Generations to come, it may well be, will scarce believe that such a man as this one ever in flesh and blood walked upon the earth. – Albert Einstein.
On 30 January 1948, when, after participating in a prayer session in which Íshvar (a Sanskrit word God) and Allah were both evoked, Gandhi out to talk to a crowd an angry young man approached him, saluted him, and fired shots at his chest. The pious politician slumped and died. Thus ended the life of Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi, known with affection as Bapuji and with reverence as Mahatma Gandhi to India’s people.
Gandhi was a multifaceted individual: He was a man of extraordinary inner strength and interpersonal skills; lawyer, politician, philosopher, social activist, strategist, saintly humanist, idealist, preacher, and disciplinarian. Though not a scientist by training he did experiments, not with measuring rods and microscopes, not with beakers and Bunsen burners, but with Truth. He had contemplated becoming a doctor. He read works on nature cure, and served as midwife when his second son was born in 1900. He had a scientific mind for he reasoned well, analyzed situations, and drew insightful conclusions. But he was suspicious of technology to a fault, the spinning wheel symbolized for him cottage industries. His instincts on the matter were often right: He feared and foresaw that technology would uproot traditional culture and values, and dehumanize societies. He was simple in lifestyle but complex in thought; modest in attire, but magnificent in morals; good to his enemies, but adamant in his principles.
Gandhi fought for human dignity in South Africa long before he was called a Mahátma (Great Soul). He spoke out against the scourge of caste hierarchy and condemned untouchability in Hindu society. He played a charismatic role in the Indian National Congress, sometimes subtly disarming those who called for violent approaches for achieving the goal. He was the power behind the party that led to India’s rebirth as a modern nation with an enlightened constitution, a unifying national anthem and a waving tricolor with the wheel of justice and a motto that proclaims that Truth alone will ultimately triumph.
The paradox in the life and appraisal of this hero of history was that some adored him and others vilified him: symbolic of the tension between lofty ideals and crass reality. It has been said that an Utopian is a poet who has gone astray. More exactly, a Utopian is a thinker who draws humanity to a nobler path. Utopians strive to bring more value and merit to human societies.
There are a hundred obstacles on the way. Gandhian principles would work wonderfully well if only decent people populated the world. Gandhi wrote a letter to Hitler pleading with him not to start a world war. In some contexts, the Gandhian approach simply doesn’t work. The landing on Normandy is sometimes necessary to suppress unadulterated evil. Just as superstitions are sometimes the price we pay for the comfort and solace that religions bring, harsh measures are sometimes needed to eradicate the weeds that destroy civilization.
No doubt, in many cases “an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth” works. But returning good for bad, and love for hatred, is also an ancient experiment in civilization, and it too has worked in many instances. It has invariably produced more happiness, peace and harmony. There is greater glory in a victory achieved through nonviolence and handshakes than in all the battle cries and bombs of violent and hateful confrontations.
Gandhi has lost much of his luster in his native India. The new generation, frustrated with Kashmir and related intransigence, blame it on Gandhi’s goody-goodiness. There is, alas, some truth in this. Yet, in these times, when nations confront one another with mistrust, when we seem to be sliding to catastrophes of mutual destruction, the world is crying out for Gandhis: in Palestine and Israel, in India and Pakistan, in Syria and elsewhere. The world needs not one Gandhi here and one there, but Gandhis everywhere: leaders who are more sensitive to the needs and predicaments of the adversary, more willing to sacrifice and serve.
Notwithstanding Winston Churchill’s disdain of him, Gandhi became a most remarkable personage of his times. He was second only to Einstein in being named Man of the Century by Time Magazine. The United Nations Organization, the voice of humanity, has declared his birth-date (October 2) to be the International Day of Non-Violence. It is a matter for rejoicing that notwithstanding all the animosities and rivalries that tarnish humanity the world still recognizes Gandhian ahimsa as supremely civilized behavior. Gandhi’s ahimsa was not just vegetarianism and avoiding leather shoes. It was the showing of love in the context of confrontation
Civilizations survive and evolve by tireless perseverance in adhering to ideals. Love is surely nobler than hatred, non-violence more civilized than violence, kindness better than cruelty. Those who cling on to such principles add glory to society and history, whether they win or lose. Such are martyrs and saints. Such was Mahatma Gandhi.
Long after the dust and debris of hate and hurt settle down, and the Gandhi-bashers of today (mostly in India) are laid to rest, the visions of the likes of Gandhi will be celebrated by humanity as worthy symbols of whatever is noble and enlightened in the human spirit. Gandhi’s message will shine bright in the firmament of human ideals. By then we would have realized that planetary peace is not simply the silence of guns, but the embrace of all with love, caring, and compassion, and harmony among the peoples of the world will be based not on suspicion and suicide bombs, but on on social justice and mutual respect.
January 29, 2016