MUMBAI: Extremely intense and committed to the cause, Kobad Ghandy —described as a Maoist leader by the Delhi police who arrested him last Sunday — returned to India to work among the downtrodden unlike many of his contemporaries who chose to stay back in the West, according to his brother-in-law, Sunil Shanbhag.
‘‘Back home, he struggled with the culture and language to function at the grassroots. But he was very sharp-minded and non-judgmental,’’ said Shanbhag, who is a theatre director.
Speaking at length to TOI on Wednesday, Shanbhag said the tall, gangly man married his sister, Anuradha, in the late seventies. A few years into the marriage, the couple permanently moved out of Mumbai and shifted to Nagpur where they were involved in organising contract labourers in power and coal plants at Chandrapur.
‘‘These labourers were at the mercy of big contractors and had no legal protection. But soon, pressure started building up on them and harassment grew — activists were being picked up by the police at the behest of politicians who were close to these contractors,’’ he said. ‘‘After 1983, we were hardly in touch with them,’’ said Shanbhag, who recently directed the play, Cotton 56, Polyester 84, on Mumbai’s mill workers.
By the early 1990s, the couple finally went underground. ‘‘After that, they were without a fixed location. The police would frequently knock on our doors,’’ he added.
Kobad and Anuradha shared interests. She was from Elphinstone College; he from St Xaviers. In fact, Anuradha was a part-time lecturer in sociology in several colleges such as Jhunjhunwala and Wilson. They were deeply involved in the Committee for the Protection of Democratic Rights of which Kobad was one of the founders.
Kobad grew up in a large, rambling house at Worli sea face, but Shanbhag recollects the building was largely decrepit with the balcony propped up with bamboos. His sister, Maharukh, ran a family hotel in Mahableshwar with her husband. Kobad’s late brother, Farokh, ran an ice-cream unit, and some claim the Ghandys were the first to introduce fresh fruit strawberry ice-cream in Mumbai. His father Adi Ghandy was a senior finance executive in Glaxo.
‘‘Interestingly, he had the most supportive father, who backed the cause and was proud of Kobad. In fact, the father, influenced by Kobad, changed his own lifestyle and shed his corporate culture and led a spartan life,’’ said Shanbhag.
Adi and his wife Nergis — both deceased — moved out of their Worli house and shifted to Panchgani. ‘‘It was a typical upper-class family, but very warm and not snobbish,’’ he recollects. ‘‘No doubt, Kobad was part of the Naxal movement. But to arrest one man and say he was responsible for violence in the entire country is ridiculous. The Indian state is engaging in tremendous violence against its own people in collusion with big business,’’ said Shanbhag.
Nauzer Bharucha, TNN 24 September 2009