Gandhi and Punctuality

It was once in Chidambaram that Gandhi dodged an unruly crowd and made good his escape in order to keep an engagement. In a sense crowds had been the curse of Gandhi's life. They had never allowed him peace. They followed some remorseless law of motion of gravitation towards him, the moment they caught sight of him. Gandhi had had some hair-breadth escapes from enthusiastic but frantic crowds who in their eagerness to gaze on him and do to him honor would have all but trampled him to death.

It was altogether a bad day at Chidambaram. Gandhi was driving to the Annamalai University, where he was to address the University Union. Seated by his side in the car was Dr. T.S.S. Rajan. Half a mile or so from the University a dense crowd had collected in one of the town's narrow streets, awaiting Gandhi's car. There were two other cars following close behind with other members of the party. The crowd held up Gandhi's car. Gandhi asked what the matter was. The spokesman for the crowd came up to explain. He and his friends had planned a feast at which high-caste Brahmins would sit with the Harijans. The feast, arranged in honor of Gandhi's visit to Chidambaram, was even then in progress in a big pandal built specially for the purpose, just a stone's throw away. They pleaded with Gandhi to alight for a moment just to look-in at the dinner. Gandhi turned to Dr. Rajan and asked when they were due at the University. Dr. Rajan answered that they had only another ten minutes left. Gandhi inquired whether this dinner was included in his programme for the day, and learnt that it was not. Gandhi requested Dr. Rajan to explain to the crowd that he had an engagement to keep in the next ten minutes and that this interruption was an unauthorized item. But the crowd would accept no excuses, and insisted on Gandhi's alighting, if only for a minute. Dr. Rajan got into a lively argument with the crowd. Gandhi, meanwhile, quietly slipped out of the car by the other door and made a dash for the university building. For moment the crowd did not realize what was happening. They were having it out with Dr. Rajan, who, they thought, was the real culprit. That was Gandhi's chance. He soon managed to get clear of the crowd. One of the cars behind shot forward, picked him up and sped him towards the University. The crowd then saw their bird escaping and surged forward, shouting the accustomed slogan, 'Mahatma Gandhi-ki-jai.' But the car that had picked up Gandhi had got clear. Gandhi looked back and waved his hands like a merry schoolboy who had escaped from some tight corner. But the last he saw of Dr. Rajan was not a very edifying spectacle from the point of view of non-violence. The crowd was venting its wrath on Dr. Rajan, who had to make vigorous use of his fists to extricate himself from an infuriated mob! Gandhi had no time to adjudicate between the claims of violence and no-violence. He drove away in a cloud of dust. He was not more than a minute late at the meeting of the University Union. The first words he uttered were of apology for the delay.

Gandhi and his watch are inseparable companions. Punctuality with him ranks high among the virtues.