Gandhi Katha
Five days of
 

First day – Satya - Truth !

I went to hear Shri Narayanbhai Desai's "Gandhi Katha".  (10th September 2008)

Having grown up in Gandhiji's ashram from a young age, Narayanbhai speaks of Gandhiji as you and I would speak of our grand-father / uncle.  His mastery over language and subject are par-excellent and he has written a voluminous book on the life of Gandhiji in Gujarati.  Currently, he is the chancellor of the Gurajat Vidhyapeeth (university) and has been awarded the UNESCO prize for international peace.  To spread the message of Gandhiji, he has recited 63 Gandhi kathas in the last few  years !  This is his first katha outside India.  Though very aged, his voice is still firm and wonderfully controlled.  It was inspirational to hear his experiences of living with Gandhiji as he has spent his formative years with Gandhiji.

 

Salient points of the talk from the 1st day -

* "I can not verify the truth about God, but I know, Truth is God." said Mahatama Gandhi.

* Gandhiji always said, "Speaking "Truth" came easy to me, as it's the most natural thing for me to do."  Truth was the corner stone of his entire life and its edifice.

* From a pre-teen age, Gandhiji was in love with plays and drama.  He saw the play of Harishchandra, and wanted to create a society where everyone was as truthful and honest as king Harishchandra.

* As a condition for coming to UK, MK Gandhi had taken a vow never to eat meat in front of his mother.  As a result, once in England, he sought out like minded people and became friends with the British Vegetarians !  In those days, it was the rich, powerful and intellectuals who were into vegetarianism and MK Gandhi met some of the most brilliant and powerful people due to this singular vow !!

* Three years in England, aged 18 - 21, MK Gandhi read, learned and assimilated what most people would take a lifetime to understand.  These were his formative years, teaching him lessons he put into practice in Africa and India.

* Long before MK Gandhi became the Gandhiji of later years, his determination, perseverance and absolute integrity marked him out from others around him.

* You must have a goal.  Until you have a goal, you can't work towards anything and hence dissipate your energy in everyday existence.  Till he decided to become a barrister, MK Gandhi was below average student.  Once he decided, he focused his energies and became a barrister within 3 year.  He came to England at the age of 18, and because he had set a goal for himself, he studied hard to achieve it.

* Gandhiji treated everyone as an individual, with no preconceptions about a person.  When he was with anyone, he was 100% with them, and that's what made everyone who came into contact with him feel he made them feel "so special".  (Power of NOW !!!)

* Gandhiji did not waste a single thing.  Even the words he used were minimised and he was careful not to waste anything at any time.

* His eye for detail and strict adherence to cleanliness were legendary.

* He sought the best in everyone.

* Near the end of his life, Gandhiji wrote, "I have not had a single thought, spoken a single word or written a single word of hate in the last 50 years."

* Everyday, Gandhiji performed retrospection, learning from his experiences.

* Spirituality was the root of Gandhiji.  Social reform was the solid trunk.  Political reform were the few flowers and fruits that resulted from his activities.  

Though most people concentrate their reading / research on his political achievement, these are minor in comparison to the social / community work Gandhiji performed.

 

Second day - “Rambha Santosham”  - Thoroughly Satisfied

 

In South Africa, Mr Gandhi became Gandhibhai.  His experiences there ignited an inner desire to fight for justice.  His wife, Kasturba, joined him in this difficult task, standing shoulder to shoulder with him on all his various “Experiments with Truth”.

When challenging the biased and unfair laws of the Transvaal government in South Africa, Gandhibhai met its head, General Smuts and said, , “We are going to fight with you.  We will win and We will win with your support.”  The general was amused by this remark and initially laughed it off, but eventually had to agree, “He did it !!”

During Gandhibhai’s first march for justice, he had to face many problems of logistics.  It was a new experience for him and his supporters.  Daily, the numbers grew and there was no way of knowing how many will join today.  Gandhibhai himself used to distribute the food himself, so as to make sure everyone got something to eat.

One day, a Tamil woman, who had walked for miles to join the march, got only a ladle full of khichadi for her meal.  With only her eyes, she asked Gandhibhai, “Is this all I get for my commitment ?”  With only his eyes, Gandhiji said, “Whatever I have, I am sharing with all of you !”  She than said aloud, “Rambha santosham” – “Thoroughly satisfied !!”.  Only a real leader can make his followers march to an uncertain future on an empty stomach.  It was Gandhiji’s faith in the people that allowed him to achieve what seemed impossible to the rest of the world.

 

Some salient points

* Gandhiji said his faith in the people of India is what sustained him in time of great difficulties.

* Apathy and inaction by the intellectuals / able people was his greatest headache / worry.

* Gandhiji always thought about other’s pains and problems.  He put himself in other’s shoes and hence, people always felt Gandhiji understood them better than they understood themselves !

* He looked beyond the immediate “issue” and went to its roots.  He was keen to resolve the issues from root upwards.  But, with humanity.  He was keen to get rid of the disease, not the diseased ; the crime, not the criminal.

* Perception is reality.  People judge you on their impressions of you.  You are responsible for the impression people have of you, so, you must make positive impression on society.

* Organisation and unity take time and personal commitment.  You must be willing to sacrifice your own time and make emotional investment in people if you wish to be a real leader.

* When power of Truth, Love and Soul become one, you have Satyagraha.

* Satyagraha doesn’t mean to “win”, but to “win over” the opposition.

* To mete out injustice is wrong.  To meekly accept injustice is equally wrong.

* At a time when inequality between genders was so vast, Gandhiji insisted that men and women are equally capable and should stand shoulder to shoulder on all aspects of life, including Satyagraha.

 

Will learn how Mohandas became a Mahatama in the next two days.

 
Third day – Abhay – Fearlessness (be Brave)

 

Independence can only be achieved by those who have the courage and heart for it.  Only brave, fearless people can remain independent for any length of time. 

Indigo farmers of Bihar were long suppressed by the merchants and manufacturers who exploited them by various means.  Using their influence, they had the government enact laws that were inherently unfair.  Gandhiji personally came to investigate their complaints and raised a civil rights movement which eventually repealed the unjust laws. 

Gandhiji’s fearless opposition and perseverance won the day.  For generations, farmers had accepted misery as their allotted lot in life.  Gandhiji showed them how to live with dignity, self respect and with fearlessness.  They proclaimed him to be a Mahatma around 1915.  Kingdom of Gondal called him a “Mahatman” as a honourary term of introduction, along with other fair words, R. Tagore, poet laureate, brought it to public attention and the farmers of Bihar took it up after Gandhiji’s call for justice for them and called him a Mahatma !

After Phoenix Ashram and Tolstoy Vadi in SA, his main Ashram in India was at Ahemdabad in Gujarat.  Legend has it, centuries ago, a king saw a rabbit stand up to a hunting dog here.  Taking it as an omen for brave, fearless start, the king found his capital here.  Gandhiji chose the same place as headquarters for his fight for Indian independence.  He was indeed the non-violent, vegetarian rabbit standing up against the might of the British bull-dog !  But like the rabbit of Ahemdabad, he stood firm and made the British Empire relinquish India from its iron grip.

 

Salient points

* Gandhiji was a Practical Idealist.  An idealist should be practical if he / she wants to see concrete results of their idealism.  (Practical person without ideals / ideas lives an unremarkable life.) 

* Have SMART goals.

* Keep your main goal in your mind at all times.  No matter what you do, big or small, have the main goal in mind and actively work towards it

* Be self-reliant.  Freedom can’t come from outside. 

* Be self-sufficient.  Freedom can’t be sustained for long by external help.

* Be fair.  Investigate issues from all angles before making any judgement.

* Always work on a “win win” solution so that both parties are satisfied with the outcome.

* Main objective of his life was to work towards the betterment of the whole world.

* Gandhiji was inclusive.  He valued everyone’s contribution to “the cause”.

* Any time we actively discriminate against people, we are acting against humanity.  Untouchability of Indian society and apartheid of South Africa are / were a blot on humanity.  Gandhiji worked tirelessly to remove both.

* Gandhiji was a Karma-Yogi par excellence. 

* Like a magnet, his work and his personality attracted the best people from around India and indeed the world.  Many people who came to his ashram became presidents, chairmans, renowned writers and social workers of many a great institutions in time to come.

 

Fourth Day - Independence, spun from common cotton.

 

From the age of around 18, Gandhiji used to wear western clothes.  Later, when fighting for justice in South Africa and India, he used to wear Indian clothes.  When he saw the sad state of Orrisa’s poor, he was shocked at the utter lack of “everything”, even the basic clothes need to cover their modesty.  Gandhiji, who had always identified himself with the commonest of the common man, decided to wear as little as the poorest man in India so that he could empathise with them.   

If he had asked, the rich of India would have donated enough to clothe the poor of India.  But, Gandhiji wanted the poor to stand on their own feet.  He introduced the idea of everyone using a spinning wheel to help the poor make their own clothes and provide a passive income for themselves.  He firmly believed in everyone standing on their own feet.  Self reliance is the key to independence – financial, social and political.  Gandhiji used the simple, plain, hand spun cotton as a tool for gaining independence.  

Winston Churchill and others disparaged him for this and often made sarcastic remarks like, “half naked fakir” and insultingly described his short dhoti as a “loin cloth”.  They could not understand how a man dressed like a poor peasant could hope to negotiate on equal terms with the greatest empire of its time.

At the ripe old age of 61, Gandhiji decided to march 240 miles to protest against the salt tax the British had levied in India.  Salt is one of the basics of life.  Humans and even animals need to eat it to maintain the balance of bodily fluids.  Tax on salt forced the poor to avoid salt, making them and their animals weak and ill.  There were many other unfair / exploitative laws and ordinances that sapped the life of India / Indians.  Gandhiji wanted the people to wake up to this and fight with the government non-violently to have them removed.  He used the opposition to salt tax as an example of the injustice of colonialism.  Protest against this was used as a stepping stone towards full independence.

Indians / Hindus the world over, value vermillion, not for its colour or its beauty, but for the fact that it is drawn from the blood of the martyrs.  Fighting for truth and justice came at a great personal cost to millions of Indians.  Many lost their lives.  Many more suffered inhumane treatment at the hands of the police and troops.  The British built new jails to accommodate the increasing number or Indian citizens who were fighting for independence.  Though they bled, not a single follower of Gandhiji raised a single hand to strike back.  Gandhiji wanted to prove that non-violence is more powerful than violence, morally and physically !  Gandhiji’s Satyagraha (Insistence for truth and justice) won more and more followers as people identified with his ideals.

Knowing his demand for Indian Independence will not be answered, Gandhiji came to the second Round Table Conference in London (1931), not to win, but to “win over” the ordinary people of England.  When the labourers of British mills complained that Indian boycott of British cloth was hurting them financially, Gandhiji explained to them that without this boycott, Indian poor were dying in droves.  Indian workers earned a fraction of their British compatriots and did not have government support / dole to help them in times of difficulty.  Gandhiji persuaded them to his cause and they cheered him as their own.

 


Day five – Glorious Tragedy

 

Gandhiji worked tirelessly for all sections of the Indian society, regardless of class, caste, creed, gender or race.  His refusal to be exclusive, and insistence on being inclusive, is what drove the wedge between him and some of his greatest critics.  But, Gandhiji always considered even his ardent critics to be his nearest and dearest.   

The Muslim League wanted nothing short of partition of India. 

The Congress wanted to avoid a civil war and was willing to partition Punjab and Bengal to get independence.

British government wanted to get out of India as quickly as possible, as it was getting more and more difficult to keep it in the empire – financially, politically, morally and militarily.

In Feb 1947, the British Government declared that India will be independent by March 1948.  From that date on, the Indian Congress began to consult Gandhiji less and less on key matters during their negotiations with the British Government.  On more than one occasion, like Vyas and Bhishma of Mahabharat, Gandhiji complained that “No one listens to me any more.”

Gandhiji wanted to avoid partition at any cost.  He was willing to let Jinna of the Muslim League become the first priminister of India, if that bolstered his ego and avoided the partition.  Like the “real mother of the child” at King Solomon’s court, partition was an unacceptable option for Gandhiji.  He was willing to sacrifice anything to avoid breaking up of the sub-continent. 

Gandhiji felt the pain of partition like no other.  He felt as if his own limbs were being severed from him. He could feel the pain of both sides.  Torn in two, the partition tore at his heart, just as it tore at the very essence of India.  In years to come, Lord Louis Mountbatten and Jawaharlal Nehru both agreed that had they know the blood bath that would ensue, they would have done things differently.  Mountbatten admitted, of all the political and social leaders at the time, only Gandhiji had understood the enormity of the decision to partition India and had fore warned him of its consequences.

“Transfer of Population”, as decided during the talks of partition, was one of the most disastrous decisions of all times.  Sane and sensible on paper, it was an insane idea in reality, and cruel beyond comprehension in its actual execution.  Millions lost their lives.  Even more millions lost everything their ancestors had worked towards for countless generations.  People whose forefathers had been in the same village when Alexander the Great came through in 300 BC, were forced to move out in the middle of the night, leaving everything behind.  Rich became poor over night.  Families got lost, more were split up, and many died on the march to / from India / Pakistan.  Blood ran in the gutters of many cities, towns and even villages all along the border areas.

The British decided to send in Mr Radcliff, who had never been to India, as an impartial judge of where the border between the new countries should be.  Uncertainty of where the line will be drawn made many indulge in ethnic cleansing, hoping to sway Radcliff’s mind and make him draw the line in their favour.  The announcement of the actual line was postponed till after the 15th of August, 1947, so that the new governments of India and Pakistan could celebrate “Independence” before worrying about its headache. 

Gandhiji refused to join the celebrations in New Delhi.  This was not the independence he had dreamed of.  Indeed, even as Independence day dawned over India, Gandhiji could see that all his dreams of a utopian, united, peaceful, harmonious India were melting away.  Gandhiji stayed in Calcutta to keep peace.  Not a single person lost their lives in the Eastern Partition of India.  Lord Mountbatten is quoted as saying that Gandhiji achieved in the East what his army could not achieve in the Western Partition of India !!  East Bengal and Pakistan split up from India, just as 515 kingdoms submerged their sovereignty to create the new nations of “India” and “Pakistan”. 

The day the new government leaders came to seek his blessings in Calcutta, ever the minimalist, Gandhiji advised them in just a few short sentences -

* Be humble. 
* Be Patient. 
* Your real task begins now. 
* Be careful of “power”, as it corrupts even the mighty. 
* Remember to represent the will of the common man, as you are their representative in government.

Having brought peace to Bengal, Gandhiji went to Delhi to bring peace to Punjab.  There, while organising his march across the new border, he was killed by the bullet of Nathuram Godse.  This was the sixth attempt on his life.  Nathuram had been involved in two previous ones.

Gandhiji died on his way to the evening’s public prayer meeting.  He was shot in his chest from close range and he died with the name of God on his lips – Hey Ram !  Gandhiji asked them to forgive Nathuram before he died.  One of the political leaders of Pakistan was heard saying to an Indian leader – All those of us who refused to listen to Gandhiji, are equally responsible for this murder.

 

Some salient points

* To the perpetrators of violence, he asked them to understand their religion and moral codes properly before causing violence in the name of God. 

* To the victims of violence, he asked them to be fearless and brave.

* Revenge pains both parties.

* Hate consumes the soul.

* Forgiveness, love, truth - these three strengthen the soul.

* One sided decision always causes pain and feeling of injustice for the other.

* Difference between common and Gandhian definition of Fearlessness

Fearless = He who is not afraid of anyone (common)

Fearless = He who inspires “no-fear” in the hearts of others / Though strong, you should be such, that people are not afraid of you. (Gandhian)


Legacy of Gandhian ideals can be seen in the civil rights movements across the globe.  E.g. - Martin Luther King and Nelson Mandel based their fight against injustice on Gandhian principles of truth and non-violence.

Power of Truth and non-violence transformed a humble Mr Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi into the great Mahatma Gandhi, whose life and works continue to inspire people around the globe.

 

Satyameva Jayate !

“Only Truth will Triumph !!”

 

© Bhagwat Shah    Bhagwat_s@Yahoo.com

 

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