Surat (Gujarat): Remember that energetic little boy who led his grandfather, Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi revered as Mahatma Gandhi worldwide holding his stick on the beaches of Gujarat’s Dandi village during the historic Salt Satyagraha of March-April 1930?
That picture has been etched in public memory for over eight decades and even immortalised in memorials on the Salt Satyagraha at Mumbai’s Juhu Beach and several other parts of the country.
Today, that small boy Kanu Ramdas Gandhi is a ripe old 87, an ex-NASA scientist, and lies critical in a charitable hospital here, with little monetary resources and virtually nobody to care for him. Ahmedabad-based Dhimant Badhia, an old friend and grandson of a close associate of Gandhi, is arranging for small monetary help for the ailing Kanu, and recently donated Rs 21,000 ($315) from his personal resources.
“The Radhakrishna Temple is rendering great service. They got him admitted to the Shiv Jyoti Hospital nearby and are taking care of his 90-year old wife, Shivalaxmi Kanu Gandhi, who is practically deaf and suffers from other old age-related problems,” Badhia said.
The going has not been good for the elderly childless Gandhi couple since their return after a four-decade-long stay in the US in 2014, including Kanu’s career of over 25 years with NASA. Handpicked by the then US Ambassador to India, John Kenneth Galbraith, for studies at the Massachusets Institute of Technology (in MIT), Kanu later worked with NASA and the US Defence Department on wing structures fighter aircraft, while Shivalaxmi was a professor and researcher at the Boston Biomedical Research Institute.
“After returning to India, they kept moving from one place to another as they have no place of their own here. They lived for short spells in ashrams or inns, and at one point they were compelled to spend six months in New Delhi’s Guru Vishram Vruddha Ashram,” Badhia said. That experience was harrowing as the ashram, meant for mentally ill senior citizens, was located in an unsafe localilty, and the Gandhis had to hire private armed security guards against internal and external threats.
At that time, a Union minister got in touch with Kanu and made him speak with Prime Minister Narendra Modi. “The PM was most sympathetic and even assured help. But till date, we have not heard from either his office or the Gujarat government,” rued Badhia, adding that no Gujarat leader or ministers have visited or enquired about Kanu.
The turning point came on his arrival at this famed diamond city of Surat in south Gujarat on October 22 when he suffered a cardiac arrest and a severe stroke which has left half his body paralysed. Since that attack, he remains in coma and on life-support systems, with Shivalaxmi and an aide Rakesh, deployed by the temple authorities, beside him. “I cannot frequently travel from Ahmedabad to Surat due to old age. An ashram sevak, Rakesh, is deployed for round-the-clock services to look after Kanu, while the temple authorities care for Shivalaxmi,” Badhia said. Fortunately, Kanu’s very aged sister Usha Gokani from Mumbai regularly enquires after his health and another Bangalore-based sister, Sumitra Kulkarni, a former Rajya Sabha member, visited him recently. “They even offered to bear Kanu’s medical expenses but the temple authorities politely declined, saying they were repaying the debts of Mahatma Gandhi’s services to the nation,” Badhia said.
Momentarily, he feels irked that the world-famous Sabarmati Ashram in Ahmedabad, “which is splurging crores of rupees to prepare for its upcoming centenary next year; or scores of institutions set up by Mahatma Gandhi or named after him with huge funding from the government simply don’t care for Gandhiji’s ideals or his descendents”. Badhia pointed out how the relief funds of the Prime Minister or Chief Minister are available for various purposes, but not for taking care of the descendents of the Father of Nation, especially those who are not affluent.
Incidentally, Badhia recalled how Kanu and Shivalaxmi always proudly referred to their marriage many decades ago which was arranged and solemnised in the US in the presence of the late Morarji Desai, later the Prime Minister of India. On the immediate needs of the senior couple, Badhia said at this advanced age they need nothing but love, medical help and round-the-clock caring without having to bother about arranging finances. “Kanubhai is among the last few surviving links with Gandhiji’s famous stick and the epoch-making Salt Satyagraha. This is the least the nation and its leaders can do for him” Badhia sighed.