About the Book
Mahatma Gandhi’s words have been recorded in
countless books and studied by many scholars. His writings and speeches about
family, education, economy, religion and truthfulness hold as much relevance as
they did during his lifetime and today, more than ever, they need to reach out
to a new generation.
What did Gandhiji think about his own family
and school life? What were his thoughts on the role of the youth in a nation’s
life? What was his philosophy of Satyagraha, non-violence and truth? Can we
emulate his actions and thoughts in the modern world? Children will find Gandhi
Speaks inspiring, thought-provoking and pertinent. It is the perfect
introduction to the thoughts and dreams that went into creating a self-reliant,
About the Author
Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi (1869-1948) was a
thinker, politician and leader. He shaped India’s freedom movement and led the
country to independence in 1947. His ideas of non-violence and Satyagraha
influenced resistance movements all over the world.
I was twelve when Mahatma Gandhi, my
grandfather, was killed in Delhi, the city where I lived with my parents,
sister Tara, and two brothers, Ramchandra or Ramu and Gopal or Gopu. Though
Delhi was not Gandhi’s home (in fact for much of his life he had no ‘home’), he
spent many months in India’s capital in the final phase of his life.
Often he stayed with the ‘untouchables’ (he
called them Harijans or Children of God) of the Balmiki community in their
colony next to St. Thomas’s School on Mandir Marg. At other times he lived as a
guest of Ghanshyam Das Birla in Birla House on what is now called Tees January
Marg-a new name given to the road after Gandhi’s assassination there on 30
My siblings and I were often with him in the
Balmiki colony or on the grounds of Birla House, especially for his open-air
prayer-meetings, which were held at 5 p.m. On that fateful day, 30 January,
however, a sporting event in my school (Modern School) prevented me and my
brother Ramu (he was two years younger than me) from joining our grandfather.
Returning home from the event, we learnt that he had been shot. Taken to Birla
House, we had to fight our way past the large crowds that surrounded it.
We heard before reaching his room that he was
dead. Surrounded by flowers, his body lay on a white sheet on the floor. My
father Devadas, who was Gandhi’s fourth and youngest son, was sitting next to
the body, as were my cousins Abha Gandhi and Manu Gandhi, on whose shoulders
the Mahatma’s arms had rested while he walked to the prayer-site and met the
bullets. Also near the body sat Jawaharlal Nehru, India’s prime minister,
Vallabhbhai Patel, the deputy prime minister, and Lord Mountbatten, independent
Everyone was shocked and grieving and yet quite
calm. Prayer songs filled the room.
In that room, Bapuji (as I and most Indians of
the time called my grandfather) had frequently teased me and my siblings. There
he and my youngest brother Gopu, then two, had often made funny faces at each
other. Once (this was in Balmiki colony) Bapuji had spotted a new pair of
spectacles that I was wearing and asked whether I needed a new frame as well as
new lenses. (I was hoping that he would not notice the new glasses but few
things escaped him.) Fighting back, I said that he knew my eyes were bad. I
think it was a good if incomplete answer.
We were seldom alone with our grandfather.
People facing hardships linked to the Partition, and India’s new leaders facing
daunting responsibilities, had a greater right to his time, and were often with
him when we showed up. Though brief, our times with Bapuji were punctuated by
hearty laughter from him. He was old and often fasting but his thumps on my
back as I bowed to greet him or say goodbye were strong. I recall them to this
day, when I am seventy-three.
Narayan Desai, ten years older than me, is the
son of Mahadev Desai, who was Gandhi’s secretary and companion for twenty-five
years. Unlike me (and most of the Mahatma’s grandchildren), Narayan spent a lot
of time with Bapuji, first in Sabarmati Ashram (near Ahmedabad) and then in the
Sevagram Ashram (near Wardha).
One thing that Narayan noticed was the
Mahatma’s delight in being with children. Putting his hands on the shoulders of
the boys, he would lift his feet off the ground and let the youngsters carry
him for a while. And if someone had experienced grief, Bapuji would embrace the
person ‘as if he was absorbing their agony into his own heart’.
His enjoyment of children has been captured for
all time in two glorious photographs. One is of him kissing little Nandini, the
niece of Pyarelal Nayar, who was also Gandhi’s secretary and companion. The
other, aptly titled ‘The leader led’, is of Gandhi running to catch his
grandson (and my cousin) Kanu, then about twelve, on the sands of Juhu beach.
Gandhi absorbed others’ sorrows and made them
his own, and had his own deep disappointments, but he refused to dwell in
gloom. A sparkle and a chuckle are inseparable from my images of him.
Why was he able to smile and laugh amidst
sadness? Because he was convinced that our universe has been made by the
Creator for goodness, happiness, beauty and justice. No doubt we often see
badness, sadness, ugliness and injustice, yet these realities are weaker and
less durable than their positive opposites. It was from daily experience that
Gandhi concluded: ‘In the midst of death, life persists; in the midst of
untruth, truth persists; in the midst of darkness, light persists.’
It would be an interesting exercise for
youngsters (and, grown-ups) to ask, what was Gandhi’s greatest achievement? He
led India to independence, many will say. He certainly did that. British
leaders who tried to preserve their country’s Empire have acknowledged Gandhi’s
critical role in its demise.
Jawaharlal Nehru gave a somewhat different
answer. Gandhi, he said, removed fear from the hearts of Indians. Others have
drawn the same conclusion.
Yet Gandhi was not fearless as a boy. He has
told us that he was afraid of the dark, of robbers, of snakes, of ghosts. He
has also told us that, by contrast, his wife Kastur (the two were married very
young, as was the custom in those days) was naturally brave and quite calm
about the things that frightened him.
The discovery that his young bride was braver
than him was a big blow to Mohandas Gandhi’s male pride. But even in his
boyhood and youth Gandhi possessed one remarkable quality: he observed himself.
He recognized that he was afraid.
To recognize a weakness is to overcome much of
it. He acted in spite of his fears, not because he felt no fear. There were
steps he felt he had to take (such as presenting a written confession about
theft to his ill father). He would take the steps because they were right, not
because they felt easy or comfortable.
By monitoring himself, Gandhi was able to do
formidable things. While honest about his weaknesses, Gandhi refused to lower
his aims. He was confident that God and his compatriots would provide what he
lacked but needed to reach his goals.
Because one man who was not naturally fearless
obeyed his conscience, the backs of a whole nation were straightened, and their
heads were held high.
Though not brave by nature, the boy Mohandas
was unusual all right. His autobiography, where Gandhi refers to his timidity
as a boy and to episodes of trembling before audiences, is misleading because
it does not mention either his strengths or his convictions as a boy.
Those who examine Mohandas’s years in Rajkot
before he went, as an eighteen-year-old, to study law in England will find that
even the teenage Gandhi was troubled by four things: India’s subjection to
Britain, the Hindu-Muslim divide, the injustice of untouchability, and the
hardships of poor Indians. They will find, too, that Mohandas was something of
a leader of the students of Rajkot.
Gandhi excludes these aspects of his boyhood
from his famous autobiography. If we recognize these features, can we also see
them as traces of the future Mahatma?
I do not know. Yet Gandhi seems to have had
inklings, even as a boy, of difficult and possibly crucial demands on his life.
One thing is certain: Mohandas was given great
love by both his parents. This love, and the trust they had in him, helped produce
the confidence that enabled the older Gandhi to confront every threat and
So the Gandhi story is, among other things, an
example of the impact parents can have, apart from also being an example of
what an individual who makes up her or his mind can accomplish.
The youngsters who read these pages belong to a
world which in many ways is very different from the one of the 1880s that
Mohandas faced as a youth in Rajkot and London.
Yet some things are surely similar. Today’s
youngsters also face troubling realities. Who knows what they will accomplish
if they are ready to monitor themselves, if despite weaknesses they are willing
to take on large goals, if they are able to make up their minds? May they be
inspired by the Gandhi story and by his words in the pages of this book!
Foreword by Rajmohan Gandhi
Parents and Family
Truthfulness and Truth
The Charkha and Khadi
Satyagraha and Ahimsa
The Cooperative Movement and Self-Reliance
Religion, Caste and Secularism
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