Woman who saw Mahatma Gandhi shot keeps legacy alive

Sarlaben Mehta (86) was born near Sabarmati Ashram in 1929. The Andheri (E) resident is the granddaughter of Pranjivan Mehta, friend and benefactor to Mahatma Gandhi. Sarlaben worked in Khadi and Village Industries Commission (KVIC) for 30 years after Gandhi passed away. After changing various staff quarters allotted by the commission, Sarlaben settled in Andheri (E) when she permanently worked for KVIC’s Irla branch.

PORTRAIT OF HISTORY: Sarla Mehta at her home in Andheri where she recalls her family’s association with Gandhi. Pics/SAMEER  MARKANDE
PORTRAIT OF HISTORY: Sarla Mehta at her home in Andheri where she recalls her family’s association with Gandhi. Pics/Sameer Markande

At an age when children are still role playing about their future, Sarlaben already knew at the age of 12 that she would work for and along with Gandhi. She is also a witness to Mahatma Gandhi’s assassination. After his death, she moved to Mumbai in 1957 and decided to work for KVIC, retiring in 1987. Sarlaben says that she wants to join Gandhi in heaven and is waiting for that day.

SLICE OF HISTORY: A picture at Sarla Mehta’s home shows a scene during India’s freedom struggle
SLICE OF HISTORY: A picture at Sarla Mehta’s home shows a scene during India’s freedom struggle

The assassination
Recalling the assassination Sarlaben says, “Bapu had met Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel. A long discussion resulted in Bapu being delayed for his evening prayers by seven minutes. His followers had lined up in order to see him. One amongst these was Nathuram Godse who by means of taking Bapu’s blessings came forward to touch his feet and immediately pulled out a gun and shot Bapu with three bullets. I was the standing near him and heard him say ‘He (hey) Ram’. That was the last thing I heard, after that he collapsed and was declared dead after some time in Birla House (also known as Gandhi Smriti). It was all too sudden so there was no time to fully understand or even react to the situation.”

THE LIGHT: has gone out of our lives. A photograph at Sarla Mehta’s home in Andheri showing mourners around  Bapu’s body
THE LIGHT: has gone out of our lives. A photograph at Sarla Mehta’s home in Andheri showing mourners around  Bapu’s body

Sarlaben adds, “It was only when I saw his body lit on the pyre that I realised he wasn’t ever going to be with us and burst out crying. That was, and remains to be the worst day of my life. Jawaharlal Nehru and Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel consoled me. They were also present throughout the funeral process.”

Sarlaben because of her age, struggles to recollect minute details or the sequence of incidents of her life with Gandhi. Yet, every year when Gandhi Jayanti comes around it is a mix of memories laced with remorse for Sarlaben.

She says signing off, “I regret that I was on the spot when Gandhiji was shot and I couldn’t do anything for him. I wish I would have died on the same day too.”

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