Gopalkrishna Gandhi recalls the story of Gandhiji's association with spectacles

It was a visual re-telling of history indeed when frames froze one after the other at Sankara Nethralaya here on Monday, on a sublimely captured visage of a man smiling though magnetic eyes from behind a pair of long-handed bi-focals.

“It was only during the internationally recognised Salt Satyagraha that Gandhi's face became inseparable from the round-shaped glasses,” said Gopalkrishna Gandhi, former Governor of West Bengal. He was addressing a gathering of doctors, surgeons, and experts in the field of medical sciences.

Gandhiji was not a man of science, and his engagement with medical science kept evolving as he was conscious of the abuse, misuse and overuse of inventions, he said. But, spectacles fitted well into his notion of science and technology being part of ethical and compassionate living, Mr. Gandhi added. “There were three material possessions that Gandhi was attached to — a pocket watch to help him respect others' time, a pair of spectacles to see clearly and not imagine, and a pair of two-strap slippers to leave light imprints on lives,” he said.

It was only in 1920s that the Mahatma was photographed with his glasses on, first during the inauguration of Gujarat Vidyapith, he said. “None of his photographs in the first 45 years of his life shows him bespectacled,” Mr. Gandhi said.

Gandhiji seemed to have taken to wearing spectacles even before he gave up his shirt, said Mr. Gandhi, showing caricatures in Illustrated weekly of London in the 1920s of a bespectacled Gandhi wearing a shirt.

“He would have been a medical anomaly, had he not felt the need for glasses because he read so much in such dim light. Besides, the spindle of the spinning wheel needed sharper sight,” he added.

Citing the importance of spectacles in the Mahatma's life, Mr. Gandhi, quoted from one of Gandhiji's letters where he regretfully talks about his “disorganised behaviour,” in forgetting his spectacles after having removed them to clean them. Gandhiji's concern over associate Mahadev Desai's losing his spectacles and his letters to ophthalmologists asking whether defective sight could be cured by exercise were other examples of the same. Mr. Gandhi inaugurated a two-day international oculofacial, reconstructive and aesthetics conference, ‘Chrysalis 2011,' that seeks to explore the various treatment modalities in endocrinology, plastic surgery, radiology and faciomaxillary.

Suggesting that plastic surgeries are a boon to persons who are victims of accidents or have cleft lips or squint eyes, he urged the doctors to counsel patients who wish to go for cosmetic supplements. “A surgeon's time and hands are for the needy and should not be borrowed for satisfying the cosmetically ambitious, narcissist and vain-glory.”

On the subject of the much talked-about auction of Gandhji's spectacles by Antiquorum Auctioneers in New York, Mr. Gandhi said that there was no photo evidence or written reference to the “gold framed, oval shaped glasses,” in question, or about his supposed gift to the Nawab of Junagadh. “It is very much possible that he owned more than one pair of spectacles, but it is wiser to look for clearer evidence.”

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