Friday, January 30, 2009

A Moment of Silence on a Day of Remembrance

Albert Einstein said this about Gandhi: "Generations to come, it may be, will scarce believe that such one as this ever in flesh and blood walked upon this earth."

It was 61 years ago today, on January 30, 1948, barely 5 months after the independence for which he so bravely fought that an assassin's bullet struck Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi, the man we in India, called Mahatama (great soul).

As Gandhi walked towards the prayer meeting from Birla House where he was staying, he was running late. A man came forward to touch his feet. Gandhi reached out to touch him. The man fired and one of India's best-loved sons died of the bullets fired by Nathuram Godse.

As a schoolchild in the 70's and 80's I knew Gandhi like others did because of his portraits that hung everywhere, because of his statues, and because of his face on the ruppee notes and coins.

No, I don't think he was a saint. He was a man, and a flawed one. Some might say a deeply flawed one. But he was also a man with compassion and a direct, simple vision that pierced the might of the British Raj.

He knew that if the British denied us Indian salt that he only had to march to the salt flats of Kutch and a nation would be electrified and millions would follow. He knew that the man reviled in Britain as the 'half-naked fakir,' and his followers could not prevail upon the might of the Crown except by not fighting.

And so, he and his followers, took on the might of the empire by employing ahimsa. I remember well, my teachers in school impressing upon us the difference between passive resistance and non-violent but active resistance which is the essence of Gandhian satyagrah (truth struggle). There was no passivity in our independence struggle. It was active, it was engaged...but it did not employ weapons or violence.

Perhaps India would have been indepedent without Gandhi. The empire, of course, was fading already. But without him, we would not have had a transcendant leader who refused any office, and turned away from power. Flawed as he was, Gandhi was India's moral compass.

He was truly secular when it counted. He truly believed in non-violence. After all, when his satyagrah was at its height and some impassioned followers burned alive policemen in Chowri Chowra, he called off the movement. Despite the loss of momentum, despite the opposition from even his colleagues.

And he proved that it is not just worth getting something at the cost of one's principles. That freedom delayed is better than true freedom compromised. And that true freedom comes when you achieve results without losing yourself, your ideals, and your valued concepts.

So, on this 30th of January, let us remember Gandhi, for who he was, one of the greatest leaders India ever had. We were lucky to have him, the world was lucky to have him. For it is only in people, flawed people in whom we can see shards of ourselves, that true greatness resides. For saints and great souls lose their humanity. And Gandhi never did.

1 comment:

Judy Bussey said...

Your insight into this great man reveals flaws and greatnesses that I hadn't yet thought of. I think Obama may be following some of his thinking: that true freedom cannot be compromised. You summed it up very well.

Tolstoy corresponded with Gandhi and I love to read of both.

You've written an objective, meaningful tribute to Gandhi.