Bharati: Character Analysis - Waiting for The Mahatma

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      The author has presented in Bharati a newly emerging, regenerated and conscious woman of India who, under the influence of great Indian leaders like Mahatma Gandhi and Jawahar Lal Nehru, lives and thinks of a life beyond her home and hearth and does not lag behind the male counterpart in endeavours for a great national cause like the Indian Independence struggle. She is cast in the mould of the prominent women leaders of the Indian freedom movement such as Sarojini Naidu, Kamla Nehru, Aruna Asaf Ali and others.

Bharati is a true disciple of Mahatma Gandhi. Her first meeting with the protagonist, Sriram, occurs in Market Fountain area in connection with the collection of funds she is doing for the freedom movement at the time of Mahatma Gandhi's visit to Malgudi. He is fascinated by the grace and grandeur of her personality at the very first sight. He puts an eight-anna coin into her collection-box. She, thereafter, suddenly disappears into the crowd. Sriram is left reflecting about her features.
Waiting for The Mahatma

      Bharati is a true disciple of Mahatma Gandhi. Her first meeting with the protagonist, Sriram, occurs in Market Fountain area in connection with the collection of funds she is doing for the freedom movement at the time of Mahatma Gandhi's visit to Malgudi. He is fascinated by the grace and grandeur of her personality at the very first sight. He puts an eight-anna coin into her collection-box. She, thereafter, suddenly disappears into the crowd. Sriram is left reflecting about her features. He describes her as one who is "slender and young, and with eyes that sparkled with happiness." Her gait is light and floating like a bird "gliding on wings." The European queen in a portrait hung in Kanni's shop with "apple cheeks, curls falling down the brim of her coronet and large, dark eyes", the centre of Sriram's ideal beauty, looks "shallow" in her presence. Bharati is described in the same idiom when she appears on the stage standing beside Mahatmaji in a public meeting at the bank of Sarayu river. Sriram looks at her spel-bound and admires her beauty "clad in a saree of Khaddar, white, well it suited her." She appears like dominating the whole scene. Her conspicuous appearance is described thus:

"There she stood like a vision beside the microphone, on the high dais commanding the whole scene, a person who was worthy of standing beside Mahatmaji's microphone. How confidently she faced the crowd."

      Coupled with her physical dominance is her moral strength. She is a committed follower of Mahatmaji. She has truly imbibed the Gandhian principles of truth and non-violence and her conduct in all matters is guided by what Gandhiji tells her to do. She does not conceal anything from the Master. In her very first meeting with Sriram in the camp, she tells him to meet Mahatmaji as only then he can have any contact with her in future. Bharati's candour and straightforwardness are characteristically Gandhian. She tells Sriram that she will write to Mahatmaji about the incident involving his misdemeanour with her when he embraces her tightly into his arms in the ruined shrine. He insists upon her to marry him then and there. She is taken over thus by him unawares. Recovering herself, she tells him not to repeat such misbehaviour in future. She makes it clear that she will marry him only when Gandhiji gives a clear signal. She joins her Master during his tour through villages afflicted with famine. She surrenders herself for courting arrest at the nearby police station at Mahatmaji's command during the Quit India Movement in August, 1942. While in jail in old Slaughter House, her refusal to have a secret meeting with Sriram reiterates her commitment to Gandhi's thought and principles. She sends a written note of refusal through a wardress of the jail who delivers it to the protagonist. The note reads like this:

"I cannot bring myself to see today. It seems degrading to have a meeting under these conditions. Bapu has always said that it is dishonourable to assume subterfuges. In a jail we must observe the rules or change them by Satyagraha openly, if possible."

      She, time and again, stresses upon Sriram that he should be frank and forthright while talking to Mahatma Gandhi. Concealment or untruth annoys him the most. In a true Gandhian spirit, Bharati's top priority is service to the suffering humanity. At the partition of India, there are communal riots between the Hindus and the Muslims throughout India. She knows no rest in such a time of national calamity. She goes with Gandhi to Bihar and Noakhali in Bengal in order to restore order and normal human feelings among the embittered people. She runs the risk of attack on her honour but she does not feel daunted. As advised by her Master, she has decided to commit suicide rather than submitting herself to be dishonoured by ruffians in areas of communal turbulence. She replies to Sriram's query in regard to a situation endangering her honour like this:

"Yes, sometimes, but Mahatmaji had advised woman as a last resort to take their own lives with their own hands rather than surrender their honour...if any unexpected things happened, I was always prepared to end my life."

      She recounts to Sriram movingly the pathetic spectacle of human suffering she has seen during the days of communal disturbances. She takes charge of the children rendered orphan and kept in a camp at New Delhi. These children have been brought from areas badly affected by communal riots. She is busy day in and day out with these children. She is like a mother to them. Her arduous and tiring task of tending to these refugee children is described like this:

Hers was a full-time occupation. She gave the children a wash, fed them, put them to sleep on mats in various sheds, drew their blankets over them, and finally came back to her own room, sat down on her cot, and stretched her arms.

      Like a Gandhian disciple, Bharati possesses self-control. She is not rash and sentimental. Her devotion to principles taught by Gandhi is complete and uncompromising. On Sriram's insistence for marriage, she writes to Gandhi for his approval. But the latter advises her not to do so. His reply is "Blessed One, Not Yet...." This negative reply depresses and unnerves Sriram. But, she takes it coolly as a word of wisdom from the Master. The episode involving Bharati and Sriram at the ruined shrine illustrates her self-possession and equipoise. She has gone there to meet him with a written message from Mahatma Gandhi. Sriram loses control over himself and takes her into tight embrace abruptly. She is caught unawares. His immediate provocation is the feeling roused in him by a look at "her heart palpitating her left breast under her white khaddar saree." He blurts out in a fit of provocation, "You are sweet-smelling" and promises to her like a frenzied lover to remain her slave and to do anything she asks him to do for her. He will buy for her all the things of the world. Expression of such sexual outpouring is very unusual in Narayan's writings. It is because he considers sex as too private and holy to be exposed in art despite the fact that ancient Indian art, especially, sculpture displays it immensely. She gives way to him temporarily. She recovers herself in no time and tells him authoritatively that he should not repeat such behaviour again in future. She expresses her disapproval of his behaviour in these words:

This is very wrong - we - we should not have - I - " She sobbed. "I don't know what Bapu will think of me now. - I - must - write to him what has happened."

      She appears much above Sriram's weak, loose behaviour. William Walsh has rightly commented on her personality and role in the novel. He says:

"-the young beautiful woman collecting for Gandhi, who turns out to be a protege of the Master and indeed in temperament almost a projection of the saint himself, so that Gandhi who appears only intermittently is, by means of this girl, indirectly present throughout the novel."

      Gandhi appears in the first part and then reappears in the closing part of the novel. Still, his presence is made to be felt throughout the novel because of Bharati. The resonance of his principles, actions and messages is heard through the agency of Bharati. She is put as the "Guru" of Sriram by Mahatmaji. Hence, she assigns to him the task of spreading the message of Gandhi in villages and tea estates around the Mempi Hills He, therefore, visits these villages writing 'Quit India' on blank walls with a brush and black paint and educates the rural folk about the evils of the on-going Second World War and the merits of Swadeshi.

      Bharati-Sriram association brings about a turning point in the protagonist's life. Prior to his association with her, he has been an indolent, day-dreaming and good-for-nothing sort of young man at the age of twenty. The charisma of her personality arouses him from his "age-old somnolence." She initiates him into the world of new experiences. She introduces him to Mahatmaji and both of them accompany Gandhi in his tour through the villages afflicted with famine. He is face-to-face with the suffering of the people. His old wrong ideas about village life get rectified. This tour is an eye-opener to him. She indulges in carping remarks about Sriram. She makes him conscious of his shortcomings through these biting comments. She has love and affection for him. But at the same time, she acts like a disciplinarian mentor for him. She is true and faithful in her commitments to him. She has committed to Sriram that she will marry him if she marries at all but the marriage will take place only with Mahatmaji's permission. In the end, she fulfils her commitment. She calls him to New Delhi. She takes him to Gandhiji at Birla House to seek his permission for their marriage. Gandhi blesses both of them and proposes to officiate at their marriage as a priest the next morning. He tells them to marry even if he is not able to come because of some unforeseen urgency. Unfortunately, Mahatma'ji is assassinated in the prayer meeting the same evening. The association between Bharati and Sriram brings out prominently the difference in the stature of each other's personality. Bharati is more stable, conscious and possessed with stronger moral commitment than wavering, vacillating, weak and diffident Sriram. He gets metamorphosed into a relatively different person only because of Bharati's charismatic influence on him.

      The love between Bharati and Sriram is one that does not carry much conviction because they are not suitably matched with each other as love or marriage partners. Bharati is too elevated and much more morally sublimated than Sriram. He is, at times, assailed by her superiority. He marvels at the ease with which she talks in English, Tamil, Hindi, Urdu etc. to men, women, young boys and old men of all nationalities. His inner feeling that he is no match for her is expressed in these words:

"He was confirmed in his view that she was too good for him, that he was not right to expect her to become his wife."

      Viewing the high stature of Bharati's personality, Sriram feels frightened and thinks her to be too magnificent to be his wife. He pales into insignificance before her. M.K. Naik rightly points out the lack of conviction in love-relationship between Bharati and Sriram on the basis of incompatibility of their personalities. He. States:

"-while as for the love-story itself, Sriram the weak, timid and empty-headed drifter is hardly a lover whom the whole world can possibly love; and perhaps Freudianism alone can explain why the intelligent, able and domineering Bharati (who evidently has an out-size maternal complex) should at all feel drawn to this totally unheroic hero."

      There is a reversal of roles of the male and the female protagonists in this novel which marks its distinctiveness from Narayan's earlier novels. The male protagonist i.e. Sriram recedes into the background in the presence of the female counterpart i.e. Bharati. She is not homebound, meek, subservient and helplessly suffering person. Her potentialities blossom into the stature of a political, social and moral leader before whom the male protagonist is diminished into a diminutive personality. She guides him and dominates over him.

      Daisy in Narayan's later novel. The Painter of Signs, in a way comes closer to Bharati since both of them belong to the ilk of socially conscious women committed to a larger social cause. For the attainment of their cause, they consider no sacrifice very precious. Daisy is zealot in the field of Family Planning. She neglects wilfully all her personal conveniences if they become obstacles in her way. Still, there exists a substantial difference between the two. Daisy suffers from moral pitfalls as she expounds unconventional views on marital relations. Her light-hearted attitude to her pre-marital sexual contacts with Raman demonstrates her moral levity. Bharati, on the other hand, is free from such moral blemishes. She is above board in her social and moral commitments.

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