Thursday, August 06, 2009

Mahatma Gandhi : His Life & Ideas - Charles F Andrews

Mahatma Gandhi , is the greatest social and spiritual influencer of the 20th century. Having lead a country of poor people against the ruling British within the principles of non-violence, while continuously working on social and religious reforms of the people of the country, he remain one of the most original thinker and leader of the human history. His ideals have won global acclaim, with followers from various generations across the globe , like Martin Luther King, Nelson Mandela , Vaclav Havel among others.

There are many studies and research done on the life of Mahatma Gandhi. There are innumerable books published by people who had been associated with him during his life time, and by those who have embraced Gandhism as a way of life. While there are many of them are very popular and significance in the study of the phenomenon called Gandhi, many of them are threading the same path of admiration and awe. This is where this book by C.F.Andrews is different. C.F.Andrews, the only person who could address Gandhi with his maiden name as Mohan, was one of the closest friend of him and have many association with Gandhi from his days at South Africa.

The book was written in the late 20s , hence will give you the perspective of the Gandhian Principles in his early days of struggle. Andrews look at each aspect of Gandhi's philosophy, taking excerpts from Gandhi's own writing and interpreting with his experience with Gandhi. This books gives us the character genius struggling against himself and continuously seeking truth during the years of his early life as the leader of the masses.

Initial part of the book is discussing Gandhi's religious believes and his response to Islam and Christian religion. As he pointed out, Gandhi's believes are deeply rooted to the Hindu way of living, his openness to the ideas from other religion is very clear.

"..... I came to the conclusion that all religions were right, and every one of them imperfect, because they were interrupted with our poor intellectuals, sometimes with our poor hearts, and more often misinterpreted. "
He is less critical of the Islam, while preaching greater harmony among Hindus and Muslims, he is very critical to the Christian missionary operations in India. He says,

"As a true friend, as I claim to be of the missionaries of India and of the Europeans, I speak to you what I feel from the bottom of my heart. I miss receptiveness, humility, willingness or your part to identify yourselves with the masses of India." and elsewhere " It will not be denied - I speak from experience - that many of the 'conversions' are only so-called. In some cases the appeal has gone not to the heart but to the stomach; and in every case a conversion leaves a sore behind it, which I venture to think is avoidable".
His early days and life in South Africa, where the initial seeds of his Non-Violence Non- Cooperative fight against the oppressors begun, and his association with many of his friends from other religion is explained, giving us an early idea of the formation of his principles. The influence of Tolstoy on his life, with few correspondence with the legendary writer and the subsequent creation of the Tolstoy Farm in Africa was also dealt with in detail.

Subsequent discussion were on those fundamental principles on which his life depends on. Satyagraha ( soul- force) , Ahimsa , Swadeshi ("Swadeshi is that spirit within us which restrict us to the use and service of our immediate surroundings to the exclusion of the more remote."), Khaddar movement , the issue of untouchability were each looked upon through the writings of Gandhi. There had been moments of truth which he had to face, where the decision had to be taken against the written principles, such as deciding to kill a struggling calf in his ashram, the plan to physically chase away the monkey menace, threatening the habitat at the Sabarmati Ashram, his initial cooperation with the British rulers ( whom he admire for their open society and other principles) etc were interesting to read.

Rabindranath Tagore is another close friend of C F Andrews and it is interesting to note the relation between the great poet had with Gandhi. Two great leaders had mutual respect and admiration for each others work and ethics, while disagreeing on certain topics with their own way of interpretation.

There were also coverage and interpretation on some of the historical events that has determined the way of the freedom struggle as major milestones. The Chowri-Chora incident, Jalianvala bagh , Bombay riots, the arrest and trial of Gandhi , his 21 day fast in Delhi , through the eyes of a keen observer.

One of the writing was very moving and touchy when he writes during the 21 days fast.
"Instinctively, my gaze turned back to the frail, wasted, tortured spirit on the terrace, bearing the sins and sorrows of his people. With a rush of emotion there came to memory of the passage from book of lamentations - 'Is it nothing to you, all ye that pass by ? Behold and see, if there is any sorrow like unto my sorrow.' And in that hour of vision I knew more deeply, in my own personal life, the meaning of the Cross."
Gandhi is also aware of the necessity of social reform along with freedom for self governance and economic growth. Woman empowerment, Untouchability and the eradication of poverty were the topmost priorities for him. He also realises the necessity to associate with the poor people , but realises the challenges as ,
"We, the educated classes, have received our education through a foreign tongue. We have therefore not reacted upon the masses, We want to represent the masses, but we fail. They recognise us not more than they recognise the English Officers."
This book is not the complete history of the freedom struggle, or a biography of Gandhi. It was originally published in 1930, before some of the major activities which was lead by Gandhi and the eventual freedom. But his concluding paragraph has the eternal truth when he writes "..but what has not yet been found in the West is a moral genius of such commanding spiritual personality as to be able to unite and combine these various organised efforts into one overwhelming movement of Non-Violence which should be strong enough to sweep away on a tide of world approval the opposite forces."

C.F.Andrews , himself , does not subscribe to every ideals of Gandhi. The infamous 'celibacy' principle of Gandhi, makes him to have long drawn letter exchanges between the two. Fantastic book, giving us fascinating insights to a noble soul in his quest for eternal truth, using personal letters, correspondences, articles and editorials, his books and personal interactions.
-------------------------------------------------Mahatma Gandhi - His Life & Ideas
Charles F Andrews ( Foreword by Arun Gandhi )
Jaico Books
301 Pages
Rs 250

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