Ten years ago, 63-year-old Mahesh Chaturvedi had a job, a family and a regular, middle-class life. But in 2002 he reached a turning point: he started believing that he was the living embodiment of Mahatma Gandhi.
Now he dresses as Gandhi, travels around India, and plays up his resemblance to the “Father of the Nation” at protests and demonstrations.
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“For his entire life, he has felt that he had a higher purpose and that there was more to his existence."
“I am Gandhi!” he says firmly. “His soul resides inside me,” he continues, smiling unwaveringly.
I stare blankly at the man who is wearing a dhoti wrapped around his waist, thick black oval glasses and carrying a cane just like Mahatma Gandhi.
Two weeks ago, I called this man asking to meet him and he politely told me not to say “hello.”
“Hello is a word used by the British and is a legacy left by our colonial masters,” he said. Instead he insisted I say the Hindi phrase “vande mataram”, meaning “I bow to thee my mother”.
After fixing a time to meet, I reached his house not knowing what to expect. To my surprise I discovered that he lived in a room above a public toilet on the outskirts of Delhi, given to him by one of his followers. In it he leads a simple life, just like Gandhi, cooking for himself, performing his daily prayers and reading the Bhagavad Gita, Hinduism’s holy book which inspired Gandhi’s teachings.
I spent around a week with Mahesh Chaturvedi. The frail, 63-year-old man told me that he worked at a weekly newspaper before he realised he was an embodiment of Gandhi. He had a job, a family, and a nice, middle-class life. But today, living alone, he says his grown-up children are embarrassed by his current appearance. He has chosen to leave his past behind and expects others to do the same.
For his entire life, he has felt that he had a higher purpose and that there was more to his existence.
He said that in 2002 he started believing that the soul of Mahatma Gandhi resided in him. That was the turning point when he walked out on everything and started living like India’s “Father of the Nation.”
He started travelling through towns, cities and villages across India, drawing a crowd wherever he went as he mimicked Gandhi’s mannerisms and style.
People would want to take pictures of him with their mobile phones and would even bow down and touch his feet, a sign of respect in India.
His striking resemblance to the man who helped bring Indian independence from British rule has lead to many invitations to public rallies and demonstrations.
In a country where millions live in poverty, it’s not surprising to see Indians worshiping millions of different gods, with some believing that there might be some truth in Chaturvedi’s words.
To me, he is a living, breathing portrait of Gandhi, someone who I can talk and laugh with, unlike the silent framed images and statues of the great man I see across the country.