Vinoba Bhave on the means versus the ends

T.S. SATYAN writes: Vinoba Bhave’s Bhoodan walks had caught the world’s imagination. Way back in 1959, I was assigned by Life magazine to photograph him for a pictorial essay.

“Make sure you shoot only in available light and capture the serenity and beauty of the early dawn march. In lantern light, mind you,” the photo editor had said.

After walking for five days, I had everything except the pre-dawn pictures, which I couldn’t take in poor light. But these were precisely the ones the editor wanted.

I then decided on making silhouettes in moonlight by photographing Vinoba against shimmering water. But would there be water anywhere on our route to Rajasthan next morning?

I anxiously asked the lantern man and Vinoba’s guide. “Let’s find out,” he said and hopped into my jeep. We did not find water anywhere on the scheduled route.

I was disappointed but not the villager who took me in another direction. This time we were lucky to spot a wide shallow patch of water with small flat stones placed in the middle. The location was ideal. And moonlight, too.

But how to bring Vinoba on this longer route?

I broached the question almost conspiratorially with the lantern man. “It makes no difference for someone who has already walked 25,000 miles,” he said with a twinkle in his eyes.

My heart swelled with joy. Vinoba took ‘our’ route next morning. If only he knew.

Bird song pierced the silent night as he gently set foot on a mall stone in shallow water glistening in moonlight. I held my breath while pressing my camera shutter. Minutes later, I also photographed the saint’s torso against the mellow rays of the sun. These two mood pictures led my essay in Life.

Years later, I met Vinoba in the Chambal ravines where some dacoits were surrendering before him. I found time to show him the magazine with my Gujarat pictures.

“Tell me which ones you like, Vinobaji?” I asked.

He placed his finger on the early dawn shots saying, “How did you manage these in such poor light?”

I told him the story of the little trick I had played and begged him to forgive me.

Vinoba’s face was wreathed in an enigmatic smile. “Means are as important as ends,” he said, in his calm way. “Since you have owned your mistake, don’t feel hurt about it.”

At the public meeting that evening he spoke to a gathering of 5,000 villagers on the same theme.

Cross-posted on sans serif