This Is NOT History – The Other Man From Porbandar

This is an excerpt from the book I hope I one day write This is NOT History, a collection of historical events with historical figures that totally did not happen. But it would have been nice had it happened like this. Also, I don’t want to find out what really happened, waste my youth pirating academic documents, only to get told that it offends a group of people whose idea of Mahatma Gandhi is derived from his stunning biography – the 2000 rupee note (the 10 rupee notes are the cheap paper cousins). And maybe get a death threat or two because I questioned the “non” in nonviolence!

The following is a from the biography of Bankim Soni, titled The Other Man From Porbandar.  A forgotten and imaginary figure, Bankim Soni was a fashion conscious freedom fighter and aspiring ‘Father of the Nation’ from Porbandar who was very angry with the arrival of a certain Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi. Here he is seen speaking to his Swedish biographer Mika Binson. Later historians figured out ‘Mika Binson’ is an anagram of ‘Bankim Soni’. Historians have conjectured that this may just have been the man talking to himself.

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(From Chapter 21 titled – The Man From Porbandar From South Africa Originally From India)

“I saw this Gandhi fellow for the first time in Porbandar walking around with Gopal Krishna Dada. Apparently, he was a barrister in South Africa. Small fellow, looked very average. Like they say in our tongue, “A man so thin, that a sneeze of a malarial buffalo will push him off the planet”! And apparently, he is going to get us our freedom! You know what story I heard about him today?

That he travelled in a train without a ticket and got thrown out of it. Rightly so! But you can be sure that such things will only excite our chaps. By breaking rules, they think they’ve done something great. Nothing, other than throwing a rock at a British mountain. And also, now this fellow apparently is saying that everyone should break rules and not wear foreign clothes. What is he suggesting? We wear nothing but shawls? Or better, let’s roam around with nothing cover our modesty but leaves of banyan trees.

We are fighters with a fashion sense not saints with shawls!

I know, I know, he is doing it in the name of freedom, but even our quest for freedom should have limits! With so much care I have collected a fine wardrobe of shirts, coats and toupees and combs and all of a sudden, this man wants us to burn clothes. How irrational! If burning clothes got us freedom you think Mangal Pandey and Tantiya Tope would have not gotten rid of their clothes first. And it might have been better that way! Tantiya Tope had a penchant for silly hats and grandmother told me that Mangal Pandey apparently loved his reds too much.

Also, is it too much to ask the people of this country to be a little more fashionable while protesting? Do we all have to wear such plain clothes when history remembers us? Would it be too much to go down in history as the “The Freedom Fighters in India – Steadfast and Fashionable”?

Well, you know me, I’ve always wanted to be the first great man from Porbandar. This town’s name needs to reach far and wide, from Kashmir to Kerala, Communists to Capitalists, and white man to black woman. Or is it White woman? Or Black man. Oriental mongrels? Or whatever the opposite of a white man is!

But this Gandhi fellow, his real name is Mohan by the way. What kind of a name is Mohan? How outdated! I had joked to him that Mohan was such an outdated name that the only reform Raja Ram Mohan Roy needed was to remove the ‘Mohan’ in his name. Gopal Krishna Dada didn’t think the joke was very funny. He slapped me a little. But quite hard. My cheeks hurt for a few days. But you know dada! Always been a sucker for tough love.

“Bankim, the paper weight in my office has two uses – to hold paper and the other to throw at you when you say stupid things”.

“Bankim, when India gets freedom from the British, I will tell them that you don’t need it and they can keep you in their museums in London.”

“Bankim,…you are an avant-garde idiot!”

I don’t think I should have corrected his pronunciation of ‘avant-garde’ because he huffed and puffed and charged at me like a bull. But I couldn’t help it. He pronounces the second half like it’s a Marathi surname.

Aah! It’s all tough love! Speaking of tough love, I think I should tell Gopal Krishna dada, to stop wearing those turbans he keeps wearing. They really accentuate his jowls!

I was touted as Gopal Krishna dada’s fashionable successor who was going to get freedom for the country in style, but this Gandhi fellow seems to be hogging all the attention. But again, he seems too weak to handle anything in this country. Just yesterday I heard a rumour that his wife yells back at him when they quarrel. What kind of a man can’t control his wife but promises to throw the Queen of England out of this country?

What a silly man! If there ever was a competition for silly men he would be right up there with judges wearing wigs in Indian courts.

But anyway, worry not, he will soon realise that I am the man from Porbandar that really matters. We don’t need to import men from abroad, just better clothes. Porbandar’s true son is ready for grander, colourful things. It’s only a matter of time!

1n670k.jpgBankim Soni’s entire legacy is a meme ahead of its time

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In the next post, I shall unearth an essay by part-time essayist and full time barber Feroze Naaiwala, Jawaharlal Nehru’s childhood barber till 1961. Watch this space for more updates!