Photographers' Blog

Meeting a modern-day Gandhi

November 26, 2012

Delhi, India

By Mansi Thapliyal

“I am Gandhi!” he says firmly. “His soul resides inside me,” he announces, smiling unwaveringly.

I stare blankly at the man who is wearing a dhoti wrapped around his waist, thick black oval glasses and carrying a cane just like Mahatma Gandhi.

GALLERY: MODERN-DAY GANDHI

Two weeks ago, I called this man asking to meet him and he politely told me not to say “hello.”

“Hello is a word used by the British and is a legacy left by our colonial masters,” he said. Instead he insisted I say the Hindi phrase “vande mataram”, meaning “I bow to thee my mother”.

After fixing a time to meet, I reached his house not knowing what to expect. To my surprise I discovered that he lived in a room, above a public toilet, given to him by one of his followers on the outskirts of Delhi. In it, he leads a simple life, just like Gandhi, cooking for himself, doing his daily prayers and reading the Bhagavad Gita, Hinduism’s holy book which inspired Gandhi’s teachings.

I spent around a week with Mahesh Chaturvedi. The 62-year-old frail man told me before he realized he was an embodiment of Gandhi he worked at a weekly newspaper. He had a job, a family, and a nice middle class life. But today, living alone, he says his grown-up children are embarrassed by his current appearance. He has chosen to leave his past behind him and expects others to do the same.

For his entire life, he has felt that he has had a higher purpose and that there was more to it.

According to him, in 2002 he started believing that the soul of Mahatama Gandhi resided in him. That was the turning point when he walked out on everything and started living like India’s “father of the nation.”

He started traveling through towns, cities and villages across India, drawing a crowd wherever he went as he mimicked Gandhi’s mannerisms and style.

People would want to take pictures of him with their mobile phones and would even bow down and touch his feet, a sign of respect in India.

His striking resemblance to the man who helped bring about independence to India from British rule has lead to many invitations to public rallies and demonstrations.

In a country where millions live in poverty, it’s not surprising to see Indians worshiping millions of different gods, with some believing that there might be some truth in Chaturvedi’s words.

To me, he is a living, breathing portrait of Gandhi, someone who I can talk and laugh with, unlike the silent framed images and statues of the great man I see across the country.

Chaturvedi reminds me of how important it is to lead a life of teachings encouraged by the likes of Gandhi.

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