Gandhi was born on October 2, 1869, in Porbandar, Gujarat. One hundred and forty years later, we continue to remember him. Why?

October 2, Gandhi Jayanthi, is around the corner and, this year, it will be 140 years since the Mahatma was born (1869). Gandhiji’s philosophy of peace and ahimsa lives on.

Recently, in September, U.S. President Obama was at the Arlington High School, Virginia, when one of the students asked him a question. “Hi. I’m Lilly”, she began. “And if you could have dinner with anyone, dead or alive, who would it be?”

The President asked, “Dinner with anyone dead or alive? Well, you know, dead or alive, that’s a pretty big list. You know, I think that it might be Gandhi, who is a real hero of mine ... he’s somebody who I find a lot of inspiration in. He inspired Dr. King, so if it hadn’t been for the non-violent movement in India, you might not have seen the same non-violent movement for civil rights here in the United States ... What was interesting was that he ended up doing so much and changing the world just by the power of his ethics, by his ability to change how people saw each other and saw themselves — and help people who thought they had no power realize that they had power, and then help people who had a lot of power realize that if all they’re doing is oppressing people, then that’s not a really good exercise of power.

“So I’m always interested in people who are able to bring about change, not through violence, not through money, but through the force of their personality and their ethical and moral stances. And that’s somebody that I’d love to sit down and talk to.”

An interesting point then is why was such a person who is a constant source of inspiration and hope, never a winner of the Nobel Peace Prize. It’s an issue that has been looked at several times.

Missing Laureate

Øyvind Tønnesson of the Nobel Foundation, in his essay “Mahatma Gandhi, the Missing Laureate” asks why Gandhiji, the greatest symbol of non-violence in the 20th Century, and who was nominated for the Prize, never got it. The Mahatma was nominated in 1937, 1938, 1939, 1947 and, finally, a few days before he was assassinated, in January 1948. Tønnesson ends by saying that he may have been under consideration much later, but it’s open ended.

Coming back to the subject of the birth centenary, it’s equally interesting to know that, in 1948, it was planned to have the first stamps on Mahatma Gandhi as part of the official celebration of his 80th birthday. Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru took a personal interest in it. It was he who suggested that the word “Bapu” be a part of the design of the set of four stamps.

The Mahatma lost his life in January that year. The stamps were then released on August 15, 1948, the anniversary of our Independence, and were printed in Switzerland.

Gandhiji is also the most used Indian face in the world of philately. It is said that 80 countries have issued about 250 stamps on the Mahatma. Of them, and not considering India, the U.S. was the first country to issue Gandhi stamps, on January 26, 1961. The set of two stamps was released as part of the “Champions of Liberty Series”. Congo was the next, in 1967.

There are many more facts on the Gandhiji stamp series, but it’s clear that the Mahatma lives on, a celebrated symbol around the globe, and one to look up to always.

Filhos de Gandhy

Mahatma Gandhi lives on in different parts of the world in different ways. But the most fascinating life he has taken on is in a carnival parade in the port city of Salvador in Bahia province of Brazil. Filhos de Gandhy (children of Gandhi) is an Afoxé (a parading group in a carnival) founded by dockers. It has become the largest, and is said to be the most beautiful afoxé of the Carnival. Based on the principles of Mahatma Gandhi — non-violence and peace, the block brings the tradition of African religion by rhythmic agogo in their songs of ijexá language Yoruba. The Afoxé has about 10,000 members.

When the Filhos de Gandhy heard about the assassination of Mahatma Gandhi, they decided to honour the man and his life with a parade during the carnival. Peace would be their instrument as well, played out in the rhythms of ijexá on atabaques and agogôs. In 1974 the Afoxé Gandhy had closed due to administrative and financial issues. For two years the block did not participate.

Under President Camafeu de Oxóssi (1976 to 1982) and with the support of Bahian artists, Afoxé returned to the streets in 1976, marching with about 80 men. The number of participants has grown considerably, reaching 14,000 in 1999, the year of the 50th anniversary of the block.

The afoxé now sends groups representing the block in parades and trips all over the world and keeps alive the memory of Mahatma Gandhi.

An excerpt from Picture Gandhi

One day, a friend called Henry Polak gave Gandhi a book to read on the train. It was Unto This Last by John Ruskin. Gandhi was so moved by it, he decided to live as Ruskin had suggested: in a group, working the land with their own hands, doing everything themselves. This is how Gandhi and some others began to live in Phoenix Settlement near Durban.

Here they washed and cleaned everything themselves, even the toilets. They grew food. They printed a newspaper. It was a simple life and Gandhi taught the chlidren everything he knew and learned. Kasturba was a mother to everybody. They called her ‘Ba’...

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