You might say the "hand of God" wrote that number, and we don't know how He pushed his pencil......

Today has been a busy day. Didn't have much time to muse on mysteries and magic. In the mid-morning, I was steaming some idlis but still thinking of 137. Mind you, they were no ordinary idlis. The batch was part of a DOE (design-of-experiments). To replace white rice with brown rice. NO, no, no. No. It was not about preserving the nutritive B-vitamin rich bran. No. I simply fancy off-white idlis.
But the effort required was turning out to be non-trivial. This batch was going to give data with the measurables- texture and form, as: dense and shape-shifting. Again.

That was when I heard a knock on the door.
I waited. For the person at the door to go away.
Some brave souls ignore my handwritten “Absolutely NO Soliciting” sign on the door.
Third knock. Okay, this person wasn't going to go away. I opened the door.
A man, tall, sharply dressed and self-assured, was at the door. He introduced himself.



Neils Bohr.

***** !!

My knees went south. 
I was passing by, on my way to a Astrophysics Conference in Sirius, heard your thoughts and so came by, he explained.
Muchas Gracias, I had managed to say. So honored I am.

A quick glance was enough to give up on the fleeting idea of tidying the living room.
Won't you please come in?
A boy lives in this house” Was the live statement of the living room.

We went past all that to the kitchen area. I showed him a chair at the table.
I hope you don't mind my working as we talk, I said.
Smells lovely, what are you making? he asked. I told him.
Oh, Oppenheimer once talked about idlis.
Did he? I'm not very surprised, I said.

As I said that, I eyed the idlis. The taste was going to fine. But, they were going to be....bedraggled. Only a boy whose mother says I love you to Aleph_naught would feel obliged enough to eat them.

I made these the Tamilian way, I preemptively said. What I didn't say was that I always make them in the Tamilian way, I like them like that.

So over a plate of sorry-looking idlis, podi, and a nice bottle of Napa Valley White Zinfandel, we talked Bohr's atomic model, yin and yang, Churchill, and of course, 137. In a Scandinavian accented English-Physics and a sing-song Indglish.

Almonds and baby Idlies-brown.
Here is the gist. Simply put, α seems to govern why and how electromagnetic forces hold an atom. It can be seen as a ratio of two energies: the repulsion between two electrons and the energy of a photon. The first physical interpretation of α was as the ratio of the electron in the first orbit of the Bohr atom to the speed of light. In Feynman's Quantum Electrodynamics (QED), α is a coupling constant determining the strength of interaction between electrons and photons.
Of course, the actual picture of understanding α is complicated. The value is actually 1/137.0359997867. It also changes with energy levels.
α fascinated the physicist Wolfgang Pauli and the psychologist Carl Jung so much so they collaborated on a book about it.

We like to derive meaning and purpose from this constant, α. But that remains elusive. A few particlephysicist-philosopher pioneers occasionally do cross the border and speculate on the philosophical aspects of fundamental constants. Alpha is still mysterious: all the interesting physical constants that make up α cancel out in units and give us a dimensionless constant, a fundamental number, that shapes electromagnetic interactions.

α makes us and we are it. α pervades all that matters in the universe (pun intended). Truth and beauty, in the absolute, are in the number. Isn't that something?
Truth, simply because untruth has no ground. Beauty poised, in the sharp choice between matter and no-matter. Absolute, because α cannot change. Contraria sunt Complementa.
Like how a collapsed idli complements a fluffy one. Which becomes more delectable because of the glaring absence of its opposite. One is always present in the other.
When seen like that- attributes and experience as a sum of a pair of opposites, TIME seems to become a passage of moments, each moment one of Absolute{beauty and truth}. Beauty in the pair of opposites, truth being in the now, in the immediate reality. Maybe that is why the wise say- Live in the moment”, “because that is all there is".
Our weakness seems to be that we can identify with only one of the pair of opposites at a time. Happy or unhappy. Successful or Not. Which can make the reality, the now, the truth, get warped in turn. Then we keep forever searching for the Absolute.

____"No, no, you are not thinking, you are just being logical"____  - Neils Bohr. 

1 Main information sources are the Wikipedia entries on Alpha and Niels Bohr.
2. Related: Kaput Anyway! is a post where I telescope to Jupiter and to a Galactic collision. For the intrepid, there is the post Mirror Images, with more madness about pairs of opposites

Sunday, November 6, 2011

At the Farmers Market

The Farmers Market in our town is on Saturday mornings. It is in the downtown. While buying produce I sometimes chat with the farmers. Once, one said he woke up at 3 AM, picked the corn, loaded the truck and here he was. He had the tired but content look. Corn is at its sweetest when picked in the early hours.
Rythu Bazaaru are the same in AP, India. Every city boasts of a few and every town has at least one. Rythu = Farmer, Bazaaru = Bazaar, Market. Fresh produce directly from the farms all around. From the growers themselves.

Ever noticed how earthy and alive the farmers look? Irrespective of their location and economic level, they exude the vitality of living close to earth and of a meaningful livelihood. Sadly, not all can make ends meet, in either country.

Here is a picture story of one morning in our Farmers Market.

Rise and Shine
Into the sunny stands we come, take us home...

The advantage of going to a market over here apart from the obvious is the chance to buy produce free of pesticides but not yet certified as organic. Which means we pay less for the same. Some products can only be found in the markets, or the quality is very high- homemade bread, concord grapes, medjool dates and if you like, sauerkraut. If you not a vegetarian unlike me, you may like: fresh fish, cuts from the ethically raised and eggs from free range birds. You can tell the quality of an egg from the brightness of the yellow, I was once told by a farm girl.

Some farmers...

Odds, ends and more...

Catch me if you can

Jingle the money box
Here comes the music man, the music man...

Tipping time

Free samples..
Closing time...

Look what I did.

Spot the difference: Where did the used OJ bottle on the closed up trash come from?
I increased the entropy, that's all I did. Okay, I removed the bottle later. But the entropy still stayed high, right?


Monday, October 17, 2011

Is Fasting+WearingWhite = A Gandhian??

Tiger! Ashram! Elephant! Taj Mahal! Cow! IT! Slums! Yoga! Gandhi!
are the standard keywords used by a western tourist writing a book after one intense trip to India. Somehow the above words offer a catharsis from the riot of rawness experienced. I am neither a tourist nor an aspiring book writer. Just a blogger. Writing about Gandhi (which one you ask? the Mahatma, silly). 

 A picture I once picked up in a street fair
Fasting!  Dhoti! Ashram! Ahimsa! Fasting! Satyagraha! Salt March! Ben Kingsley! Quit India! 2 min silence on Jan 30th! Independence! Fasting! Hey Ram!
are the words an Indian associates with Gandhi. They are more or less on the mark except that they don't present the complete idea of the man that was the Mahatma. Yes, there is a preponderance with fasting, especially now. I am not into fasting, I will declare right away. I start feeling extra pangs of hunger within an hour after deciding, perchance, to skip a meal.

Here is what this post is about: Can enacting a layer or two of the Gandhian philosophy be called Gandhian? I'll say.....No.

Just fasting is not enough to call one a Gandhian. Fasting while wearing white is not enough. Fasting, wearing white and protesting do not automatically a Gandhian make. Especially if the protests are willingly violent. Another way to reiterate is – Does dribbling a basketball turn one into a Micheal Jordan? Wearing a white shirt and shouting STELLA! STELLA! near a flight of stairs make one into a Marlon Brando? Being neurotic and wispy while talking with a deliberate stutter into a Woody Allen? No, right?
Wearing a black turtle neck into Steve Jobs? Directing a Bengali movie into Satyajit Ra.......What?
I can stop now? Okay.
Then why call any Tom, Dubey and Humera who wears white, fasts and has an agenda as Gandhian? That is being Tomian, Dubeyian and Humerian. Nothing wrong with that, no?

So what makes one a Gandhian? My answer: If a person does not have mindful, meaningful, disinterested and useful hard work at the heart of her philosophy of life we cannot begin to call her a Gandhian. No, meetings, processions and speeches do not count. I hope to explain.

What was Gandhi's philosophy? Why is work at center stage?
A three-layer system is my best description:   Foundation, Methodology, Preferred Practices.
1. The Foundation, 2. Methodology, 3. Preferred Practices
1. At the core, The Foundation: Gandhi strove to being a stithapragna- one who is not swayed by the extremes in life-events, is not attached or averse, and can see the pair of opposites in all happenings. While having mindful, detached labor as the central grounding force. In his case it was the spinning wheel.
While he was deeply religious, as in praying and meditating for clarity, his religion was not of showy worship for personal gain. But at the core, work was his worship.

2. The Methodology: Gandhi steadfastly believed in a right way of living. For him it was a simple, sincere and self-sustainable lifestyle, befitting a poor country. He lived in a simple ashram where everyone contributed to the work of daily run and maintenance. He walked his talk, he wore homemade clothes spun by hand, nothing dissimilar to what the millions in poor villages wore. He ate simple meals. He followed the truth and ahimsa as he saw them. He lived in an exemplary way; using simple solutions to complex issues without getting lost in the symptoms. He was consistent to a fault- being a vegetarian, he forsake dairy, which was unheard of in his times1.

3. Preferred Practices: That he was disciplined is an understatement. He maintained a routine. Sensory pleasures were shunned to keep the even the temptations of distraction afar. Fasting as a self-purification technique was a part of life. He was very well aware and experienced in the science of fasting. He said2- unless the desire for food disappears completely, a fast will not endure. He regularly followed a maun vrat (fast of silence) to center his thoughts.

He developed this philosophy drawing from his experience, intuition, intellect and knowledge. He followed the philosophy with an unlikely combination of punishing dedication and dry wit. He put himself within the independence movement and touched the minds and hearts of people hungry for a genuine leader. The rest is history.

Sure, we can disagree with parts or all of Gandhi's philosophy. Argue about the effects of his methods on political and social events. That is something else, outside the scope of this post.

But respect and admiration are possible even if we disagree on aspects outside of the core context. I admit, I perhaps wouldn't have lasted very long in his ashram. For example, I would have found it difficult to wake up at 4.00 AM for a prayer meeting. Dudes, prayer and all is kinda okay, but why not switch to 4.00 PM, under the shade of the mulberry tree? I would have asked. And ayyo! chai is also not allowed?
Now, that does not disqualify me from ever becoming a Gandhian if I ever wished to, as much as being able to wake up at 4.00 AM (w/wo fasting) does not automatically make one a Gandhian.

More on the distinction between his philosophy and the effects. Gandhi was leading a nation- his core principles were iron clad, there was no gray area. His principled moral high ground sustained the movement. Compromise for convenience was not possible, even for family. He simply could not have filtered the philosophy for meeting specific agendas. With time as his popularity and influence grew, so did his detractors. There eventually came a time when the stakes and tensions rose higher than the sky. We all know the events that followed. 

Here is a footage of Gandhi. The real one, physically emaciated and weak. Notice how he keeps his focus and clarity by concentrating inwardly. He strikes such a contrast to our present where we learn to speak without feeling, sell without caring.

At the end of it all, a plain man, living simply and quietly, spinning his own clothes while earnestly doing his share of work of the living, stood up to an empire, changed his country and the world. His methods are even more relevant in the present state of consumerism where more&more is the flailing mantra. In the long run, I'll bet, less is more.

But we cannot not talk about the elephant in the room!

In India we elevate our legends to deities. In doing so we miss out on the person behind the fame. What made the person. His ideals, assumptions and mistakes. The man beyond the myth. Relevant viewpoints not immediately captured get lost over time.
The elephant here is Gandhi's alleged sex life. It is of  much interest to visiting writers.  In fact, it can be added to the visitor keyword list, because talking about Gandhi, just the Mahatma, is not enough anymore.

First, let us separate the fiction from hearsay.
Fiction: To presume from the tone of friendly banter in correspondence from another era that an A was having an affair with a B is not right. Even if within the same time period, an otherwise cool C can have a difficult time with lively banter of a D & E, especially when out of context. 
Then there is culture. Behavior of men with each other from some countries the East is different from the West, even now. Say for example, men holding hands in each place can mean different things.  Assumption, either way, can skew the picture.

Hearsay: There are some reports that Gandhi was traumatized because feelings of desire arose in his lonely, stressed out later years. He did not seem to keep this a secret. Apparently his letters chronicling his struggles were destroyed by some of the people around him. We are left with hushed hearsay. A revered, old man's efforts to conquer his body must have been a subject of much taboo in a conservative society.  
Again and again in history we see, any attempt to cover-up or mislead destroys credibility far more than any perceived moral failing of an eminent person.
Finally, it comes down to what we want to take from Gandhi's life. I believe, even if hypothetically speaking all the allegations are true, it still does not change the sum of what the Mahatma was about.

I'll digress for a bit here. Indian literature has many stories about men on a mission or in tapas, inward seeking, meditating in solitude and thus, feeling lonely. The stories continue how this weak state of mind was utilized by their enemies. Even  Gautama Buddha was not spared. First time around, the issue was about food3. In his second penance, Mara, the enemy, felt- Oh, this fella is into some scary Nirvana-weapon, gotta thwart him and sent his daughters to distract. The plan failed.
I wonder, is this for real or are we talking about struggles within a person's own self while on an extraordinary mission to conquer his mind?  Can anyone claim to fully know their own mind and be consistent in their all actions? Especially when one is pushing the boundaries through frontiers of thought and action and idealistically putting oneself first in line?

Here is Gandhi talking about the spinning wheel2-
.It is quite possible that in future people may see harm in the spinning wheel, may come to think of that no one should wear cotton clothes at all, because they do harm. They may, for instance, believe that clothes should be made from fibers extracted from banana leaves. If people should come to feel that way, anyone who still clings to the spinning wheel would be looked upon as a fool. A wise man, however, will mean by the spinning wheel not an article made of wood but any type of work which provides employment to all people....

So Gandhi had the spinning wheel. What have you got if you call yourself a Gandhian? You know, just fasting is not enough.  Fasting while wearing white is also not enough.

1. Gandhi regarded dairy as a luxury, a snighda food item which he can do without. But at a later point he accepted goat milk when he got very weak. Probably was a good decision since Vit b12 only comes from animal sources (dairy included). Goat milk is drier and has less of snigdha quality.
2. From The Bhagavad Gita, M. K. Gandhi, Orient Paperbacks, 1994, Pages 51 and 76-77.
3. Gautama Buddha experienced a return of past feelings of attachment after taking food following a long break. First puzzled, he later concluded that one should try to achieve to a higher state of mind even with food rather than get to an unstable state by deprivation. (Yeah!)

Note: October is the birth month of Gandhi.