“If someone were to shoot me in the belief that he was getting rid of a rascal, he would kill not the real Gandhi, but the one that appeared to him a rascal”.
These were the utterances of the Mahatma in the August of 1942 when the “Quit India” resolution was ratified by the AICC. Meeting in Bombay, all but 13 dissenters approved of the resolution that would ensue after the final negotiations with Lord Linlithgow.
What largely is conceived of Gandhi today is a top flight politician and a veteran congress stalwart. One could either be grateful to him for bestowing upon us the moor of free India or abhor him for supposedly being the divider of an united India. However, the fact that Gandhi still appears to be a contemporary memory, almost 8 decades after his death, speaks volumes of his splendiferous personality. What Gandhiji has to offer us in this day and age would make for a voluminous literature (as many have made), though on his 73rd death anniversary, I recall and affirm a couple of his qualities that, in my opinion, must bring an immediate reform in a person’s life.
Gandhi gives hope and advocates rationality in thinking
In many ways, the Mahatma is not unlike us. He’s not dreamlike because we all live in a reality. The reality that appears to be much different for the rich than that of the poor but nevertheless is twined in the dunes of time. The perennial struggle that one has to do and then the mirage of an everlasting happiness that thus surfaces have their own significance in the making of an human being. However perennial and harrowing the harsh times may appear, the good times too have their own perils. In the face of distress, where does one find hope? Only a lifelong visionary and the purest of the souls that is closest to god would give any succor. Gandhi gives such comfort. I would reiterate that Gandhi is not unlike us. Long after his death, he still appears to be amongst us. One that inspires all, one that sees no boundaries between the rich and the poor, the intellectuals and the uneducated. From my own experience, the most challenging time that I have faced in my life came almost a year ago, during the Corona virus pandemic. Devoid of friends, nature, and the regular apprehensions of studies, I succumbed to a state of distress. My mind, in some ways had become the devil’s workshop. It was during that time, I started reading about Gandhiji through Rajmohan Gandhi’s masterpiece; “Mohandas: A True Story of a Man, His People and an Empire”, a biography of the Mahatma. I would spare hours daily for reading not the book but the Mahatma himself. Right from his childhood, his stories would fill me with joy and grief that would culminate in utmost serenity. The innocence with which he uttered sheer lies and the courage that enkindled him to own up to those, the foul friendship that his parents apprehended would ruin him and his audacious vow to transform his friend into a good human being, his fair understanding of the inevitability of the truth and at the same time the promptness to draw a thin line between the truth that shall and shall not be told, his certain will for suicide and a bold avoidance of it, all arise in my memory as I think about his childhood. The rationality in his thinking and the ability to hold onto his vows were reflected right from his childhood. Nonetheless, the rationality in his thinking is better demonstrated through a legion of movements that would register both his active leadership and participation. The “Boer War” and the “Zulu Revolt” would be the most fitting examples to portray his willingness to win by upholding rationality. It was in the Boer war of 1899 (Afrikaners were and probably are known as Boers) that he would extend his support to the Britons in South Africa by leading the voluntary corps. He would dress the injured officers. It was in this war that; on both sides the ‘lawyers gave up their practice, farmers their farms, traders their trade, and servants their service’ (to employ Gandhi’s sentence). Gandhi’s sympathy laid on the Boers’ side, he however raised an ambulance corps of 1,100 Indians for the British side. In so doing, he reasoned out the unavoidable invitation of British hostility towards the Indian community in Transvaal and the Orange Free State. Years after, he would arrive in England during the blooming apprehensions of the First World War and yet, would appeal the INC for the support whilst registering his own. The fact that the support to the second Boer war was registered from a contemporary adversary (for in 1893, the famous satyagraha of South Africa was spearheaded by Gandhi) underscores his willingness to compromise.
The path to and of the movements were not easy. He would be attacked many a time and yet not cripple on the face of those. Once, in South Africa, he was attacked by several Muslims and fainted chanting Rama’s name (He Ram!). Gandhi, would be found ‘lying on the floor, looking half-dead’, ‘his face cut right open through the lip’ and ‘ugly’, as Joseph Doke, Gandhi’s first biographer had put. However, among the first words that Gandhi would utter upon being conscious, would be “Where is Mir Alam?” (the attacker). Upon knowing of their arrest, he would appeal for their release. He sent a wire to the attorney-general urging their release, demonstrating his firmness of belief that the sin not the sinner must be hated and that the path of compromise could best be lead through friendship. A friendship and love that is genuine and not purposefully constructed for bringing about truce.
Gandhi — The path finder
Another aspect of his that inspires me the most is his readiness to find a path. During his prolonged stay in the ashram in South Africa, he would transform himself into becoming a path finder, a problem solver that he would be ever since then. A buoyant advocate of cleanliness as he was, he would apply his experiences of cleanliness and his knowledge of mud package as a relief for almost all bodily pains, to treat the patients of plague. Recollecting more of the incident; it was in a ghetto in Johannesburg called Brickfields that as many as twenty three Indians were affected with the “Black Plague”. The Indians (ex-indentured Indians) were living there since ninety nine years. Gandhi himself was engaged (in a Barrister’s capacity) for confronting the municipality that got a law passed for destroying the municipality. Gandhi, who at that time had lost only one odd out of the 70 cases that he had fought by that time was informed about the situation by a friend and ‘a remarkably fearless man’ (as Gandhi spoke of him), Madanjit Vyahavarik. Gandhi immediately cycled to Brickfields to join the Indian doctor William Godfrey. Gandhi called attention to four other Indians who worked as bachelors in his office. Gandhi wrote to the town clerk, informing him that he had taken possession of the dwelling and an unused warehouse was immediately placed at Gandhi’s ordering. Gandhi would keep the beds clean and bring the medicines prescribed by Dr. Godfrey. But when the situation turned despicable, Gandhi took the permission of the Indian doctor and put 3 patients at the mercy of his earth treatment. Applying wet earth bandages on their chests and heads, he would manage to keep 2 out of the 3 alive, who would further become the only ones to have survived. Gandhi would write in his Autobiography; ‘it was impossible to say, how the 2 patients were saved and how we remained immune’ (A-257–61). Four years past the incident, on 4 June 1903, the first issue of the journal “Indian Opinion” would be published (The journal must have taken some inspiration from the name of South Africa’s first non-European journal, started in 1884, called Native Opinion). Madanjit’s International Printing Press of Durban would publish the journal and on Gandhi’s instance, Mansukhlal Nazar would become the first unpaid editor. Gandhi himself would write one article a week. Gandhi, later would affirm that the journal inculcated in him the quality of self-restraint and would oblige a fair critic as he would say of himself ‘to put a curb on his own pen’. The path finding qualities of him were later demonstrated when he would self teach his children (he didn’t send them to school) and go on to raise a couple of ashrams in India.
Overwhelmed with day-to-day affairs one finds it difficult to follow one single path. However, it is, often not necessary for one to do uphold the “conventional” way of doing something. Especially in this day and age when there is a lot of distraction around, it becomes terrible to manage even that in which one is good at. If one does manage to survive the daily affairs of oneself, one is not contempt with the kind of path that one follows for that might certainly not be the widely accepted path of doing that thing. However, one needs to be a path finder like Gandhi. A common man that didn’t complain about his surroundings but went on to find the path to salvation in his own peculiar way.
Decades after his death, the reality that Gandhi faced still hovers around us and from the many despairs that life brings, the path to tranquility could be identified but with a sincere hope and longing for God. The hope that has to come first, has to come from within. Gandhi has very well encroached upon that space. The real Gandhi could never be shot dead. Oftentimes taking charge of the light brigade in many a mind, He still is an unavoidable reality.