Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Gandhi's Human Touch

I paste here incidents from Gandhi's life which left an enduring impact on me. This is a extract from Professor Madhu Dandawate's talk on 'Gandhi's Human Touch'.

Dark Calcutta & Glittering Delhi

Many of you must have seen the famous Attenborough's film Gandhi. When I saw the film my immediate reaction was that if I were to produce that film, I would have begun it in a different way. Those of you who have seen the film must have noted that it began with the scene of assassination of Gandhi. I am sure, from the point of historicity as well as excellence and aesthetics of art, there could have been a better beginning. I would have projected a flash back of two extreme events of 1947. One scene would have been the darkness of Calcutta, where Gandhi was giving the healing touch to the society that was torn by Hindu-Muslim riots. And the second flash back would have been the glittering lights of Delhi on the midnight of 14th August 1947, awaiting the dawn of freedom on 15th August 1947. Glittering lights, loud slogans and a poetic assertion of Late Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru, who said: "At the stroke of the midnight hour when the world sleeps India will awake to life and freedom and a soul of a nation long suppressed will find utterance." I remember the darkness of Calcutta. I remember the agony of Gandhi. A few weeks prior to Independence Day of 1947, an emissary of Pandit Nehru and Sardar Patel was sent to Gandhi at Calcutta, who was working for peace and harmony among the Hindus and Muslims. The emissary reached at midnight. He said: "I have brought an important letter for you from Pandit Nehru and Sardar Patel." "Have you taken your food?", asked Gandhi. When the emissary said " No", Gandhi served him food. And after food, Gandhi opened the letter from Nehru and Patel. They had written: "Bapu you are the father of the nation. 15th August 1947, will be the first Independence Day and we want you to come to Delhi to give us the blessings." Gandhi said: " How stupid!. When Bengal is burning, Hindus and Muslims are killing each other and I hear their cries of the agony in the darkness of Calcutta, how can I go to Delhi with the glittering lights?" These words are the heart-rending words of Gandhi. He said "I have to live here for the establishment of peace in Bengal and if need be, I have to give up my life for ensuring that there is harmony and peace." The emissary started for his return journey in the morning. It was a moving sight, full of human touch. Gandhi gave the emissary a sendoff. He was standing below a tree. A dry leaf fell from the tree. Gandhi picked it up and put it on his palm and said: " My friend, you are going back to Delhi. What gift can Gandhi give to Pandit Nehru and Sardar Patel? I am a man without power and wealth. Give this dry leaf to Nehru and Patel, as my first Independence day gift." And when he was saying this, tears came from the eyes of the emissary. And with a sense of humour Gandhi said: " How the great is God? He did not want Gandhi to send that dry leaf. He made it wet. It is glistening with laughter. Carry this leaf as a gift full of your tears." That was Gandhi's human touch.

Noakhali Peace Mission

I said I will begin from the end and move backwards. I will, therefore, take you now to Noakhali. There were 'brave men' in India who from house tops were saying: "Hindus are being butchered, they are subjected to atrocities in Noakhali and we must save them." But, there was only one Gandhi and his peace mission went to Noakhali. The Noakali episode and Ghandi's peace March brings out his courage as well as compassion. I will give some of the instances which I gathered from no less a person than Sucheta Kripalani, who had accompanied Gandhi on his peace mission to Noakhali. Gandhi went from village to village. He carried holy books with him. He went to every village. He appealed to all the men and women, Hindus as well as Muslims, to ensure peace. They offered prayers and Gandhi made them take a pledge that they will not kill each other. But he waited for a few days in every village to see that whatever pledges that were given were implemented. .....Then he went from village to village and brought peace to Noakhali. What type of human experience he had? Horace Alexander, an eminent journalist of those days, gave a story to one of the leaders. He said that when Gandhi's prayer was going on in one village, all of a sudden a Muslim person pounced on him. He caught his throat. Gandhi almost collapsed. While falling down Gandhi recited a beautiful quotation from the Quran. Hearing the words of Quran, the Muslim, instead of throttling Gandhi, touched his feet and with a feeling of guilt he said: "I am sorry. I was commiting a sin. I am prepared to remain with you to protect you. Give me any work, entrust to me any task, tell me what work I should do?" Gandhi had a sense of humour and compassion. He said: "Do only one thing. When you go back home, do not tell anyone what you tried to do with me. Otherwise there will be Hindu-Muslim riots. Forget me and forget yourself." That man went away with a feeling of repentence.

The full lecture can be found here:

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