[Binod Bhattarai and Rajen Upadhyay]
India won independence from the British Empire in 1947, but in doing so, it lost many men and women who fought for freedom from the tyrannous colonial ruler with undaunted courage and spirited patriotism. Today, these men and women are hailed as freedom fighters who sacrificed their lives for their motherland. With the passage of time, many heroes of our freedom struggle have been relegated to the distant past and they have hardly been known despite their significant role in our struggle for emancipation from foreign domination. They have become forgotten chapters, as have countless other social reformists and their ideals. One among such forgotten pioneers is a son of the Sikkimese soil – the late Trilochan Pokhrel, popularly known as ‘Gandhi Pokhrel’.
The late Pokhrel was born at Tareythang Busty in Pakyong subdivision of East Sikkim possibly in the last decade of 19th Century (we do not have any evidence to assert his exact year of birth). During his youth, he was greatly influenced by the movements started by Mahatma Gandhi which were based on the fundamental principles of truth and non-violence. While we do not have much information about his involvements in the earlier movements of Mahatma Gandhi, such as the Non Co-operation Movement and the Civil Disobedience Movement, we can firmly claim his involvement in the famous Bharat Chhodo Aandolan (Quit India Movement) of 1942, from his contemporaries. His contemporaries inform us about his stay with Gandhiji at the Sabarmati Ashram in Gujarat and the Sarvodaya Ashram in Bihar. During his stay there, Mr. Pokhrel is known to have spent his time spinning the Charkha and rendering his services for the ashrams and assisting the Mahatma in his daily affairs. Mr. Pokhrel had immense faith in the teachings of the simple life led by Mahatma Gandhi. His contemporaries in Tareythang village inform us that he used to visit his native village donning similar clothing as the naked fakir Gandhi. Akin to Gandhiji, he too wore a piece of cotton dhoti and a pair of Khadau (wooden Indian slippers). That was how he earned the nickname ‘Gandhi Pokhrel’. Few legends are still alive in the village of Tareythang about the late Trilochan Pokhrel. It is said that he used to greet elders in the village with ‘Bande Mataram’. This prompted some people in his village to refer to him as ‘Bande Pokhrel’. Some elders from the village still remember their meeting with the Sikkimese Gandhian. From one such story, we learned about his involvement in propagating the concept of Swadeshi among the Sikkimese peasantry.
During his leisure, he was known to visit the local hatt bazaar (in places like Rongli, Rhenock, Pakyong, Rangpo, etc.) and sit, spinning cotton on his beloved charkha. A plot of land belonging to Mr. Pokhrel still exists in the village and is known as Pokhrel Bari (Land of Pokhrel). However, he never stayed in his village for long. People who knew him told us that during Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru’s visit to Sikkim in 1957, the late Pokhrel had visited his native place and had spoken about the enigmatic Indian Prime Minister in a voluminous manner. This may have been his last visit to Sikkim. He was possibly the lone Sikkimese to take part in the Indian struggle for independence.
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Enquiries about his descendants revealed that his entire family had migrated to Assam long back. As a result, we were unable to gather much information about his life at home. The only person from whom we could secure significant information about the late Pokhrel is Mr. Tara Prasad Bhattarai of Tareythang (Kapurpatey) village who still preserves fond memories of the Gandhian. Mr Bhattarai was able to provide us with a photograph of the Pokhrel, possible one of his last before his death, and an envelope which carried the confirmation of the Gandhian’s death in 1969. The envelope was received by his family members 43 years ago and bears the postage mark of Purnia district in Bihar. The death confirmation reads: “Expired on 27-1-69 at Prakritik Chikitsalaya, Ranipatra, P.O. Ranipatra, District Purunia, Bihar at 9 AM”.
We would like to mention a special acknowledgement to Mr. Tara Prasad Bhattarai whose valuable inputs and generous support have made this piece possible.