Milan: So just like we did a play that was focussed on the childhood and boyhood years of Dr Ambedkar we could do something similar with Mahatma Gandhi.

Sonia: Ah, I see what you mean.

Hari: That makes sense.

Monica: But in Dr Ambedkar’s life there were many challenges he faced and overcame as a child, which made that play so interesting. Do we have anything interesting about Gandhi’s childhood?

Milan: In the beginning, I thought we didn’t, but I’ve been researching the issue online and in the school library. I found out that this is actually not true. There exists sufficient interesting material on Gandhi’s childhood for us to do a play on him.

Karim: But isn’t Gandhi too good?

Milan: What do you mean?

Karim: I meant that for our play to be a success it must tell an interesting story. The character cannot be too good, can he?

Monica: Karim is right.

Milan: And you both think that Gandhi could not have done any wrong things as a child?

Hari: I’m sure he did not.

Milan: (after a pause) As a matter of fact this was my impression too, till I started to read him – and about him. It was a completely wrong impression.

Sonia: So, did Gandhi do bad things as a boy?

Milan: Yes, he did.

Sonia: (in a disbelieving tone) Really?

Milan: Absolutely.

Sonia: What did he do? Give us one example at least.

Milan: For instance, as a young boy, he smoked cigarettes.

Monica: I don’t believe that!

Milan: Yes, he did. In fact, we have a scene that has him smoking a cigarette in one of the opening scenes.

Hari: We can’t have that!

Milan: Why not?!

Hari: The drama teacher will censor out that scene.

Milan: Why?

Hari: Because of two reasons.

Milan: Yes?

Hari: Firstly, even if he did smoke the school authorities would not like for us to show that. After all he is the Father of the Nation, don’t ever forget that!

Milan: But it’s the truth, don’t you see? And Gandhi was a real, ordinary boy just like us. Gandhi’s childhood is interesting not because he was a model or perfect child. It is interesting because he made mistakes but learnt from them. His is a story of personal growth, and that’s what makes it inspiring! We need to tell the truth, not be hypocritical, and pretend he was always perfect.

Sonia: (nodding) Milan makes a great point there.

Hari: (continues) A second problem is that the teachers wouldn’t want to have a student smoking on stage.

Milan: But, as I said, the play goes on to show that Gandhi realised that it was foolish and unhealthy to smoke cigarettes.

Monica: And, Hari, in order to show that, we need to be able to show him smoking a cigarette.

Hari: Makes sense. I see what you mean.

Monica: We can put up a signboard on the side.

Milan: A signboard?

Monica: Yes, it will say we are not trying to promote cigarette smoking in any way.

Hari: (laughs) Like they do in the movies these days, at the bottom right hand corner of the screen.

Monica: Yes.

Milan: That will be a laugh!

Everyone laughs at the idea.

Hari: Okay, let’s say Gandhi smoked cigarettes as a child for a short period. Still, that is too small an event and by itself doesn’t make his childhood sufficiently interesting. Did he do anything else that was wrong?

Milan: Yes, he did.

Monica: Such as?

Milan: Once he took a piece of gold from his elder brother’s armlet without telling anyone.

Monica: Really?

Milan: Yes. Although he took the gold for a good reason, he soon realised that it was something wrong he did and confessed to his father.

Karim: He took gold! That’s impressive.

Sonia: Impressive? What do you mean, Karim? He confessed that he had taken the gold. That’s way more impressive!

Monica: Karim been watching too many Bollywood films.

Karim: I only meant to say that it makes him more “interesting” as a person.

Sonia: So, Milan, did Gandhi do any other bad things as a boy?

Milan: (after some thought) You could say that he tried to be a bully.

Sonia: A bully? Really? That’s like the worst thing to be. We even have policies in school against bullying.

Milan: Let me correct myself. Maybe I should have used the word “dominate” instead of “bullying”.

Monica: I cannot believe this. To me, Gandhiji is like the epitome of goodness.

Sonia: Whom did he bully, or rather try to dominate?

Milan: His wife Kasturba.

Hari: Really? As a boy?

Milan: Yes, don’t forget they had a child marriage.

Monica: Like in the television serial, Balika Badhu.

Milan: Exactly!

Sonia: So, in other words, he was behaving like a typical Indian husband?

Hari: I’m not so sure typical Indian husbands are like that!

Sonia: Maybe not all of them, but enough of them are.

Karim: (with a mischievous smile) I thought it was the wives who were bullying their husbands.

Milan: Leave it guys, let’s focus on the play.

Karim: So, who is going to be playing Gandhiji?

Milan: We can all get an opportunity.

Karim: How so?

Milan: We will have Gandhi as a child. And then Gandhi as an older boy. And then as a young man.

Sonia: And finally, as an old man?

Milan: Yes.

Hari: So, we have four different versions of Gandhi in the play.

Excerpted with permission from The Boy Who Became Mahatma, Rajesh Talwar, Ponytale Books.