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Baba Amte: The Gandhi after that Gandhi
Himanshu Thakkar | February 09, 2008 20:20 IST
The Gandhi after that Gandhi -- that is the phrase that comes to my mind when I think about Murlidhar Devidas Amte, better known as Baba Amte, who passed away on Saturday.
We have a habit of bestowing greatness to the dead. But there are very few people for whom that phrase will stick. Most people whom we know as Gandhian, unfortunately, do not fit the bill, as they are not the fighters that Mohandas Gandhi was.
The social activist is best known for the four Ashrams he helped set up in central India -- three of them for leprosy patients and the fourth for adivasis (tribals). Anyone who has visited these places (Anandvan, Somnath, Ashokvan and Hemalkasa) would see the very rare combination of a fantastic visionary and also a great implementer of visions that he was. But, he had gone far ahead of that work.
Over two decades ago when I left my job as an engineer, I decided to go to Anandvan, as I thought that this was a remarkable person from whom one can learn so much before one sets out to work on social issues. Those six months will remain some of the most memorable months of my life.
The strange situation at the famous Ferkuwa on the Gujarat-Madhya Pradesh border in the early days of 1990s, in many ways, signified a lot. Here was Baba Amte with a few thousand people on the road, on a march towards Sardar Sarovar dam site, fighting against the controversial project on the Madhya Pradesh side of the border.
I am reminded of the poem my friend Sreekumar sent me last week, the first stanza of which reads:
"Where have they gone, those good people?
The twinkle in the eye, the spring in the steps, the Saraswati (goddess of knowledge) that flowed from his language, the enthusiasm that was his hallmark. It was not without reason that he was called the only man who had spine. It seems like a father figure has gone away.