Written by Jyothi S
History as a discipline seems to have lost its appeal among the present generation. We are in a world that is largely future centric and most of our efforts are focussed on striving for a better future. However, we do conveniently cite instances from the past and selectively quote from figures of history to justify our actions. Can we then rush to the future without internalising lessons from the past?
Mahatma Gandhi would often say, “My life is my message”. Perhaps, none in recent world history explored the truths of life as passionately as Gandhi did. Hence, he titled his autobiography, My Experiments with Truth. The right way to understand Gandhi is through his statement, “Be the change you want to see in this world”. Gandhi constantly experimented the several challenges posed to human life on himself and explored the most appropriate methods to overcome them. And when it comes to honesty and transparency in an autobiography, rarely does a public figure match up to Gandhi. He doesn’t shy away from sharing what he thought were his shortcomings — smoking, stealing money, his propensity to tell lies, his sexual urges — and the ways in which he tried to overcome them. We get an insight into Gandhi the human, warts and all, from his autobiography.
It is also important to examine the major influences in his life which shaped his world view. As Gandhi himself would say, these include the Russian author Leo Tolstoy, English art critic John Ruskin and American writer Henry David Thoreau. Tolstoy’s idea of social service, Ruskin’s response to modernisation in the form of self-reliance of villages and Thoreau’s self experiments on the basic necessities for a simple, but meaningful life, planted the seeds of a simple and service oriented personality in Gandhi. He then perfected these qualities.
Gandhi foresaw the problems of modernisation and summarised them in Hind Swaraj, published in 1909. He emphasised the need to make our villages self-reliant. He was aware of consequences of industrialisation like the destruction of forest land and the disappearance of the village economy. He rightly said, “The world has enough for everyone’s need, but not greed”.
His idea of non-violence, which he adopted from Jainism, and extended to non-humans – he saw animals as stakeholders in the planet. This emphasis on non-violence is both at the physical and emotional levels. Importantly, his concept of non-violence included truth, unconditional love for all living beings and communal harmony.
Significantly, Gandhi believed in the empowerment of women and felt the need to uplift Indian women from their utter domesticity. He asserted, “the day a woman can walk freely on the roads at night, that day we can say that India has achieved independence”.
In times like this, when we hesitate to stand for causes we believe in, there is much to learn from Gandhi. And, he often paid for his steadfast adherence to his principles. Radical leaders got alienated by his insistence on non-violence at all costs. Even within the Congress, he was criticised for suspending movements when they assumed a violent turn.
As Albert Einstein rightly said, “Generations to come will scarce believe that such a man as this one ever in flesh and blood walked upon this earth”. Sadly, even as we have venerated Gandhi we have made little attempt at finding the Gandhi within us. Gandhi is not just a brand ambassador for “Swachh Bharat”. There are important lessons to learn from him — truth, non-violence, universal brotherhood, simplicity, humility, will power, integrity, transparency, unconditional love, social service and much more.
The writer is assistant professor, Tumkur University
📣 The Indian Express is now on Telegram. Click here to join our channel (@indianexpress) and stay updated with the latest headlines