Gandhi on Allah-o-Akbar

February 9, 2022


During the Madras tour, at Bezwada I had occasion to remark upon the national cries and I suggested that it would be better to have cries about ideals than men. I asked the audience to replace “ Mahatma Gandhi ki jai” and “Mahomed Ali-Shaukat Ali ki jai” by “ Hindu-Mussulman ki jai”. Brother Shaukat Ali, who followed, positively laid down the law. In spite of the Hindu-Muslim unity he had observed that if Hindus shouted “Vandemataram”, the Muslims rang out with “Allah-o-Akbar” and vice versa. This he rightly said jarred on the ear and still showed that the people did not act with one mind. There should be therefore only three cries recognized, “Allah- o-Akbar” to be joyously sung out by Hindus and Muslims showing that God alone was great and no other. The second should be “ Vandemataram” (Hail Motherland) or “ Bharat Mata ki jai” (Victory to Mother Hind). The third should be “Hindu-Mussulman ki jai” without which there was no victory for India, and no true demonstration to the greatness of God. I do wish that the newspapers and public men would take up the Maulana’s suggestion and lead the people only to use the three cries. They are full of meaning. The first is a prayer and a confession of our littleness and therefore a sign of humility. It is a cry in which all Hindus and Muslims should join in reverence and prayerfulness. Hindus may not fight shy of Arabic words when their meaning is not only totally inoffensive but even ennobling. God is no respecter of any particular tongue. “Vandemataram”, apart from its wonderful associations, expresses the one national wish—the rise of India to her full height. And I should prefer “Vandemataram” to “Bharat Mata ki jai” as it would be a graceful recognition of the intellectual and emotional superiority of Bengal. Since India can be nothing without the union of the Hindu and the Muslim heart, “ Hindu-Mussulman ki jai” is a cry which we may never forget.

There should be no discordance in these cries. Immediately some one has taken up any of the three cries the rest should take it up and not attempt to yell out their favourite. Those who do not wish to join may refrain, but they should consider it a breach of etiquette to interpolate their own when a cry has already been raised. It would be better too, always to follow out the three cries in the order given above. Nor should cries be incessantly shouted. One often hears an incessant yell when a popular leader is passing through a station. I doubt if this incessant noise does the slightest good to the nation except to provide an indifferent exercise for one’s lungs. Moreover, it is necessary to think of our hero’s nerves and time. It is a national waste to keep him occupied in gazing at a crowd and hearing a cry in his praise or any other for full thirty minutes. We must cultivate the sense of proportion.

Young India, 8-9-1920


July 18, 1947

I very much like all the vows you intend to take. But do nothing merely because I advise it or just to please me. There is no sin as bad as self-deception.

We are falling lower and lower each day. Our depravity has reached such a point that reports of atrocities committed on women have become a common thing. I tremble at this. God will show the path. Just now I have but one prayer:

‘Ishvar’ and ‘Allah’ are Thine names;

To all, O Lord, good sense give. *

[From Gujarati]

* Ishwar-Allaah tere naam, sabko sanmati de bhaghavaan

There was a time when Hindus and Muslims had been united. There was the pact of unity between the League and the Congress in 1916. Whether it was good or bad was not the question. He was a newcomer in India at that time and hardly knew anybody or affairs in this country. Then came the Khilafat Movement and there was a communal unity that had never been seen before that. Today Hindus were frightened when they heard the cries of “Allah-o-Akbar”. In those days, these were the slogans repeated at all meetings: “Vande mataram”, “Allah-o-Akbar” and “Sat Sri Akal”. Hindus, Muslims and Sikhs in their thousands shouted these slogans with one voice. They were the same people today. Those who were youngsters in those days were grown-up men today. Why could not they live together as friends now? Gandhiji was not prepared to admit that bitterness had gone so deep that it could not be overcome.

SPEECH AT PRAYER MEETING, Chandipur, November 23, 1946



August 23, 1947

Gandhiji first referred to the cry of Allah-o-Akbar to which some Hindus had objected. He held that it was probably a cry than which a greater one had not been produced by the world. It was a soul-stirring religious cry which meant, God only was great. There was nobility in the meaning. Did it become objectionable because it was Arabic? He admitted that it had in India a questionable association. It often terrified the Hindus because sometimes the Muslims in anger come out of the mosques with that cry on their lips to belabour the Hindus. He confessed that the original had no such association. So far as he knew, the cry had no such association in other parts of the world. If, therefore, there was to be a lasting friendship between the two, the Hindus should have no hesitation in uttering the cry together with their Muslim friends. God was known by many names and had many attributes. Rama, Rahim, Krishna, Karim, were all names of the one God. Sat Shri Akal, was an equally potent cry. Should a single Muslim or Hindu hesitate to utter it? It meant that God was and nothing else was. The Ramdhun had the same virtue.

He then came to Vande Mataram. That was no religious cry. It was a purely political cry. The Congress had to examine it. A reference was made to Gurudev about it. And both the Hindu and the Muslim members of the Congress Working Committee had to come to the conclusion that its opening lines were free from any possible objection, and he pleaded that it shoud be sung together by all on due occasion. It should never be a chant to insult or offend the Muslims. It was to be remembered that it was the cry that had fired political Bengal. Many Bengalis had given up their lives for political freedom with that cry on their lips. Though, therefore, he felt strongly about Vande Mataram as an ode to Mother India, he advised his League friends to refer the matter to the League High Command. He would be surprised if, in view of the growing friendliness between the Hindus and the Muslims, the league High Command objected to the prescribed lines of the Vande Mataram, the national song and the national cry of Bengal which sustained her when the rest of India was almost asleep and which was, so far as he was aware, acclaimed by both the Hindus and the Muslims of Bengal. No doubt, every act, as he pointed out the previous evening, must be purely voluntary on the part of either partner. Nothing could be imposed in true friendship.

SPEECH AT PRAYER MEETING, Calcutta, August 23, 1947

K.M.Natarajan : The Gift of Friendship

June 27, 2021

(A Tribute to K.M.Natarajan, to be published in the Sarvodaya Talisman magazine, for which he was the editor. Translated from the Tamil essay written for the Tamil edition, சர்வோதயம் மலர்கிறது.)

In the year 2012, when I heard that the ‘Gandhi Katha’ lectures by Narayan Desai were to be held in Madurai, I went there immediately from Chennai. Narayan Desai was the son of Mahadev Desai, Mahatma Gandhi’s beloved secretary. He had recorded his experiences of growing up under the eyes of Gandhi. Hence, I was intent on attending that event. I met K.M.Natarajan for the first time there. He was the person who had organized the five day story telling series. I sought permission from him for conducting an interview with Narayan Desai. But I had not then known anything about Natarajan, who was fondly called by his acquaintances as KMN Annachi. I did not know at that time about how a beautiful long relationship was about to commence. The interview first appeared on the Gandhi-Today website. Later, my friends, Suneel Krishnan and Rattai Raghu, had met Natarajan with a copy of the interview; he immediately published it in print form in English and Tamil. It was then that my association with him began formally. In a way, this experience gave me an understanding of the kind of person he was. I realized he would never let go of a chance to integrate Gandhian enthusiasts into the Sarvodaya movement. I also knew he would actively pursue every opportunity to do Gandhian work. Narayan Desai’s talks were originally planned by the organisers of the Kudankulam anti-nuclear protests. But when the situation there deteriorated and the plan had to be shelved, Natarajan seized the opportunity and moved the programme to Madurai Gandhi Museum at short notice. In many ways, the contacts that I made during this event and the resultant experiences overturned my life and changed its direction. During this productive overhaul, Natarajan remained a constant supporter and mentor for me. He further invited me to take part in the Sarvodaya Day celebrations held in memory of Jegannathan. I met the family of Krishnammal Jegannathan there and her extended family of Gandhian workers from across the world. This gave further inspiration to pursue our new way of life. In his long social life, spanning over seven decades, there must be countless such incidents which each of us could recollect.

K.M.Natarajan was a great social activist and also an erudite scholar. We failed to introduce him well enough to the world outside the Gandhian fraternity and celebrate him sufficiently. But he was at the forefront of transporting Gandhi and Gandhian thoughts to the many generations who came after the death of Gandhi.

It was a rare achievement to preside over many Sarvodaya organisations and be the editor of three different magazines. He was doing these roles unrelentingly till his death at the age of 88. It showed his fervent attachment to Gandhian thoughts, his firm belief that his work was not over even after leading a long fruitful life, and his confidence that he continued to have something more to offer to the welfare of the world.

He had an undiminished interest in bringing new people into the Sarvodaya fold. Once anybody came under his touch, he would grasp them firmly with his loving hands. He remaining in touch with everyone he knew. I realized it during the meetings held to pay tributes to him. Almost everyone spoke of a recent phone call with him and the special affection he had for them. He made everyone feel they had an essential role to play.

I too think I had a special and unique relationship with him. Over the last few years, not a week went by with an hour-long telephonic discussion with him. He was twice my age and had many times my experience. Yet he moved with me as an equal and a friend. In recent times, there is no one else who has spoken more with me than him. My wife even felt slightly envious about this. During the last year of lockdown, he was very particular about helping me keep my spirits high. He asked if I have Kabasurakudineer (a Siddha medicine for Covid), and when I said no, he sent it along with other preventive medicines from Madurai to my vilage.

Natarajan took me along for various events. He made me record my experiences. He introduced me to various people who came to those events. He used to rue that I was not in Madurai and could not do more work with him. If I tell him about any book I read, he would immediately urge me to write an essay on it and publish it.

He told my wife that she translated better than me and encouraged her to write. He made her do live translation of others’ speeches. He had great love for our daughter too. Whenever she sang a song he knew, he would immediately tell her about his connections to the song.

Two years ago, I had introduced writer Paavannan to him. Later Natarajan was instrumental in getting Paavannan to write a series of essays on various unsung Gandhians. He arranged relevant books and contacts. Whenever he spoke to me, he would thank me for introducing Paavannan to him. Similarly, he kept saying we should continue to get essays from other mutual friends like Chithra Balasubramanian or Balasubramanium Muthusamy.

If I got distracted by other activities and delayed the completion of an essay which I had committed to write, he would gently and patiently remind me of it without ever sounding irked. He had a talent for identifying good books. When I told him about the book, Revolutionary Gandhi by Pannalal Dasgupta, he immediately ordered it from Kolkatta and sent it to me. I had deferred writing an introduction to the book for a long time. He ceaselessly urged me to write about the book. The book was written about Gandhi from a Marxist perspective and hence he thought it to be important. Later, when Dr.Jeeva read my essay and expressed his interest in reading the book, he got another copy for him. He published my long essay in Tamil on Tolstoy, splitting it across many issues. When he realized that The Kingdom of God is Within You, which was the basis was that essay, had not yet been translated into Tamil, he requested Dr.Jeeva to take it up. Dr.Jeeva apparently asked his sister, who knew Russian, to translate the book. When KMN came to know of Dr.Jeeva’s death, he felt shattered. He asked me to compile all the tributes written on Dr.Jeeva. He published some of them and paid a great tribute to him through his magazines. Today KMN Annachi is also no more with us.

While he was appreciative of my style of writing in English, he was a bit critical of my Tamil style. He found it to be too flowery and scholarly. He impressed on me that I should write in a simple language and ensure it is understood by all readers. Yet he continued to publish my essays without too many changes.

He used to say he didn’t have much time to indulge in literature since he was too involved in social activities. Though he felt attracted by Tamil writers like Jayakanthan, he said he was repelled by his views on drinking. He was of the opinion that literary writers should be righteous as well. Though he did not read literature to his satisfaction, he was well versed in both Tamil and English. He was adept at expressing his opinions, whether verbally or in writing, in a simple, clear and interesting manner.

He had something unique to say about everyone. He had personal experiences with Kumarappa, Vinoba, JP, Keithan, Jegannathan, Kamaraj, Kakkan and others. He had the opportunity to interact with scholars like Ivan Illich, E.F.Schumacher, Mark Lindley, Ramachandra Guha and others at various points of time. He had friendly relations with those who held opposing views too. N.Dharmarajan and S.N.Nagarajan, both with Communist affiliations, were his close friends.

Though Natarajan was a leading figure in the Sarvodaya movement, he never promoted himself. During private conversations and public speeches, he always shared countless experiences. But during such sharing, only the personality and achievements of others were highlighted and never his own contributions. When the Sarvodaya-Jegannathan Award was presented to him this year, he accepted it with shyness, since he was usually the deciding authority for choosing the awardees. However, he considered it to be a honour to be accepting the award in the name of his mentor, Jegannathan. I had written in detail about the speech he delivered on that day. He immediately called me up and asked, “Why do you to write so much about what I spoke?” He was clearly moved.

Natarajan was a great repository of the history of the past 70 years. He was a witness to its unfolding and he played an active part in it. We did not record his experiences and memories fully and it will remain one of our failings. Whenever I asked him for a time when I can do a long interview with him, he always asked, what was hurry, and directed me to do some other work. My wish to be with him for a few days and record all that he had to say has remained unfulfilled.

Recently, in a meeting with friends from foreign countries, Krishnammal Jegannathan spoke in memory of KNM Annachi. She was in tears throughout that meeting. More than any words, those tears bore witness to their long association and his indispensability to their activities. Though my acquaintance with him is much shorter, I feel the same emptiness that she seems to feel. The vacuum he has left behind in the Sarvodaya Movement is not easy to fill.

War and Ahimsa: Gandhi on Kashmir

September 1, 2020

I had compiled the writings and speeches of Gandhi on Kashmir from the time of invasion by the Afridi tribesmen from Pakistan in October 1947 till his death in January 1948. I wrote an introduction to it, which appeared in the Tamizhini emagazine in October, 2019.

I am now publishing the compilation along with the introduction as a free ebook on Google Drive.

The book is also available on the site and can be downloaded from here.

The Tamil (print) version of the book was published by Yaavarum Publishers last year (October, 2019) as போரும் அகிம்சையும்: காஷ்மீர் குறித்து காந்தி.

Excerpts from the book:

We can also observe some common threads emerging from these speeches.

Firstly, he emphasized that people’s opinion was paramount, be it in Kashmir or other territories, and neither India nor Pakistan should force them to accede. Gandhi supported the accession of the Muslim majority State of Kashmir to India, more because of Sheikh Abdullah than the Maharaja. He believed Sheikh Abdullah had the backing of all Kashmiris. “If it had been only the Maharaja who had wanted to accede to the Indian Union, I could never support such an act. The Union Government agreed to the accession for the time being because both the Maharaja and Sheikh Abdullah, who is the representative of the people of Jammu and Kashmir, wanted it. Sheikh Abdullah came forward because he claims to represent not only the Muslims but the entire masses in Kashmir.” [Nov 11, 1947]

When it came to listening to the will of the people, he thought it was essential and did not base his principle on time, place and gains.

Secondly, Gandhi was greatly impressed by the unity displayed by the Hindus, Sikhs and Muslims in Kashmir. About an earlier Sultan of Kashmir, he had said, “In days gone by when, accompanied by Hindus, Jainuluddin set out on a pilgrimage to Kashi, he got repaired all derelict temples he passed on the way” [June 12, 1947]. He saw Kashmir as the place where the idea of partition will be proven wrong. He could have thought of the accession of Kashmir to India as a victory for secular thinking. “The poison which has spread amongst us should never have spread. Through Kashmir that poison might be removed from us. If they make such a sacrifice in Kashmir to remove that poison, then our eyes also would be opened,” he said. “It is my prayer that in the present darkness in the country Kashmir may become the star that provides light,” he hoped and prayed [Dec 29, 1947]. He was greatly distressed when the Hindus and Sikhs attacked Muslims in Jammu.

Thirdly, it is for this same reason, his admiration for its secularist nature, that he opposed any suggestion to partition Jammu and Kashmir. It is evident that he thought partitioning Jammu and Kashmir along religious lines tantamounts to India accepting the principle of partition. “…Jammu and Kashmir is one State. It cannot be partitioned. If we start the process of partitioning where is it going to end? It is enough and more than enough that India has been partitioned into two. If we partition Kashmir, why not other States?“ he asked [Dec 25, 1947]. This was his strong position.

Revolutionary Gandhi by Pannalal Dasgupta: Gandhi through the eyes of a Marxist

August 19, 2020

[Published in the August, 2020 issue of the Sarvodaya Talisman magazine.]


There is no dearth of great books on Gandhi. One of the best books that I have read on Gandhi is Pannalal Dasgupta’s ‘Revolutionary Gandhi’. The book excited me for many reasons. First, the content, which presents all aspects of Gandhi as integral to the whole. Next, the context – the stories on the author of the book and how the book was written are, by themselves, interesting. And then, the story of how I came across the book makes it memorable for me personally.

Inspired by Gandhi’s writings on Nayee Talim and Fukuoka’s One Straw Revolution, I had felt the urge to move to a village. Around that time, we had met a couple from a village near Madurandakam. Sriram and Karpagam, along with their friend Siddharth, had taken up farming in that village, having left their IIT degrees and urban lives behind. We visited them there on a rainy day, walking through a slush of mud. The simplicity of their lives held a great appeal for us. During the course of the long conversation that day, Sriram recommended the book, Revolutionary Gandhi, as a must-read book on Gandhi. This meeting helped us to move towards the village with more conviction.

Shortly afterwards, we made the move to a village near Coimbatore. At the government library in Coimbatore, one of the first books that I stumbled upon was Revolutionary Gandhi. I lived up to the expectations set by Sriram. Later, hearing me rave about this book, the veteran Gandhian leader, K.M.Natarajan, procured this book from Kolkatta, and gifted it to me. He kept urging me to write a detailed review about the book.

The book was originally written in Bengali in 1954-55 under the title Gandhi Gabeshana, when Pannalal Dasgupta was in jail. It was published in 1986. It took another 25 years for an English translation to come out. (By K.V.Subrahmonyan – ‘if no Bengali came forward, why not a Tamilian attempt’.)

Pannalal Dasgupta was the leader of the Revolutionary Communist Party at the time of his arrest. Pannalal and his associates, while working at Jessop Company, had planned a shut down due to unaddressed grievances. When Pannalal was away, the protests turned into violent riots. As the leader of the group, he too was sentenced for life imprisonment. His excellent work in jail drew the attention of authorities; Jayaprakash Narayan visited him. He was released along with other political prisoners when Prafulla Sen became the Chief Minister of West Bengal. As his excellent translator says in his introduction, ‘This best-selling masterpiece in Bengali was the fruit of a transformation which came into his life. A political extremist, who formerly believed in violence as a means to social justice, turned once and for all into a complete Gandhian. Pannalal Babu became, like his hero, a true holistic revolutionary.’

At a time when many Marxists, especially in Bengal, were, by and large, critical of Gandhi, Pannalal Dasgupta presented a holistic picture of Gandhi through Marxist lens. “I believe that I understand the cult of Marxism-Leninism fairly well. I have read the works of Marx, Lenin, Stalin, Trotsky, Mao Tse-Tung, Fidel Castro and also Che Guevara and put their ideas to use in the field of practical politics. Both in prison and outside I have lived the major part of my life along their philosophical lines. As I involved myself in all areas of India’s freedom movement, I was also well acquainted with the Congress and the Gandhian movement. During my long prison terms, I had the opportunity to listen to and read about different ideological viewpoints.” He further states, “Indian communists have never tried properly to understand Gandhiji. So I have tried to acquaint people with the two most important phenomena and ideologies of our times, Gandhism and Leninism. I have explained Gandhism in the light of Marxism and also analysed Marxian thought and action in the Gandhian light.”

Many decades after he had written this book in jail, he felt the urge to publish it because of the continuing relevance of Gandhi he felt during his constructive work in the villages, and the unbridled materialist pursuits of man that he observed around him. “Limitless consumerism is the biggest danger that faces mankind today,” he notes and considers Gandhian approach to be essential to counter it, since he kept counselling caution in such restlessness. “I believe that Gandhiji is a living reality and, as days pass by, people will be bound to take more and more interest in the man, his thought and work. Gandhiji raised some fundamental questions to which no ideology or ‘ism’ has yet been able to furnish a proper answer.” He cites Vinoba Bhave approvingly elsewhere, “To change the direction is the simplest way of outstripping others.”

In this essay, I am attempting to give an introduction to this unheralded book that deserves to be read widely, largely using the words of Pannalal Dasgupta himself, juxtaposing with the quotations of Gandhi from the book.


Pannalal Dasgupta likens Gandhi’s quest for truth to the main aim of science, which, he says, is ‘the search for truth’. It was Gandhi’s quest for truth that led him to non-violence. ‘Gandhiji believed that it was unjust to employ secretiveness and deceptive strategy in a struggle against an adversary. His moral objection to armed, violent struggle was mainly on the ground that it was inevitably accompanied by secretiveness, underhand methods and deceit. It was not the sight of death that turned him nonviolent. On the contrary, his conscience was unfailingly clear when, in his own nonviolent struggle, he had to bring people constantly face to face with death.’ His first and foremost emphasis was on truth and not on non-violence nor even God. Hence, Gandhi changed his maxim ‘God is Truth’ into ‘Truth is God.’

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Gandhi’s speech: ‘Sedition is our dharma’

March 27, 2020

12, March, 2020

Dandi March started on this day, 90 years ago, from the Sabarmati Ashram at Ahmedabad. During the march, Gandhi made many significant speeches at the villages on the way. Excerpts from his seditious speech at Borsad (March 18,1930), when he said “Sedition is our Dharma”:

“At one time I was wholly loyal to the Empire and taught others to be loyal. I sang “God Save the King” with zest and taught my friends and relations to do so. Finally, however, the scales fell from my eyes, and the spell broke. I realized that the Empire did not deserve loyalty. I felt that it deserved sedition. Hence I have made sedition my dharma. I try to explain it to others that while sedition is our dharma, to be loyal is a sin. To be loyal to this Government, that is to say to wish it well, is as good as wishing ill of the crores of people of India. We get nothing in return for the crores of rupees that are squeezed out of the country; if we get anything, it is the rags from Lancashire. To approve the policy of this Government is to commit treason against the poor. You should free yourselves from this latter offence. I believe I have done so. Hence I have become ready to wage a peaceful war against this Government. I am commencing it by violating the salt law. It is for this purpose that I am undertaking this march. At every place, thousands of men and women have conferred their blessings upon it. These blessings are not showered on me but on the struggle.

Our patience has been severely tried. We must free ourselves from the yoke of this Government and we are prepared to undergo any hardships that we may have to suffer in order to secure swaraj. It is our duty as well as our right to secure swaraj.

I regard this as a religious movement since sedition is our dharma.

Every moment I desire the end of the policies of this Government. I have no desire to touch even a single hair of our rulers. But we certainly shall not bow down to them. Kindly, therefore, become conscious of your responsibilities and wash away your sins against India. Today we are defying the salt law. Tomorrow we shall have to consign other laws to the waste-paper basket. Doing so we shall practise such severe non-co-operation that finally it will not be possible for the administration to be carried on at all.”

Nice trolling of the entire opposition by Gandhi

January 17, 2020


On the Deliverance Thanksgiving Day (1) declared by Jinnah Saheb I had the following wire from Gulbarga Muslims : “Deliverance Day greetings, Quaid-e-Azam Jinnah Zindabad”. I took it as a message sent to ruffle my feelings. The senders little knew that the wire could not serve its purpose. When I received it, I silently joined the senders in the wish “Long Live Quaid-e-Azam Jinnah.” The Quaid-e-Azam is an old comrade. What does it matter that today we do not see eye to eye in some matters ? That can make no difference in my goodwill towards him.

But the Quaid-e-Azam has given me special reason for congratulating him. I had the pleasure of wiring him congratulations on his excellent Id day broadcast. And now he commands further congratulations on forming pacts with parties who are opposed to the Congress policies and politics. He is thus lifting the Muslim League out of the communal rut and giving it a national character. I regard his step as perfectly legitimate. I observe that the Justice Party and Dr. Ambedkar’s party have already joined Jinnah Saheb. The papers report too that Shri Savarkar, the President of the Hindu Mahasabha, is to see him presently. Jinnah Saheb himself has informed the public that many non-Congress Hindus have expressed their sympathy with him. I regard this development as thoroughly healthy. Nothing can be better than that we should have in the country mainly two parties— Congress and non-Congress or anti-Congress, if the latter expression is preferred. Jinnah Saheb is giving the word ‘minority’ a new and good content. The Congress majority is made up of a combination of caste Hindus, non-caste Hindus, Muslims, Christians, Parsis and Jews. Therefore it is a majority drawn from all classes, representing a particular body of opinion; and the proposed combination becomes a minority representing another body of opinion. This may any day convert itself into a majority by commending itself to the electorate. Such an alignment of parties is a consummation devoutly to be wished. If the Quaid-e-Azam can bring about the combination, not only I but the whole of india will shout with one acclamation : ‘Long Live Quaid-e-Azam Jinnah.’ For he will have brought about permanent and living unity for which I am sure the whole nation is thirsting.

SEGAON, January 15, 1940 Harijan, 20-1-1940


Tagore’s Mukta-dhara: nationalism, science, education and more

November 12, 2019

Rabindranath Tagore’s Mukta-dhara (Translated by Marjorie Sykes) is a play with an interesting, futuristic theme. The King of Uttarkut, Ranajit, employs an engineer, Bibhuti, to build a dam to stall the waters of Mukta-dhara which were flowing into the neighbouring country, Shiv-tarai, in order to make them starve and submit.

The play, written in 1922, can be viewed as a critique on nationalism and the use of science for destruction. There is also a small scene from the play in which Tagore launches a scathing satirical attack on the schooling system, relevant today more than ever. Tagore’s play precedes Noam Chomsky’s description of formal education as ‘a deep level of indoctrination that takes place in our schools’ and a schooled person ‘is one who is conditioned to obey power and structure’.

The Bairagi, Dhananjaya, a character in the play, reminds us of Gandhi and speaks his language of non-violence. Some critics cite the character of Sandip, the antagonist in Ghare Baire, to be a veiled attack on Gandhi. But Ghare Baire was actually written in 1916, much before the phenomenal rise of Gandhi in India and his khadi movement on a national scale, and has to be seen more as a criticism on the swadeshi movement of the previous decade. Tagore, though, did employ some of those arguments in his later debates with Gandhi on khadi. However, it was an ideological debate and not an attack on his personal integrity, which was the case with Sandip. Dhananjaya is a far more representative portrayal of the voice of Gandhi than Sandip. But even Dhananjaya, Marjorie Sykes points out in the introduction, had already appeared in an earlier play of Tagore, Prayaschitta (Atonement), published in 1909.


[Here is the scene where a schoolmaster and his students meet the King.]

The schoolmaster of Uttarakut enters with his boys.

MASTER. You’ll be getting a taste of the cane, I can see.
Loudly now, shout, Jai Rajarajeswar!

BOYS. Jai, Rajara . . .

MASTER [slapping a boy or two within his reach] . . .

BOYS. Jeswar !

RANAJIT. Where are you all going?

MASTER. Sire, your Majesty is to confer honour on our royal engineer Bibhuti, so I am taking the boys to share the rejoicings. They have learned from childhood to honour everything that is to the glory of Uttarakut. I don’t want them to miss any opportunity.

RANAJIT. They all know, I suppose, what Bibhuti has done?

BOYS [jumping and clapping their hands]. Yes, yes, he has stopped up Shiv-tarai’s drinking water.

RANAJIT. Why did he do that?

BOYS. To make them smart!

RANAJIT. And why should he make them smart?

BOYS. Because they are bad men.

RANAjiT. How bad?

BOYS. Everybody knows it, they are very bad, awfully bad.

RANAjtT. But you don’t know why they are bad?

MASTER. Of course they know, Maharaja. Now, you, didn’t you read? Didn’t you read in your book?
[Whispering] Their religion is very bad,

BOYS. Yes, yes, their religion is very bad.

MASTER. And besides, they are not like us. Come now, speak up! [He points to his nose.]

BOYS. They haven’t got high-ridged noses.

MASTER. Right, now what has our professor proved? What does a high-ridged nose show?

BOYS. The greatness of our race!

MASTER. Good. And what will that great race do?
Come, speak up! … they’ll conquer , . . out with it. do! … they’ll conquer everyone else in the world, won’t they?

BOYS. Yes, everyone.

MASTER. Were the men of Uttarakut ever defeated in war?

BOYS. Never, never!

MASTER, Didn’t our former king Pragjil, with two hundred and ninety-three men, drive back an army of thirty-one thousand seven hundred and ninety-three southern barbarians?

BOYS. Yes, yes!

MASTER. Rest assured, your Majesty, all these boys will be a terror one day to all wretched foreigners. If not, I am no true teacher. Not for a moment do I forget what a great responsibility is ours. It’s, we schoolmasters who mould men — your ministers have merely to use them. Yet think what a salary they get, compared with ours!

MINISTER. But these boys themselves are your reward.

MASTER. Well spoken, sir, the boys themselves are Our reward. Alas, but food is dear. Just think; cow’s ghee, which used to be . . .

MINISTER. All right, all Tight, I’ll see about your ghee. Now go, it’s nearly time for worship.

The Schoolmaster goes out with his boys.

RanajiT. This schoolmaster of yours has nothing in his head but ghee, cow’s ghee.

MINISTER. There is certainly a good deal of the cow about him. But, Maharaja, fellows of this kind have their uses. Day after day they repeat, mechanically, exactly what they have been told. Things wouldn’t run so smoothly if they had more sense.


[A scene with Dhananjaya:]

GANESH. Master, only say the word, and I’ll get hold of that bully Chandapal’s stick and show him what beating is.

DHANANJAYA. Can’t you show him what not-beating is?
That needs too much strength, I suppose? Beating the waves won’t stop the storm. But hold your rudder steady, and you win.

FOURTH SHIV What do you tell us to do, then?

DHANANJAYA. Strike at the root of violence itself.

THIRD SHIV. How can that be done, Master?

DHANANJAYA. .As soon as you can hold up your head and say that it does not hurt, the roots of violence will be cut.

SECOND SHIV. It is not so easy to say that it doesn’t hurt.

DHANANjAYA. Nothing can hurt your real manhood, for that is a flame of- fire. The animal, that is the flesh, feels the blow, and whines. But you stand there gaping — don’t you understand ?

SECOND SHIV. We understand you, but your words we don’t understand.

DHANANJAYA. Then you are done for.

GANtSH. Time presses. Master, and your words take so long to understand. But we understand you, and so we shall have an early crossing.

DHANANjAYA. Early? But what of the evening time?
When you find your boat sinking within sight of shore?
If you can’t make my words your own, you will be drowned.

GANESH. Don’t say that. Master. We have found shelter at your feet, so we must have understood somehow.

DHANANjAYA. It is only too plain that you have not understood. Your eyes still see red, and there is no song on your lips. Shall I give you a tune?

Gandhi and Rajchandra

November 12, 2019

Triggered by a recent essay in Tamizhini on the Western Influences on Gandhi, I was going through references in Gandhi’s writings to Rajchandra (aka Raychand). They are far more than what I had anticipated.

Rajchandra’s influence on Gandhi is not highlighted much by the Western scholars, perhaps because a lot of their correspondence was lost or was not translated. Narayan Desai, in his four volume biography on Gandhi (My Life is My Message), writes that Rajchandra was the primary influence on Gandhi. He cites Nemchand Gala’s book on Rajchandra in Gujarati, where the author claimed they exchanged over 200 letters. Only 3 of them are said to have survived…only one of them is in CWMG – Gandhi asked him 27 questions in these and received his answers. Narayan Desai gives their entire correspondence in his book.

Gandhi has dedicated a full chapter in his autobiography to Rajchandra. He stops short of calling him his guru, but says ‘no one else has ever made on me the impression that Raychandbhai did.’

Gandhi can sometimes be effusive in his praise. But in the case of Rajchandra he is consistent. He wrote and spoke about him in the same vein on many other occasions. He has written a foreword and a few chapters in a book on him [Shrimad Rajchandra]. He made speeches on his birthdays for three or four years. He often quoted from Rajchandra, especially in letters or speeches to Gujarati associates or Jains, and kept recommending his books to them. He translated a few verses of Rajchandra in a letter to Kallenbach. He repeatedly placed Rajchandra above Tolstoy and Ruskin (in terms of influence on him).

Gandhi more or less directly attributes at least three major decisions to the influence of Raychand – none of them appeal to the modern mind and that is probably another reason why his influence is overlooked: 1. Refusal to convert to Christianity 2. Taking Brahmacharya vow 3. Giving up milk

In 1930, Gandhi talked about his other more crucial contribution – and Gandhi’s words are so pertinent today, “Such was the man who captivated my heart in religious matters as no other man has till now. I have said elsewhere that in moulding my inner life Tolstoy and Ruskin vied with Kavi [Raychand]. But Kavi’s influence was undoubtedly deeper if only because I had come in closest personal touch with him. His judgment appealed to my moral sense in the vast majority of cases. The bedrock of his faith was unquestionably ahimsa. His ahimsa was not of the crude type we witness today among its so-called votaries who confine their attention merely to the saving of aged cattle and insect life. His ahimsa, if it included the tiniest insect, also covered the whole of humanity.

Yet I never could regard Kavi as a perfect man. But of all the men I knew he appeared to me to be nearer perfection than the rest. Alas! he died all too young (thirty-three years) when he felt that he was surely going to see truth face to face. He has had many worshippers but not as many followers.”

Gandhi talked about an incident involving Raychand, and we can see why he thought of him to be ‘nearer perfection’. This was another quality he wished to see in himself.

“Raychandbhai once thought that he could do good to the world through his gift of attending to a hundred things simultaneously. If, he thought, he gave demonstrations of that gift in the Town Hall in Bombay, with a High Court judge presiding over the function, people would be converted and seek the welfare of their soul. After two or three days, he felt doubts about the wisdom of such a demonstration. It would be, he thought, a display of his own attainments, but would prove nothing about the power of God. Accordingly, he wrote a letter of apology and said that he had decided not to give the demonstration, but did not wish to explain why.”

Halfway to Freedom – Margaret Bourke-White

September 6, 2019

I came across this photo essay with some lovely photographs, and remembered that Margaret Bourke-White had interviewed Gandhi on 30th January, 1948. I then read her book, ‘Halfway to Freedom’.

This book, wonderful at times, gives insightful first-hand sketches on various key moments in Indian history. She saw Jinnah announcing direct action, and visited Calcutta after it erupted as a result of it; she photographed Gandhi and Jinnah and details the difficulties she encountered. She meets poor peasants, dines with the Maharajas, zamindars and the industrialists, and ridicules the idea of trusteeship; she also directly questions Gandhi and Birla on it. She saw the partition of Punjab and the raids on Kashmir by tribesmen & the spirited defense put up by the Kashmiris armed with sticks and clubs till the Indian forces arrived, and wrote a glowing account of Sheikh Abdullah and his People’s government which was, she says, at that time, far ahead of the Indian government in taking progressive steps.

After visiting Baramula, she also narrates the stirring story of Mir Maqbool Sherwani, ‘a young Muslim shopkeeper who had sacrificed his life rather than recant in his creed of religious tolerance. His martyrdom had taken place almost under the shadow of the convent walls, and in the memory of the devoted Kashmiris he was fast assuming the stature of a saint. ‘ Sherwani was crucified after he refused to shout “Pakistan zindabad: Sher-i-Kashmir-murdabad.” Margaret adds, ‘Once more Sherwani cried out, “Victory to Hindu-Muslim unity,” and fourteen tribesmen shot bullets into his body.’

In the book that was published in 1949, she says this about RSS:
“The RSS insisted it was a nonpolitical body; however there was no doubt that its young men absorbed with their glasses of milk strong doses of what they called “awakening race spirit”. I had managed to get my hands on some of their secret literature, and each blazing line about Hindu supremacy reminded me of ideas I had heard in Germany during the thirties when rising fascism fed its master-race theory to the Hitler youth. With the R.S.S. stand against ‘wrong notions of democracy’ and their belief that Muslims should be treated as foreigners ‘wholly subordinate to the Hindu nation,’ there seemed a very real danger that this youth movement might develop the same fascist and totalitarian tendencies we had witnessed in the West, and act against minorities as the Nazis did against the Jews.”

When Gandhi undertook his last fast in January, 1948, Bourke-While was there for almost the entire duration, being amazed by how the initial lukewarm, indifferent response gradually converted to an irresistible force.

“The whole nation seemed to have shared God’s gift, Gandhiji’s fast had stirred up a fount of emotion and great soul-searching. Although sporadic outbreaks continued to occur, especially in explosive border areas or where the greatest concentrations showed only too bitterly that problems remain unsolved, Gandhiji’s heroic risking of life had wrought profound effects. The entire country had been stirred to its foundations, and the people bent their will toward peace. “

She seemed to have admired Nehru; Patel, not as much.

When she went to photograph Jinnah, she found his appearance to be ‘tortured’, and speculated on the causes:

“…my dismay at the dyed fur was dwarfed by my shock at Jinnah’s changed appearance – the unsteady step, listless eyes, the white-knuckled, nervously clenched hands. […] Later, reflecting on what I had seen, I decided that his desperation was due to causes far deeper than anxiety over Pakistan’s territorial and economic difficulties. I think the tortured appearance of Mr.Jinnah was an indication that, in these final months of his life, he was adding up his own balance sheet. Analytical, brilliant, and no bigot, he knew what he had done. Like Doctor Faustus, he had made a bargain from which he could never be free. During the heat of the struggle he had been willing to call on all the devilish forces of superstition, and now that his new nation had been achieved the bigots were in the position of authority. The leaders of orthodoxy and a few ‘old families’ had the final word and, to perpetuate their power, were seeing to it that the people were held in the deadening grip of religious superstition. “

Here are some more interesting excerpts from the book. Pdf version is available here.

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Gandhi and Thirukkural

August 24, 2019

[The revised and expanded English version of the Tamil essay published in Gandhi Today website.]

Is it possible for a huge mass of people to shower immense love on a work of literature? The emotional attachment of Tamils to Thirukkural is a case in point. It is astonishing that a book which is largely perceived to be a moral treatise (though, it is, in fact, not only a book of moral codes) has become such an object of love for the Tamils. If we make a list of those who lived a life that was close to the moral code of Thirukkural, the name of Gandhi, though he was not a Tamil, has to come on top. There are a lot of myths concerning Gandhi, Tolstoy and Thirukkural. We cannot ascertain the direct impact of Kural on Gandhi. But, we can see that Gandhi was quite aware of Thirukkural through his writings.         

It is unlikely that Gandhi would have heard about Thirukkural before his acquaintance with the Tamils in South Africa. There can be no doubt that he would have been drawn towards it, had he heard about it. He cites two precepts as his guiding principles during his childhood – truth and returning good for evil. (1) Both are key tenets of Thirukkural. He mentions a Gujarati didactic stanza in his Autobiography, which ‘gripped his mind and heart’, when he was a boy. He recollects the same song by Shamal Bhatt, when he was in London too, and was reading the New Testament, ‘especially the Sermon on the Mount which went straight to his heart.’ 

For a bowl of water give a goodly meal: 

For a kindly greeting bow thou down with zeal: 

For a simple penny pay thou back with gold: 

If thy life be rescued, life do not withhold. 

Thus the words and actions of the wise regard;

Every little service tenfold they reward. 

But the truly noble know all men as one, 

And return with gladness good for evil done.

We can see parallels between this song and many Kurals. (2)

Those who know the true value of a favour, will see

for the quantum of the favour, a tree, where there was a grain. [104]

A timely favour, however trivial

its material value is, is invaluable. [102]

Of what use is being noble

If one can’t do good unto those who did evil. [987]

Though there are traces of Kural imprinted in many works of Gandhi and those that impacted him, this song which attracted Gandhi during his growing years is significant. 

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