Saturday, May 29, 2010

The Life of Mahatma Gandhi

January 30, 1948, Friday

"Bapu (father), your watch must be feeling very neglected. You would not look at it today," said Abha, the young wife of Kanu Gandhi, grandson of Mahatma's cousin.

"Why should I, since you are my timekeeper?" Gandhi retorted.

"But you don't look at the timekeepers," Manu noted. Manu is the granddaughter of another cousin.

Gandhi laughed.

By this time Gandhi was walking on the grass near the prayer ground. A congregation of about 500 had assembled for the regular evening devotions.

"I am late by ten minutes," Gandhi mused aloud. "I hate being late. I should be here at the stroke of five."

He quickly cleared the five steps up the level of the prayer ground. Most of the people rose; many edged forward; some helped to clear a lane for him; those who were nearest bowed to his feet.

Just then, a man elbowed his way out of the congregation into the lane. He looked as if he wished to prostrate himself in the customary obeisance of the devout. Manu tried to stop him and caught hold of his hand. He pushed her away so that she fell and, planting himself about two feet in front of Gandhi, fired three shots from a small automatic pistol.

The first bullet entered Gandhi's abdomen three and a half inches to the right down the middle of the body and two and a half inches above the navel and came out through the back.

The second bullet penetrated the seventh intercostal space one inch to the right of the midlde line and likewise came out at the back.

The third shot hit one inch above the right nipple and four inches to the right of the middle line and embedded itself in the lung.

One bullet, Dr Bhargava says, probably passed through the heart and another might have cut a big blood vessel.

Devadas, Gandhi's youngest son, touched his father's skin and gently pressed his arm. Gandhi's head lays in Abha's lap. His face wore a peaceful smile. He seemed asleep.

"So serene was the face and so mellow the halo of divine light that surrounded the body that it seemed almost sacrilegious to grieve ..." Devadas wrote later.

That was 30 January, 1948, the day Mahatma Gandhi at 78 died. Mahatma was what he had always been: a private citizen without wealth, property, official title, official post, academic distinction, scientific achievement, or artistic gift.

Mahatma was a moral man, and a civilization not richly endowed with morality felt still further impoverished when the assassin's bullets ended his life.

'I never saw Gandhi. I do not know his language. I never set foot in his country and yet I feel the same sorrow as if I had lost someone near and dear.' Leon Blum, the French Socialist wrote.

Professor Albert Einstein wrote: 'Gandhi had demonstrated that a powerful human following can be assembled not only through the cunning game of the usual political manoeuvres and trickeries but through the cogent example of a morally superior conduct of life. In our time of utter moral decadence he was the only statesman to stand for a higher human relationship in the political sphere.'

General Douglas MacArthur, supreme Allied military commander said: 'In the evolution of civilization, if it is to survive, all men cannot fail eventually to adopt Gandhi's belief that the process of mass application of force to resolve contentious issues is fundamentally not only wrong but contains within itself the germs of self-destruction.'

"I know no other man of any time or indeed in recent history who so forcefully and convincingly demonstrated the power of spirit over material things," Sir Stafford Cripps wrote.

In New York, a 12-year-old girl had gone into the kitchen for breakfast. The radio was on and it brought the news of the shooting of Gandhi. There, in the kitchen, the girl, the maid and the gardener held a prayer meeting and prayed and wept.

Just so, millions in all countries mourned Gandhi's death. The whole world has been plunged into mourning by the death of this extraordinary man. They did not quite know why; they did not quite know what he stood for. But he was a 'good man' and good men are rare.

Nathuram Vinayak Godse, age 35, was the editor and publisher of a Hindu Mahasabha weekly in Poona and he was a high-degree Chitpawan Brahman. Godse resented Mahatma's insistence that refugees be evacuated from the mosques and he was bitter because no demands were made on the Muslims. At the trial Godse said he was brooding intensely on the atrocities perpetrated on Hinduism and its dark and deadly future if left to face Islam outside and Gandhi inside. Gose testified, 'and ... I decided all of a sudden to take the extreme step against Gandhi.' Hindus like Madan Lal and Godse and their ideological sponsors were incensed by the presence of Muslims at Hindu services and the reading of selections from the Quran. Godse said at his trial, at which he was sentenced to be hanged: "Before I fired the shots I actually wished him well and bowed to him in reverence."

Gandhi had always insisted that those who differ with him are not necessarily evil. Instead, they should try to convert him to right thinking and right doing. "I deserve no praise; I would deserve praise only if I fell as a result of an explosion and yet retained a smile on my face and no malice against the doer. No one should look down on the misguided youth who had thrown the bomb," Gandhi told his devout followers.

In response to Godse's obeisance and the bows Gandhi touched his palm together, smiled and blessed him. At that moment Godse pulled the trigger. Gandhi fell, and died murmuring, :Oh, God!"

All around us, material things had power over spirit. The sudden flash of Gandhi's death revealed a vast darkness. No one who survived him had tried so hard - and with so much success - to live a life of truth, kindness, self-effacement, humility, service and non-violence throughout a long, difficult struggle against mighty adversaries. He fought passionately and unremittingly but he kept his hands clean in the midst of battle. He fought without malice or falsehood or hate.


The Life of Mahatma Gandhi by Louis Fischer; Harper Collins Publishers 1997



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