My school was divided into houses which was named after inspirational figures in international history and my class came under the Mahatma Gandhi house. That was the first time I heard of the man but it was only after I watched the movie Gandhi, directed by Richard Attenborough and convincingly played by actor Ben Kingsley, that I learned about what he stood for and the profound impact this unassuming man had in the history of India and the world.
Born Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi in British India in 1869, he was given the title Mahatma, meaning Great-Soul, by poet and Nobel Literature Prize winner, Rabindranath Tagore. The turning point in his life occurred in South Africa, where he worked as a legal adviser for 21 years, and in the process witnessed firsthand, the crippling effects of racism. It was there that he coined the term “satyagraha”, his philosophy and practice of non-violent resistance. Returning to India, Gandhi played a major role in establishing India’s independence against British rule. Once again he used his most powerful weapon against the injustice — non-cooperation and peaceful resistance.
Despite the change he effected and being nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize 5 times, “the strongest symbol of non-violence in the 20th century” was never awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. But Gandhi was never one for adulation and awards, being as humble about his influence to the world as he was sure about the power that exists in everyone of us:
“I claim to be no more than an average man with less than average ability. Nor can I claim any special merit for such non-violence or continence as I have been able to reach with laborious research. I have not the shadow of a doubt that any man or woman can achieve what I have, if he or she would make the same effort and cultivate the same hope and faith.”
Gandhi dedicated his life to the discovering the ultimate Truth, and did so by conducting experiments on himself and learning from his own mistakes. The result of these experiments with truth and non-violence is a legacy that lives on, decades after his assassination, influencing and inspiring people all over the world from Martin Luther King Jr, leader in the American civil rights movement, to Nelson Mandela, anti-apartheid activist and former president of South Africa.
One of his many admirers, Albert Einstein, who had exchanged letters with him, had this to say:
“Generations to come will scarce believe that such a one, as this (Gandhi), ever in flesh and blood walked upon this earth.”
There may come a time when Gandhi’s remarkable story is taken as mere folklore but his ideology will always remain important and timeless.
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