Today is Gandhi Jayanti, the 144th birth anniversary of a man who is variously called Bapu, the Father of the Indian nation, and ‘Mahatma’, or Great Soul. No matter what epithet we give to him, he remains one of the most unique and courageous voices of the twentieth century. He was nominated five times for the Nobel Peace Prize between 1937 and 1948, and the fact that he did not receive it is an indictment of the Nobel Committee.
Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi, born on 2 October 1869, and assassinated by a Hindu nationalist on 30 January 1948, saw only a few months of the Swaraj, or self-rule, that he had worked for most of his life. Marred by riots and bloodshed, the world today is no different than it was then. Yet the Mahatma advocated the practice of truth and non-violence in all situations. First in South Africa, and then in India, the Mahatma employed the principle of non-violent civil disobedience to champion for the rights of the poor and down-trodden, no matter what their caste, religion, or gender.
What can we learn from him today? If India is a largely tolerant, secular democracy, we can thank him for the legacy that he left us. And we can remember his words: An eye for an eye only ends up making the whole world blind.
Want to know more? Try reading The Story of My Experiments with Truth, Mahatma Gandhi’s autobiography. Don’t expect any easy answers though. It is the story of one person’s journey of self-discovery and transformation in a conflict-ridden world. So much of what he talks about is anathema to the modern materialist: whether it is vegetarianism or abstinence. Still, read it with an open mind; you are bound to change your ideas about a couple of things.