Make Space For A Mahatma’s Mind, Heart

At the core of the Gandhian movement lay a proposition. India had not been defeated by the strength of Britain; India had been betrayed by her own weaknesses

1/30/2015 4:46:39 PM
written By : M J Akbar Print

The return of a Mahatma to our newspapers in January 2015 should beconsidered almost as welcome as the return of Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi to his motherland on 9 January 1915. 1915 marked a seminal moment in history, for Gandhi’s intervention in India’s freedom movement ended the era of European colonisation, a process that progressed without setback for three centuries and never seemed stronger than it did in the first decade of the 20th century. It was said, famously, that the sun did not set on the British empire. After Gandhi, the sun never rose on any empire.

Born in 1869, Gandhi left for South Africa to work as a lawyer for a businessman, Abdullah Sheth, at the age of 24. He landed in Durban on 23 May 1893, clad in frock coat, striped trousers, black turban, watch and chain. When he came home in October 1901 for a year’s break, his fame had begun to spread among the elite. He went to the Calcutta session of the All India Congress Committee in the same train that carried great personalities like Dinshaw Wacha (who would preside), Pherozeshah Mehta and Chimanlal Setalvad. After his first night at the session, Gandhi was shocked to discover that delegates had relieved themselves on the veranda. He did not wait, like the others, for Dalits, still considered “untouchable”, to clean up. He picked up a broom and did so himself.

No one followed his example in 1901.

At the core of the Gandhian movement lay a proposition. India had not been defeated by the strength of Britain; India had been betrayed by her own weaknesses. India would recover its health only when Indians had purged society of evils like the curse of untouchability, ignorance and superstition. In Calcutta, Gandhi sought out the one genius who had, in a sense, inaugurated such a mission, Swami Vivekananda. Gandhi walked to Belur Math, but they could not meet as the Swami was ill. But Gandhi had already begun to implement what the Swami had begun to preach: “India’s doom was sealed the very day they invented the word mleccha...” And: “Remember that the nation lives in the cottage.”

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