There is another wonderful essay in the book, ‘Mahatma Gandhi: Essays and Reflections on his life and works’, published in 1939 to commemorate the seventieth birthday of Gandhi.
This essay is by the same man, who exclaimed with relief when Gandhi left South Africa, “The saint has left our shores, I sincerely hope forever.”
A man to whom, Gandhi allocated an entire chapter in his ‘Satyagraha in South Africa’, with the rather uncharitable heading, “General Smuts’ Breach of Faith (?)”. At great risk to his reputation, and life, as he came to know later when he was attacked by Mir Alam, Gandhi had arrived at a compromise with General Smuts, after he had launched the first satyagraha in South Africa against the Asiatic Act and Indians went to jail en masse for the first time there. He had agreed for voluntary registration of Indians after coming to an understanding with General Smuts that the Asiatic Act will be repealed. But the act was not repealed. The struggle was resumed by making a bonfire of the certificates. Gandhi wrote of his experience with Smuts:
“When I was corresponding with him and writing in the paper against him, I remember I had taken General Smuts to be a heartless man. But this was only the beginning of the struggle, only its second year, while it was to last as long as eight years, in course of which I had many occasions of meeting him. From our subsequent talks I often felt that the general belief in South Africa about General Smuts’ cunning did him perhaps less than justice. I am however sure of two things. First, he has some principles in politics, which are not quite immoral. Secondly, there is room in his politics for cunning and on occasions for perversion of truth. “
But he opened the chapter by qualifying his harsh words with these conciliatory remarks to explain the ‘mark of interrogation’ that he had placed after the heading: ” I am ashamed of writing the caption of this chapter as well as the chapter itself, for it deals with the obliquity of human nature. Already in 1908 General Smuts ranked as the ablest leader in South Africa, and today he takes a high place among the politicians of the British Empire, and even of the world. I have no doubt about his great abilities.” He added, “My experience of General Smuts in 1913-14 did not then seem bitter and does not seem so theme today, when I can think of the past events with a greater sense of detachment. It is quite possible that in behaving to the Indians as he did in 1908 General Smuts was not guilty of a deliberate breach of faith.” (1)
Later, in 1931, he spoke of Smuts in a different light, “With reference to the question of race and colour prejudice there, Genera] Smuts once related me a story which impressed me very much. ‘When I was about the same time as you studying in England,’ he said, ‘I had no race prejudice or colour prejudice against your people. In fact, if we had known each other, we should have lived as friends or brothers. Why is it then that now we have become rivals, that we have conflicting interests? It is not colour prejudice or race prejudice, though some of our people do ignorantly talk in those terms, but there is one thing which I want you to recognize. It is this. I may have no racial legislation, but how will you solve the difficulty about the fundamental difference between our cultures? Let alone the question of superiority, there is no doubt but that your civilization is different from ours. Ours must not be overwhelmed by yours. That is why we have to go in for legislation which must in effect put disabilities on you. I understood what he said and I recognized that we could not have any other standard there. I also appreciated the fear of being swamped in these days of swift communications. If, therefore, we wanted to reside in South Africa, I said to myself, we must adopt their standard of life, so long as it was not against morality” (2)
Gandhi did have a knack of converting the most extreme adversaries into friends and associates, and Smuts is a primary example. Though the saint left the shores, his relationship with the General did not end there.
‘During the Round Table Conference of 1931, Gandhi and the Viceroy both sought Smuts’s aid, although he was out of office at that time and was in England merely for an academic occasion.’ (3)
After the failure of the Round Table Conference, when Gandhi was arrested on his return to India, Smuts had recorded his objections in August 1932.
“It seems to me a sheer muddle to put the Congress in jail, to alienate the Moderates, and yet to think of going forward with the grant of a new constitution. Who will work this constitution and who will have any responsibility for its success? I can understand frank Reaction or the Strong Hand. I can also appreciate a more or less liberal policy of trust such as that of Campbell-Bannerman. But what is this monstrosity…? Gandhi is and remains the best friend and should be dealt with as such….What a waste to keep such a power and influence for good in jail at such a time. And without Gandhi’s cooperation the new institutions will never even begin to function properly.” (3)
In 1933, when Gandhi was about to begin a 21-day fast from jail, he said, “General Smuts has made a pathetic appeal to me to desist from the impending fast.” (4)
It is probably due to the friendship with Gandhi that Smuts was vocal about his stance on India, though his battle with Indians in South Africa was not yet over. He wrote to Lord Linlithgow in August 1941: “Dominion status in its full implications should not be denied them, but rather should be given freely and graciously, as it is in any case inevitable.”
Smuts paid glowing tributes to Gandhi when he was assassinated: “A prince of men has passed away and we grieve with India in her irreparable loss.”
It is in this context of almost half a century’s roller-coaster relationship that this essay, and his famous lines from the essay assume significance: “In gaol he had prepared for me a very useful pair of sandals which he presented to me when he was set free! I have worn these sandals for many a summer since then, even though I may feel that I am not worthy to stand in the shoes of so great a man!”
The essay in full is given below.
- M.K. Gandhi, Satyagraha in South Africa, 1924.
- Speech to Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry, Delhi, April 7, 1931, The Collected Works of Mahatma Gandhi, Volume 51…Young India, 16-4-1931
- (W.K.Hancock, A Paradoxical Friendship) Mahatma Gandhi 100 Years (Edited by Dr.S.Radhakrishnan), Gandhi Peace Foundation, 1968.
- D.G.Tendulkar, Mahatma – Volume 3, The Publications Division, 1951, Page 272.
GANDHI’S POLITICAL METHOD
By The Rt. Hon. J. C. Smuts, M.A., LL.D., D.C.L.
(House of Assembly, Cape Town)
It is fitting that I, as an opponent of “Gandhi a generation ago, should now salute the veteran as he reaches the scriptural limits of three score years and ten. May the further allotment which the Psalmist grudgingly allows also be his, and may they be years of fruitful service to the world and of a peaceful mind to himself! I join most heartily with the other contributors to this volume in recognition of his great public services and in paying tribute to his high personal qualities. Men like him redeem us all from a sense of commonplaceness and futility, and are an inspiration to us not to be weary in well-doing.Read the rest of this entry »
There is a delectable essay by Edward Thompson in the book, ‘Mahatma Gandhi: Essays and Reflections on his life and works’, published in 1939 to commemorate the seventieth birthday of Gandhi. It was edited by Dr.S.Radhakrishnan and published by George Allen & Unwin Ltd., London.
Written at a time when the World War II was breaking out, and the threat of Hitler and fascism were looming over their heads, the author has expressed his misgivings about non-violence. He thought Gandhi’s weapon of ahimsa was blunted, belonged to history and was a museum piece. This is debatable. Yet, Thompson articulates a very clear understanding of Gandhi from the perspective of a contemporary from the country against which he was waging his non-violent war.
Thompson had the opportunity to watch Gandhi’s self-control and composure, while being cross-questioned by a group of scholars for over three hours, and hence compared him to Socrates. Looking at Gandhi, he presciently says he ‘understood why the Athenians made “the martyr-sophist” drink the hemlock.’
He also knew Tagore closely and was aware of their differences and admired their mutual respect.
Thompson makes an acute observation about the fast-until-death of Jatin Das, who died in the prison after 63 days (while his co-prisoner, Bhagat Singh fasted for 116 days). The weapon of hunger strike inspired even more attention and support for them than guns and bombs. “Young India watched with absorbed interest when Young Ireland handled bomb and revolver, shot from behind hedges and derailed trains. But all India watched with a more poignant interest yet, when MacSwiney, the Lord Mayor of Cork, hunger-struck until he died. In 1929 an Indian student, accused of a political murder, did the same, and the passage of his body home from the Punjab to Calcutta was a pageant which will not be forgotten. The Alien Government was being fought to the death, with Indian weapons.”
Thompson admires Gandhi’s ability to rise to extraordinary heights of nobility, his courage and generosity, his unsurpassed command of English idiom and his impish sense of humour. He is exasperated, in an affectionate way, by his elusiveness, his pacifism, his attention to the minutiae amidst pressing matter and the ‘harmless touch of masochism’ that made him do ‘the dirtiest work’ as a ‘penance for wrong done by his countrymen’.
Thompson had been highly impressed by Nehru too, writing (in 1939), “God has been very good to India, following a Gandhi by a Nehru. The younger man can be trusted to conserve all that is great and effective in his predecessor’s work, and yet to have the courage to carry that work into a world that the older man distrusts.”
*****Read the rest of this entry »
Gandhi has been called a pragmatic idealist. I would also use another oxymoron to describe him: a ‘rational believer’.
In him, faith and reason co-existed. Faith was a place he visited where reason could not take him.
“There are subjects where reason cannot take us far and we have to
accept things on faith. Faith then does not contradict reason but
transcends it. Faith is a kind of sixth sense which works in cases which
are without the purview of reason.”
This also meant that faith did not reign supreme in cases which were within the purview of reason. And faith was always subject to revision, when reason could prove him wrong. He was a proud bundle of contradictions because of this internal strife between reason and faith.
He believed in God. He believed in prayer. And yet, he did not believe in the myths about god. He respected those myths but considered them to be allegorical and imaginary. His God was ‘an indefinable mysterious Power that pervades every thing,’ and ‘transcends the senses’.
It is therefore that while calling himself a devout Hindu, even a sanatanist, he could treat all other religions equally and he could question and transcend the injustices within his own religion. This is exactly why he, even more than the agnostic Nehru, had been and will remain the most potent hurdle for India to become a Hindu Pakistan.
“I have no knowledge that the Krishna of Mahabharat ever lived. My Krishna has nothing to do with any historical person. I would refuse to bow my head to the Krishna who would kill because his pride is hurt, or the Krishna whom the non Hindus portray as a dissolute youth. I believe in Krishna of my imagination as a perfect incarnation, spotless in every sense of the word, the inspirer of the Gita and the inspirer of the lives of millions of human beings. But if it was proved to me that the Mahabharata is history in the same sense that modern historical books are, that every word of the Mahabharata is authentic and the Krishna of the Mahabharata actually did some of the acts attributed to him, even at the risk of being banished from the Hindu fold I should not hesitate to reject that Krishna as God incarnate. But to me the Mahabharata is a profoundly religious book, largely allegorical, in no way meant to be a historical record. It is the description of the eternal duel going on within ourselves, given so vividly as to make us think for the time being that the deeds described therein were actually done by the human beings. Nor do I regard the Mahabharata as we have it now as a faultless copy of the original. On the contrary I consider that it has undergone many amendations.”
Young India, 1-10-1925, p. 336
“God is not a person. To affirm that He descends to earth every now and again in the form of a human being is a partial truth which merely signifies that such a person lives near to God. In as much as God is omnipresent, He dwells within every human being and all may, therefore, be said to be incarnations of Him. But this leads us nowhere. Rama, Krishna, etc. are called incarnations of God because we attribute divine qualities to them. In truth they are creations of man’s imagination. Whether they actually lived or not does not affect the picture of them in men’s minds. The Rama and Krishna of history often present difficulties which have to be overcome by all manner of arguments. The truth is that God is the force. He is the essence of life. He is pure and undefiled consciousness. He is eternal. And yet, strangely enough, all are not able to derive either benefit from or shelter in the all-pervading living presence. Electricity is a powerful force. Not all can benefit from it. It can only be produced by following certain laws. It is a lifeless force. Man can utilize it if he labours hard enough to acquire the knowledge of its laws. The living force which we call God can similarly be found if we know and follow His law leading to the discovery of Him in us.”
Harijan, 22-6-1947, p. 200
He who would in his own person test the fact of God’s presence can do so by a living faith. And since faith itself cannot be proved by extraneous evidence, the safest course is to believe in the moral government of the world and therefore in the supremacy of the moral law, the law of Truth and Love. Exercise of faith will be the safest where there is a clear determination summarily to reject all that is contrary to Truth and Love. […]
I know too that I shall never know God if I do not wrestle with and against evil even at the cost of life itself.
Young India, 11-10-1928, pp. 340-41
– My God, M.K.Gandhi, Navajivan Publishing House.
Gandhi wrote this when Curzon Wyllie was killed by Madan Lal Dhingra. Curzon Wyllie was no Gandhi and Dhingra was no Godse, but this argument is as good as any that can be made against Godse. The common link (direct or indirect) between the two assassinations was Savarkar. Both Dhingra and Godse made their own defence and did not plead for mercy.
“Mr. Dhingra’s defence is inadmissible. In my view, he has acted like a coward. All the same, one can only pity the man. He was egged on to do this act by ill-digested reading of worthless writings. His defence of himself, too, appears to have been learnt by rote. It is those who incited him to do this that deserve to be punished. In my view, Mr. Dhingra himself is innocent. The murder was committed in a state of intoxication. It is not merely wine or bhang that makes one drunk; a mad idea also can do so. That was the case with Mr. Dhingra.”
The full note:
CURZON WYLLIE’S ASSASSINATION
(From Indian Opinion dated 14-8-1909; translated from Gujarati)
The assassination of Sir Curzon Wyllie and Dr. Lalkaka was a terrible thing. Sir Curzon Wyllie served as an officer at several places in India. Here he was Lord Morley’s aide-de-camp. Dr. Lalkaka was a Parsi physician and carried on business at Shanghai in China. He was here on a short visit only. On July 2, there was a tea-meeting of the National Indian Association in the Jehangir Hall of the Imperial Institute. Such meetings are arranged with the object of bringing Indian students into contact with Englishmen, who therefore attend as guests of Indians. Sir Curzon Wyllie was [thus] a guest of the assassin. From this point of view, Mr. Madanlal Dhingra murdered his guest in his own house, and also killed Dr. Lalkaka who tried to interpose himself between them. It is being said in defence of Sir Curzon Wyllie’s assassination that it is the British who are responsible for India’s ruin, and that, just as the British would kill every German if Germany invaded Britain, so too it is the right of any Indian to kill any Englishman.
Every Indian should reflect thoughtfully on this murder. It has done India much harm; the deputation’s efforts have also received a setback. But that need not be taken into consideration. It is the ultimate result that we must think of. Mr. Dhingra’s defence is inadmissible. In my view, he has acted like a coward. All the same, one can only pity the man. He was egged on to do this act by ill-digested reading of worthless writings. His defence of himself, too, appears to have been learnt by rote. It is those who incited him to do this that deserve to be punished. In my view, Mr. Dhingra himself is innocent. The murder was committed in a state of intoxication. It is not merely wine or bhang that makes one drunk; a mad idea also can do so. That was the case with Mr. Dhingra. The analogy of Germans and Englishmen is fallacious. If the Germans were to invade [Britain], the British would kill only the invaders. They would not kill every German whom they meet. Moreover, they would not kill an unsuspecting German, or Germans who are guests. If I kill someone in my own house without a warning—someone who has done me no harm—I cannot but be called a coward. There is an ancient custom among the Arabs that they would not kill anyone in their own house, even if the person be their enemy. They would kill him after he had left the house and after he had been given time to arm himself. Those who believe in violence would be brave men if they observe these rules when killing anyone. Otherwise, they must be looked upon as cowards. It may be said that what Mr. Dhingra did, publicly and knowing full well that he himself would have to die, argues courage of no mean order on his part. But as I have said above, men can do these things in a state of intoxication, and can also banish the fear of death. Whatever courage there is in this is the result of intoxication, not a quality of the man himself. A man’s own courage consists in suffering deeply and over a long period. That alone is a brave act which is preceded by careful reflection.
I must say that those who believe and argue that such murders may do good to India are ignorant men indeed. No act of treachery can ever profit a nation. Even should the British leave in consequence of such murderous acts, who will rule in their place? The only answer is: the murderers. Who will then be happy? Is the Englishman bad because he is an Englishman? Is it that everyone with Indian skin is good? If that is so, we can claim no rights in South Africa, nor should there be any angry protest against oppression by Indian princes. India can gain nothing from the rule of murderers—no matter whether they are black or white. Under such a rule, India will be utterly ruined and laid waste. This train of thought leads to a host of reflections, but I have no time to set them down here. I am afraid some Indians will commend this murder. I believe they will be guilty of a heinous sin. We ought to abandon such fanciful ideas.
The Collected Works of Mahatma Gandhi, Vol. IX
[Compiled from the Collected Works of Mahatma Gandhi (Volumes 97,98) : October 1947 – January 1948]
Now some of you can ask me whether, while I am talking of these things at such length, I am aware of what is happening in Kashmir. Yes, I am quite aware of it. But I know only what has appeared in the newspapers. If all those reports are correct it is really a bad situation. All I can say is that we can neither save our religion nor ourselves in this manner. It is reported that Pakistan is trying to coerce Kashmir to join Pakistan. This should not be so. It is not possible to take anything from anyone by force. I have no doubt about it at all. Today it is Kashmir. Tomorrow it can be Hyderabad. Next it may come to forcing Junagadh or some other State. I do not wish to sit in judgment on this issue. I only believe in the principle that nobody can force anyone.
It makes no difference to me whether it is the question of Kashmir or Hyderabad or Junagadh. Let no one be forced into anything. Let there be no coercion. But I must respectfully submit that today Kashmir is not ruled by its Maharaja. In other States too there are no Princes as we used to know them. They were the creation of the British. Now the British have gone. They had installed them as rulers because they could rule through them and exercise power. Kashmir has still to establish popular rule in the State. The same is the case with other States like Hyderabad and Junagadh. In my view there is no difference between them. Real rulers of the States are its people. If the people of Kashmir are in favour of opting for Pakistan, no power on earth can stop them from doing so. But they should be left free to decide for themselves. The people cannot be attacked and forced by burning their villages. If the people of Kashmir, in spite of its Muslim majority, wish to accede to India no one can stop them.
The Pakistan Government should stop its people if they are going there to force the people of Kashmir. If it fails to do that, it will have to shoulder to entire blame. If the people of the Indian Union are going there to force the Kashmiris, they should be stopped, too, and they should stop by themselves. About this I have no doubt at all.
145. SPEECH AT PRAYER MEETING
October 26, 1947
–Read the rest of this entry »
Perhaps he’s reached that state of intoxication which power is said to inspire, the state in which you believe you are indispensable and can therefore do anything, absolutely anything you feel like, anything at all.
There is something powerful in the
whispering of obscenities, about those in power. There’s something
delightful about it, something naughty, secretive, forbidden, thrilling.
It’s like a spell, of sorts. It deflates them, reduces them to the
common denominator where they can be dealt with.
Sanity is a valuable possession. I hoard it the way people once hoarded money.
The Handmaid’s Tale (Margaret Atwood)
‘When the governor retired from his governorship and returned to Rome to spend his remaining years there, he had amassed a fortune which was greater than that of any previous ruler of the island; but at the same time he had administered the mines and the whole province with a profit to the State unknown before. Innumerable overseers and slave-drivers had contributed to this success by their sense of duty, severity and perhaps even cruelty; thanks to them it had been possible to exploit fully the natural resources and squeeze both population and slaves to the utmost.
But he himself was far from cruel. It was only his rule that was hard, not himself: if anyone blamed him for such a thing it was due to ignorance, to the fact that one didn’t know him. And to most people he was an unknown, half-mythical person. Thousands of human wrecks down in their mine-pits and at their ploughs out in the sun-baked fields gave a sigh of relief when they heard that he thought of going away; in their simplicity they hoped that a new ruler would be better. But the governor himself left the beautiful island with sadness and regret. He had been very happy there.’
– Par Lagerkvist – Barabbas
சில நாள்களில் கவர்னர் தனது பதவியிலிருந்து ஓய்வு பெற்றுக் கொண்டார். அவர் ஆட்சி செலுத்திய காலத்தில் தனக்கும் அரசாங்கத்துக்கும் நிறையப் பொருளீட்டினார். எத்தனையோ அடிமைகளும் அடிமை ஓட்டிகளும் இந்தப் பொருளீட்டுதலுக்கு உதவினார்கள். எத்தனையோ கொடுமைகள் எத்தனையோ பேர்வழிகளுக்கு இழைக்கப்பட்டன. அந்தத் தீவின் இயற்கை வளத்தையும் சுரங்கச் செல்வத்தையும் பூரணமாக ஆராய்ந்து லாபமடைந்தார் அந்த கவர்னர்.
ஆனால் அவர் கொடூர சித்தமுள்ள மனிதர் அல்ல. அவர் ஆட்சி கொடுமையாக இருந்ததே தவிர, அவர் நல்லவர்தான். அவரைக் குறை சொல்லக்கூடியவர்கள், அவரைச் சரியாகத் தெரிந்து கொள்ளாதவர்கள்தான். அவரைப் பலருக்குத் தெரியாது என்பதும் உண்மையே! எட்டாத உயரத்தில் இருந்தவர் அவர். அவர் போகப் போகிறார் என்றறிந்து கஷ்டப்பட்ட பலர் ஆறுதல் பெருமூச்சு விட்டார்கள். புதிதாக வருபவர் நல்லவராக இருக்க மாட்டாரா என்று அவர்கள் எண்ணினார்கள். ஆனால் அந்தப் பசுமையான அழகிய தீவை விட்டு மனசில்லாமல்தான் பிரிந்தார் அவர். அவர் பல சந்தோஷ நாட்களை அங்கு கழித்திருந்தார்.
– பேர் லாகர்குவிஸ்டு – அன்பு வழி (தமிழில் க.நா.சு.)
[In Margaret Atwood’s futuristic novel, The Handmaid’s Tale, women are stripped off their jobs and bank accounts, overnight, after a coup. Publishing this in 1985, she had taken the digital dystopia of the future, further ahead from 1984.
After demonetization, it doesn’t sound too futuristic anymore, does it? But, with total digital money, it does sound easier, and scarier.]
/All those women having jobs: hard to imagine, now, but thousands of them had jobs, millions. It was considered the normal thing. Now it’s like remembering the paper money, when they still had that. My mother kept some of it, pasted into her scrapbook along with the early photos. It was obsolete by then, you couldn’t buy anything with it. Pieces of paper, thickish, greasy to the touch, green-colored, with pictures on each side, some old man in a wig and on the other side a pyramid with an eye above it. It said In God We Trust . My mother said people used to have signs beside their cash registers, for a joke: In God We Trust, All Others Pay Cash. That would be blasphemy now.
You had to take those pieces of paper with you when you went shopping, though by the time I was nine or ten most people used plastic cards. Not for the groceries though, that came later. I must have used that kind of money myself, a little, before everything went on the Compubank. I guess that’s how they were able to do it, in the way they did, all at once, without anyone knowing beforehand. If there had still been portable money, it would have been more difficult.
It was after the catastrophe, when they shot the president and machine-gunned the Congress and the army declared a state of emergency. They blamed it on the Islamic fanatics, at the time.
Keep calm, they said on television. Everything is under control.
When I got to the corner store, the usual woman wasn’t there. Instead there was a man, a young man, he couldn’t have been more than twenty.
She sick? I said as I handed him my card.
Who? he said, aggressively I thought.
The woman who’s usually here, I said.
How would I know, he said. He was punching my number in, studying each number, punching with one finger. He obviously hadn’t done it before. I drummed my fingers on the counter, impatient for a cigarette, wondering if anyone had ever told him something could be done about those pimples on his neck. I remember quite clearly what he looked like: tall, slightly stooped, dark hair cut short, brown eyes that seemed to focus two inches behind the bridge of my nose, and that acne. I suppose I remember him so clearly because of what he said next.
Sorry, he said. This number’s not valid.
That’s ridiculous, I said. It must be, I’ve got thousands in my account. I just got the statement two days ago. Try it again.
It’s not valid, he repeated obstinately. See that red light? Means it’s not valid.
You must have made a mistake, I said. Try it again.
He shrugged and gave me a fed-up smile, but he did try the number again. This time I watched his fingers, on each number, and checked the numbers that came up in the window. It was my number all right, but there was the red light again.
See? he said again, still with that smile, as if he knew some private joke he wasn’t going to tell me.
I’ll phone them from the office, I said. The system had fouled up before, but a few phone calls usually straightened it out.
Still, I was angry, as if I’d been unjustly accused of something I didn’t even know about. As if I’d made the mistake myself.
You do that, he said indifferently. I left the cigarettes on the counter, since I hadn’t paid for them. I figured I could borrow some at work.
I did phone from the office, but all I got was a recording. The lines were overloaded, the recording said. Could I please phone back?
The lines stayed overloaded all morning, as far as I could
tell. I phoned back several times, but no luck. Even that wasn’t too
[All women are evicted from their offices.]
They’ve frozen them, she said. Mine too. The collective’s too. Any account with an F on it instead of an M. All they needed to do is push a few buttons. We’re cut off./