Three-quarters of an hour with Nelson Mandela

I cannot comprehend even now as to how a person struggling against an inhuman practice can withstand the physical and mental torture of remaining in jail for 27 long years. How can one not give up his struggle even after spending 27 years behind bars? That a person continued to pursue his objective for 27 years, facing all kinds of hurdles and personal sufferings, is unbelievable but true

Nelson Mandela has won worldwide fame as a dogged fighter against injustice. Humanity is proud of him. Mandela, who raised the banner of revolt against Apartheid, is revered the world over. Mandela had to spent 27 years in prison for waging a valiant struggle against the policy of Apartheid of the cruel South African regime. His long incarceration and the brutal torture he was subjected to, shamed the entire human race but it led to the end of Apartheid. An indebted South Africa honoured him with the top-most position in the country.

I am proud that I got an opportunity to spend three-quarters of an hour with this great personality. The brief time spent in his company was an unforgettable experience for me. The then Assistant Director, Tourism, Government of India, Varanasi had entrusted to me the responsibility of acting as a guide to His Excellency during his boating trip.

It was October, 1990. Mandela was accorded a grand welcome on his arrival in India. While on his way to Calcutta, he made a stop-over at Varanasi. The administration had arranged a big motor boat for him at the Bhainsasur ghat (Raj Ghat). I was asked to reach the spot half-an-hour in advance. I was happy beyond words. I could have never have imagined that I would get an opportunity to be in the company of such a great man.

The then chief minister Mulayam Singh Yadav welcomed the dignitary at the ghat. Mahatma Gandhi’s grandson Rajmohan Gandhi was also with them. As soon as the trio reached near the motor boat, Rajmohan Gandhi began the conversation by telling Mandela that Mulayam Singh was the representative of 150 milllion Indians. I introduced myself to Mandela as his guide and began to tell him about the ghats of Varanasi. Mandela’s eyes fell on the earthen lamps strung high on bamboo poles at the Panchanan ghat. As soon as I started describing the lamps, Mandela stood up and began listening to me with great interest. I was very impressed and touched by his affable nature and his humility. Few in the world are the owners of such a magical personality. A heart full of affection and compassion and an abiding love for humanity made him a unique, unforgettable and matchless person.

I cannot comprehend even now as to how a person struggling against an inhuman practice can withstand the physical and mental torture of remaining in jail for 27 long years. How can one not give up his struggle even after spending 27 years behind bars? That a person continued to pursue his objective for 27 years, facing all kinds of hurdles and personal sufferings, is unbelievable but true. We all should draw inspiration from this great man. The exploited, the deprived and the backwards should forge a common front and intensify the mega battle for equality. It is not an easy battle but victory is not far off. If the present generation puts all its energies in waging this battle, we can definitely demolish the walls that separate one man from another and free humanity from the stigma of inequality.

The edge of the words
will have to be sharpened.
because our wounds may be rubbed again.
We have only words
to continue our struggle,
they are our energy.
We are not feudal lords
nor are we Mafiosi
then, from where will we get.
armed bands?
We have only words.
We have to turn words into a movement.
Weapons do not bring about revolution.
Words do.

Published in the January 2013 issue of the Forward Press magazine


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