Of all the men who have left their footprints on the sands of time, Gandhi is one who has probably stood the test of time as the most respected and worshipped by the masses. Coming from an extremely modest background, Gandhi’s upbringing was very conservative. His early life is like most Indians, very ordinary, there was nothing attractive about him. He never stood out. Rather he was a failure who disappointed his father by stealing, smoking and drinking, and eating non-vegetarian food against the traditions of his family. In school, he was very mediocre and normal, not the brightest. Married at the age of thirteen, Gandhi’s life started like that of many young men during his time. A scene in the kaleidoscope about Harischandra, was one of the first instances that left a huge impact on him, and transformed his life forever. A life so simple and ordinary, that it would have never occurred to anyone that this man would change the history of India forever and bring an entirely new dimension to the country in the years to come.
After the few initial setbacks that he received from his life, his stay in London and being educated as a barrister brought a huge change in his perspective and personality. It was then, when he first saw the comfortable and luxurious life in Britain as compared to the pitiable and miserably poverty-led lives of most Indians. His brush with racism in South Africa, which left a huge impact on him, instilled in him the idea of fighting for the right against the system.
He came back to India and became the leader of the freedom struggle. It is quite mesmerizing to see how the masses followed him and his principles like an army battalion (without arms and weapons!) ready to give up their lives but never to raise their hands! The nation united in the silent prayer for Satyagraha, non-violence that could have seemed so unrealistic opposed to the British regime that had the best warfare and an even stronger army. People were ready to give up their lives without fighting in defence. A country, which had been so divided, diversified and different, came together once and for all, for a common cause led by one voice, that of Gandhi. Inspired by Gandhi’s leadership and vision, “Ekla Chalo Re”, Tagore’s poem perfectly described the mood of the Indian people.
Gandhi was not just a leader; he was a statesman, a visionary, perhaps, even a spiritual guru for many. He is not just responsible for India’s freedom, but also for bringing a social change. He encouraged Indian women, long suppressed by the society and kept behind the four walls of their home, to join the freedom struggle. Heeding his call, the women left their inhibitions in their kitchens and walked at par with the men. The Indian women, supporting the man with the lathi, played an integral role in India’s struggle for freedom, and even beyond that.
Gandhi was actually the one unified voice our country was waiting for. The practicality and the simplicity of his ideas touched the hearts of the people who worshipped and respected him with utmost love and devotion. The kind of following he had often seems unrealistic and unbelievable but nevertheless speaks volumes of his charismatic personality and clarity of his ideas. He gave a vision to the country that was waiting for light.
It seems ironical though that Gandhi’s principles which seemed so relevant all the time when we were “asking” for independence suddenly vanished into the thin air when India finally achieved independence. The much-awaited moment of India’s history came, unfortunately, with the searing pain of partition followed by mass riots which brought death and destruction in their wake. The event so awaited for a nation preaching non-violence finally came with communal holocaust dissolving all the efforts put in by the Mahatma and his followers. The Mahatma, who preached non-violence, got us freedom just by raising his voice but he couldn’t prevent the riots that followed, with his own countrymen fighting against each other over religion and communal differences. It was horrifying to see the people, who struggled for freedom from the British, using peace and non-violence as their weapons, succumbed to the divide and rule policy of the British, and murdered their own brethren.
The irony of independence has left scars in the hearts of people and questions in their mind about the validity of Gandhian principles. Irony revisits us again as we Indians turn a blind eye towards the tradition of truth and non violence that Gandhi left behind, while the west is at the threshold of rediscovering it.