As India readies itself to celebrate the 150th birth anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi on Wednesday, K.D. Madan (96), probably the last living witness of Gandhi’s last moments, paid an emotional tribute to the great leader.
A programme officer with the All India Radio (1944-1948), Madan was recording Gandhi’s post prayer speeches delivered every evening at New Delhi’s Birla House, the place where Gandhi was assassinated by Nathuram Vinayak Godse on January 30, 1948.
“On Wednesday, the world will celebrate Gandhiji’s (150th) birth anniversary. So on this occasion, I will not speak about that man (Godse), whom I saw committing the most awful sin on earth. But yes, when I am nearing 100 (years), I would assert that a man like Gandhiji comes into existence once in many centuries,” Madan, who lives in south Delhi’s Vasant Vihar, told IANS.
Recording Gandhi for months, Madan had observed the Mahatma closely.
“No doubt he was a towering personality, but during interactions, he was so gentle and courteous that I never felt that I was talking to such a big leader. I am close to 100 now, but I’m yet to see a leader as humble as him.
“Unme ahankar bilkul nahi tha… Bilkul bhi nahi. Yeh baat aaj ke daur ke logon ko samajhni hogi (He did not have any ego, not at all. The present generation should understand this remarkable quality),” Madan ostensibly suggested to the present day leaders.
After Gandhi’s assassination in 1948, Madan, one of the key eye witnesses of the gruesome crime, left All India Radio and joined the civil services.
Presently, he is the only surviving person out of the distinguished gathering, which used to assemble daily at Birla House to listen to Gandhi.
“Lady Mountbatten, (Jawaharlal) Nehruji, Sardar Patel, Maulana Azad, Amrit Kaur, Rajendra Prasad and many more were frequent visitors to the Birla House. But I was the only one who had an important duty to perform. Every evening I recorded Gandhiji and connected him with rest of the country at 8.30 p.m. by broadcasting his post prayer speeches,” he said, adding, “Many journalists also arrived there daily to cover Gandhiji’s speeches. Some of the names I do not remember now.”
Though Madan was initially reluctant to speak about the fateful evening of January 30, 1948, he later recollected the incident.
“I reached Birla House (on January 30, 1948) at around 4.30 p.m. I was arranging my equipment when I saw Sardar Patel going inside the Birla House to meet Gandhiji. Patel stayed for some time and then left. After a short while, Lady Mountbatten and Lord Mountabatten arrived to meet Gandhiji. The meeting got delayed as Gandhiji did not arrive, may be till 5.15 p.m. I was in the lawn where Gandhiji used to first recite the prayers followed by his speech. And then we all know what happened…,” said Madan, who some how seemed unwilling to narrate the sequence of events which led to the Mahatma’s assassination.
On being asked if he was the key eyewitness in the case, Madan said the police had initially summoned him. “However, later I was told by the police that my testimony was not required as the accused had confessed to his guilt. So finally I did not turn up at the court,” recalled Madan, saying that he did not wish to speak more on the assassination.
Remembering a conversation with the great man at Birla House, the former radio engineer-turned-civil servant said that once Gandhiji told him that he would visit the All India Radio studio. Accordingly, a date was fixed for his visit. However, on the given date, Gandhi had an outstation engagement.
“A day before the event, Gandhiji called me in Birla House and very politely told me that he felt sorry for not being able to visit the AIR studios because of a sudden change in his schedule. He was so apologetic, so humble in his words that I was touched by his gesture. As a human being, that was his quality which you won’t find anywhere else,” Madan quipped.
Till 1981, Madan served as the Special Secretary in the Union Ministry of Home Affairs in Delhi. He now lives with his son and hardly moves out due to old age.
Senior journalist Vivek Shukla, a keen writer on Gandhi’s life, said that till a few years back, veteran columnist Dev Dutt and Madan were the only surviving eye witnesses to Gandhi’s assassination.
“Dev Dutt, who lived in south Delhi’s Saket area, is no more now. Most probably Madan is now the lone surviving person who was with Gandhi during his last moments and was witness to the gruesome killing at the Birla House,” Shukla said.