Lawyer, saint, revolutionary, educator, in England, South Africa, and his native India, whose freedom he helped win. His influence, via ahimsa and satyagraha, reached the West - Martin Luther King and generations of activists of all stripes were inspired by him. Assassinated in 1948; legend has it his last words were to God, asking Him to forgive and bless his assailant. His autobiography (original title: My Experiments With Truth) is worth a look.

It is a rare occurrence for a single man to be responsible for the genesis of a revolution. Mahatma Gandhi is one such man. His initiative and courage brought him to lead India to independence from control by Great Britain. His self-sacrifice brought great success, but his attempts at bringing about peace caused his ultimate sacrifice for his people.

Gandhi was born Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi in 1869, receiving the title of Mahatma, or “great soul,” later in life from his followers. He shied away from politics, in which his father was deeply involved, and instead took after his profoundly religious mother. At age 19, Gandhi traveled to England to study law. Shortly after his arrival in South Africa following his schooling, he was introduced to the Boer discrimination against Indians. This treatment eventually led Gandhi to a policy of nonviolent civil disobedience, the technique he would continue to use – in tandem with thousands of other Indians – for many years to come. Between jail terms, that is.

The Boers and British arrested and imprisoned Gandhi multiple times, but this did naught more than inspire him all the more. The incarceration actually influenced Gandhi’s decision to take as his own the clothing style of the poor Indians for whom he was a champion. Gandhi’s look, accent, and manner all shifted to the Indian standard. Those were not the only factors of his physical metamorphosis – with time, he gradually grew more frail, though this did not hinder his perseverance. One cause of this weakness was Gandhi’s self-deprivation in the form of fasting, a particularly effective, though damaging and hazardous, method of protest.

The ones responsible for reporting these strikes, and for generally introducing Gandhi to the world at large, were the press. These news organizations played a vital role in the Mahatma’s plans, as they were the primary influence on public opinion. The amount of influence increased exponentially over the course of Gandhi’s public campaign, as an increasing number of news organizations heard tales of this wondrous, courageous man, and themselves went to report on the situation, producing increasing numbers of articles and news reels. A short time after his arrival in South Africa, a single reporter from Europe visited Gandhi to discuss his mission; by the end of his life, he was a household name, known by all people in all nations for his admirable deeds.

“The situation” in question varied according to time era and area of operation, as Gandhi found himself in a number of tangles. Gandhi’s initial actions took place in South Africa, where he protested the pass laws and discrimination. In fact, he hadn’t even completed his voyage to South Africa before the discrimination caused his sudden exit from his first-class train seat. Later, while he was actually in the area, he received some solid beatings for his opposition to the pass laws, as well as jail time. This punishment did not come without its positive consequences, though, as it led to public exposure and the approbation of Gandhi’s fellows. Gandhi also disobeyed and worked to eliminate other offensive laws, such as the fingerprinting and registration of Indians by the Boers, and laws attempting to isolate India from the other nations of the world. Gandhi’s work in South Africa included meetings with the leader of the British colony, General Smuts. Such interactions were often tense.

In 1914, Mohandas Gandhi returned to his native India, where he was already a national hero. He immediately continued his crusade at full force, now working toward Indian independence from Britain. He had his hands full in no time with troubles. The main external problem was the British control of the Indian economy, first with flooding of textile products and then with salt-making bans. However, while the British appeared to be the national enemy on the surface, the nation had more than its share of internal conflict.

The country was severely divided by religious differences, and the tension between the Hindus and the Muslims was often the source of trifling arguments, which erupted into full-blown riots. Also, millions of Indians were discriminated against by their own people, and labeled “untouchables,” simply due to their lineage. Despite his best efforts, Gandhi never was able to achieve permanent unity between the factions of India. In fact, Gandhi, a Hindu, was assassinated in 1948 by a Hindu. It seems that the assassin considered Gandhi a traitor to his religion and sympathetic to Muslims; if this is so, then the murderer completely missed the point of Gandhi’s message of unity. Overall, Gandhi’s union of the two rival groups for even short periods of time was an astounding accomplishment in and of itself.

Through all of this internal strife, the Indians also had to deal with the British, who were determined to hold their rule over the country. They were also quite eager to use force whenever possible against these rebellious “lower-class citizens,” and this fact was proven repeatedly. The British enforced their ideal of imperialism through such actions as a massacre of Indians, numerous beatings with clubs at the salt works, numerous arrests of Indians (with justice being rather inconsequential), and general interruptions of Indian events, such as a march led by Gandhi which was intercepted by British cavalry. The nonviolent Indians, however, always prevailed in the end. For example, in the case of the cavalry attacking the marchers, the Indians negated the assault simply by falling to the ground, prone, so the horses would avoid them. Gandhi’s philosophy of noncooperation and nonviolence eventually did have the intended effect: the British looked to the world like monsters (due to increasing amounts of press coverage), and were eventually pressured by world powers into relinquishing control of India, fulfilling that particular goal of the Mahatma.

Throughout his quest for universal justice in Africa and India, Gandhi withstood an incredible amount of suffering. His body was forced to endure a great amount of damage, from the beatings for civil disobedience by the Boers and British to the deteriorative effects of his fasting protests. Gandhi also had to deal with denigration from a variety of sources, primarily his greatest rivals – the Boers and the British – and the ones he was spending his life and energy working to help – the Hindus and Muslims. Through all this, Gandhi still managed to persevere, and his courage and charisma served to attract greater and greater numbers of followers of his cause. While he was alive and active, he even was able to bridge the chasms between castes and religions, by negating concerns over Hindus, Muslims, and “untouchables,” and making the Indian populace focus on the real threat to their livelihoods and freedom, the ones responsible for the unjust laws targeting them, the Boers and the British. This frail man made an astounding connection to those of his heritage, and he, alone, was able to compel thousands upon thousands to combat injustice. Gandhi’s intelligence aided him in using to great advantage the press, thus enabling his actions to create shockwaves throughout the world, and resulting in the eventual independence of India from Britain. Gandhi facilitated the other nations’ understanding of the negativity of the concepts of Social Darwinism and imperialism, and finally brought an end to the discrimination which had been so prevalent in the Indians’ lives for decades. Mahatma Gandhi sacrificed himself to liberate his people, and his actions made an impact on the earth which will be appreciated for many years to come. The humble servant is a legend of our time.


Source: "Gandhi", movie series, The History Channel

When in school, we used NCERT books. Each one started with the same page that said "Mahatma Gandhi's Talisman". There he was, drawn as a watermark on the page, wearing his dhoti and spectacles, carrying his bamboo cane, walking purposefully. There was something written on that page in the center in bold letters that we never really stopped to look at. Not a day went by when we didn't see that page and hurried went past it. One day, bored of the homework, I stopped at this page and asked my father what 'Talisman' is.

"It means Tilism," he said, "A charm, something that brings magic if you carry it with you."

I started to read what was written on the page. It said:

"I will give you a talisman. Whenever you are in doubt, or when the self becomes too much with you, apply the following test. Recall the face of the poorest and the weakest person whom you have seen and ask yourself if the step you contemplate is going to be of any use to that person. Will he gain anything by it? Will it restore him to a control over his own life and destiny? In other words, will it lead to Swaraj for the hungry and spiritually starving millions? Then you will find your doubts and yourself melting away."

I am not a visionary; I claim to be a practical idealist...." ...M.K.Gandhi

One of the earliest memories we have as Indians, about the Mahatma is from our textbooks! To me he was just another man who was to be loved and respected like a lot many others during my school days. Naiveté does make you do things even if you hardly understood them!

Growing up is a cauldron of so many ideologies being thrown up at you at varied degrees, to say that these ideas, many of which are of conflicting nature, influence the mind is an understatement. Many of these ideologies are carried to the pyre; most are rethought about, re-inculcated as one is exposed to newer themes and ideas!

It was one of these regurgitating phases when i chanced upon the? Biography Of Gandhi (the book-not online version). The book brought me a step closer to a leader we all know and most of us admire. The mundane scenes depicted in the book demystified him to my quite volatile mindset! I was yet to look upon anyone as a role model and as most are prone to convention, i desired to look up to Gandhiji.

"The religion of non-violence is not meant merely for the rishi?s and saints. It is meant for the common people as well. Non-violence is the law of our species as violence is the law of the brute. The spirit lies dormant in the brute and he knows no law but that of physical might. The dignity of man requires obedience to a higher law-to the strength of the spirit...."

The Mahatma didn't disappoint, but it was him who encouraged me to look beyond him, beyond his philosophies, beyond look towards alternative religions, Buddhism being one of them! His book, "My Experiments With Truth" is still on my list of "Books i really want to read". Modern life hardly provides any allowances of leisure!

The way he nurtured his little garden, the way he lead a simply life, the way he controversially had female attendants. It was a difficult life, especially for a rich lawyer unaccustomed to Indian poverty. That he did it on his own accord, trying his best to teach Indians the value of self-labour.

If he was the man who called off the non-cooperation movement due to an incident at chauri chaura then it was because of him that there was plenty of goodwill left when the British left India. The Mahatma didn't want to just free Indian society from the British Raj, but also the evil vices which he had perceived to exist then.

He had a vision of a modern India, a post-independence India and a society which could have or would have served as an example for the rest of the world. Sadly, much of India's problems remain post-independence! The alarming growth rate of Indian population, though now scaled down by a significant level, does not help matters!

Finally, for the proponents of "pick up the sword and slay them" ideology, in his own words, "Non-violence is an active force of the highest order. It is soul force or the power of Godhead within us. Imperfect man cannot grasp the whole of that essence--he would not be able to bear its full blaze, but even an infinitesimal fraction of it, when it becomes active within us, can work wonders."

I have also had an opportunity to read a little about the controversy ridden play, "Mi Nathuram Godse Boltoy". Another view, another ideology, a defense for a "criminal act" to many, simply another ideology, to some!

Ironically his play was squashed and banned, a failure for Democracy, a failure for India, a failure for Mahatma Gandhi.

"I must not...flatter myself with the belief--nor allow friends...to entertain the belief that I have exhibited any heroic and demonstrable non-violence in myself.", very humble, very Mahatma.

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