Tue | May 26, 2020

Gandhi at 150 - remembering the apostle of peace

Published:Sunday | September 29, 2019 | 12:00 AMAmitabh Sharma - Arts and Education Coordinator
In this file photo dated 1931, Mahatma Gandhi talks to a crowd in India.

He is unequivocally the most famous Indian to walk on this planet - his signature toothless smile, gleaming eyes peeping from the circular, metal-rimmed round glasses, white loincloth and a shawl draped over his lean frame, made from hand-spun cotton and a stick – If simplicity was given another synonym, Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi would be that.

Father of the Indian nation, Gandhi spearheaded the independence movement of India. An apostle of peace, non-violence was his weapon of choice.

October 2 will mark the 150th anniversary of the birth this Great Soul or Mahatma, as he was called. His teachings, life lessons, and way of life seem to hold more relevance than when he was alive.

This 5 feet-3 inch, lean-figured man changed the face of history, leading the resistance against the British rule in India – which,effectively, was the beginning of the end of the colonial era.

For him, strength was the manifestation of mental toughness. “Strength does not come from physical capacity,” Gandhi once said. “It comes from indomitable will.”

Gandhi’s teachings have inspired and continue to inspire leaders from across the world – from Nelson Mandela, Martin Luther King Jr., to Barack Obama have taken a cue from his approach and emulated it in some way.

“He (Gandhi) is a hero not just to India, but to the world,” wrote former United States President Barack Obama in the visitors’ book at Mani Bhavan, where Gandhi lived when he visited Mumbai.

Early influences

Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi was born in north-west state of Gujarat in the port city of Porbandar on October 2, 1869. His father worked for the government and his mother was a homemaker. She instilled the philosophies of non-violence, vegetarianism, and simple living in young Mohandas.

In 1888, Gandhi went to England to study law and after graduating he moved to India, where it is said that he lost his first case. He packed his bags and went to South Africa, which was to become a turning point in his life.

He was thrown out from a first-class train carriage because of his skin colour – which came as a rude shock – and there birthed the idea of self-purification and “satyagraha”(holding truth), a non-violent protest. Gandhi threw away his pin-striped suit and donned the dhoti (a traditional one piece garment worn by males in India wrapped around the waist).

Gandhi returned to India in 1915 and began his quest to take down the British Empire. He became the leading voices of India’s freedom movement, calling for a free India based on religious tolerance, equality for all, and acceptance.

He encouraged non-cooperation and urged all Indians to boycott British goods. In 1930, he led protests against the Salt Laws imposed by the British – the famous ‘Dandi March’ was a symbolic act of defiance. His iconic image of walking with his stick has been captured in statues – one of them finds home at the University of the West Indies, Mona campus. In 1942 he launched the Quit India campaign. – Tumultuous events followed but finally the British gave in and India gained independence on August 15, 1947.

But this freedom came at a very high price –the country was divided on religious lines to create two independent countries India and Pakistan. Gandhi was assassinated on January 30, 1948. His dreams of a united India never came true.

Profound legacy

The mother of all ironies is that Gandhi, who spent his life preaching, practising, and the promoting peace, never won a Nobel Peace Prize despite being nominated five times.

World leaders gathered at the United Nations headquarters in New York during the UN General Assembly on Tuesday, September 24, to honour the Mahatma.

Among those who led the tributes was Prime Minister of Jamaica, Andrew Holness.

“He (Gandhi) remains as relevant today as he did over a century ago,” Holness said in his address at ‘Relevance of Mahatma Gandhi in the Contemporary World’ programme. “He has left a profound legacy for this and succeeding generations to follow and a vision that there cannot be true and lasting peace unless there is equal opportunity for all.”

The Jamaican prime minister said that it was everyone’s responsibility to ensure that Mahatma Gandhi’s legacy is remembered and celebrated as a beacon of hope for all to pursue.

Gandhi’s legacy, in its true manifestation, goes beyond his inspirational quotes. It is inscribed in actions more than words. For, as it is was said about Gandhi: “The greatness of this man was his simplicity. Let’s try and discover the Gandhi in ourselves.”