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An (extra)ordinary Evening – Mr. Rajmohan Gandhi
The Centenary Of Gandhi’s Return To India

Dr. Pramod Thaker

In the brisk New England early winter evening, we had glimpses of India in Regis College Auditorium in Weston, Massachusetts, through a program entitled India Heritage Weekend.  This was the launch of an annual thematic event organized to celebrate India and her heritage.  The first year was chosen to commemorate the centenary of Mahatma Gandhi’s return to India in 1915.  There was a painting exhibition by the local artists, display of rare photographs of Mahatma Gandhi from the collection of late Kanu Gandhi, a music and dance concert on the theme of “Liberation” and the showing of the award winning movie “Gandhi.” Mahatma Gandhi’s grandson, Prof. Rajmohan Gandhi, the historian and author, was the keynote speaker.  He also gave away the prizes for the national Essay competition among the High school students and young adults. The event was organized by India Discovery Center, a non-profit organization founded to create an education-cum-cultural center to study and celebrate India among the immigrants and the general public abroad.

Prof. Bijoy Misra presented a brief history of India Discovery Center. He narrated how the idea originated in late 80’s when the then Prime Minister of India Mr. Rajiv Gandhi visited Boston. And later on in early 90’s, after visiting India at that time, how he—along with several colleagues—felt the need to explore what is the essence of “Indian-ness” and how to recognize and assimilate it by all of us living in our adopted land. Such deliberations led to today’s event to commemorate Gandhi’s return to India a century ago.

Prof. Gopinath introduced the keynote speaker Prof. Rajmohan Gandhi. He is a preeminent historian and well-known writer as well as active participant in the social and political arena in India. Amongst the several books he has written are Punjab: A History from Aurangzeb to Mountbatten, A Tale of Two Revolts, Mohandas: A True Story of a Man, His People and an Empire, Patel: A Life, Understanding the Muslim Mind, Rajaji: A Life, and several others. As grandson of Mahatma Gandhi and son of a preeminent journalist writer, he had opportunity to witness the freedom struggle and the early years of India’s independence from close range. His contribution in journalism is also well known.

Professor Rajmohan Gandhi pointed out that Gandhiji was a fighter but with a difference.  In the first decade of the 20th century in Britain when a British officer was killed, Gandhiji strongly disapproved of this killing for he argued that you can and must fight against the oppression of the colonial rulers but must not attack them through violence. It was during the South African struggle against unjust laws that Gandhiji invented the weapon of Satyagraha. It is important to note that Gandhiji uses the term “weapon” to describe Satyagraha. Prof. Rajmohan Gandhi explained that Gandhiji was above all a “fighter,” the only and very important qualification was that he was a “nonviolent fighter.” Satyagraha was a sword that never gets rusty. Satyagraha liberates both the oppressed and the oppressor, and ennobles them both.

Another incident was recalled in the aftermath of Jallianwala Bagh massacre in 1919. About a year after that incident there was Indian National Congress session in Amritsar. A resolution was passed condemning the Jallianwala massacre. There was also a brief paragraph that disapproved killing of some British personnel by Indian mob, which occurred few days prior to the Jallianwala massacre. Most of the participants in the session were against inclusion of such a paragraph critical of the killing of few British officers by Indians, at the time when they felt that the focus should be exclusively on the gruesome massacre committed by the British. Someone in the audience had remarked, “No true offspring borne of Mother India could pen such a resolution.” The allusion was perhaps to Mrs. Annie Besant who happened to be white. The paragraph was omitted from the resolution on the first day. But next day, it was included at the request of Gandhiji. Rajmohan Gandhi citing a contemporary account of K. M. Munshi, said Gandhiji had given quite a lot of thought to this question. And he felt that it was not quite enough to say that, “No true offspring of Mother India could have penned this part of the resolution critical of violence committed by Indians against the British.” But one should say “No one but the true offspring of Mother India could have penned this part of the resolution critical of violence committed by Indians against the British.” Honest and severe self-critical analysis was a hallmark of Satyagraha.

In 30’s, Gandhiji gave advice to Pashtun warriors of the Frontier province to learn non-violence and courage from their mothers, sisters, daughters, and wives. To tell warrior men in a patriarchal society that they should learn from their women folks requires a special kind of insight not to say special courage. This was underlined with his own recalling of the lessons he had learned from Kasturba. Gandhiji told these fierce fighters that he had learned his lesson of ahimsa from Kasturba.

Professor Gandhi concluded his speech with pointing out that Gandhiji’s lesson for the contemporary society was for each of us to do whatever one can do to lessen the violence and practice nonviolence while making effort to enlarge the domain of justice. This would be as useful in India as in the conflict in the Palestine. This was illustrated by quoting poems by Arab poets who had understood the message of peace from Gandhi. Even in USA, taking a lesson from Gandhiji, we can attempt to transcend the color and cultural divisions, and try to recognize the commonality amongst the Indian, African-American, Hispanic, Native American, and Caucasian citizens.

At times one marvels at the number of great and good leaders that were around Gandhiji during his struggle for justice. But perhaps it would be more accurate to say that Gandhiji was able to see and bring out the greatness and goodness in the heart of even a most humble being. It was the ability of Gandhiji to see, and show to others, “
extra” within the heart of “ordinary” citizen. Thus, Gandhiji has shown us how small drops of goodness when joined together make a mighty ocean of Satyagraha.

Mr. Gandhi gave away the prizes for the Essay competition.  The topic was “Gandhi’s message and its influence on the world.”  The prize winners were: Aachal Gunda(1st); Srishti Lulla (2nd); and Hari Narayana and Tatiana Varella (3rd, bracketed). A specially choreographed Bharatanatyam dance presentation depicting national spirit for freedom with ringing of “Vande mataram” concluded the evening. 

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