The Hindu Lit Fest 2024 | Gopalkrishna Gandhi remembers his grandfather, an ordinary man who did extraordinary things

Gandhiji was never afraid of death and had no illusions about his stature despite enjoying the support of people in South Africa and India, says the former Governor of West Bengal

Updated - February 12, 2024 05:39 pm IST

Published - January 26, 2024 01:37 pm IST - CHENNAI

Former West Bengal Governor Gopalkrishna Gandhi addressing The Hindu Lit for Life festival 2024 held at Sir Mutha Venkatasubba Rao concert hall in Chennai on January 26, 2024.

Former West Bengal Governor Gopalkrishna Gandhi addressing The Hindu Lit for Life festival 2024 held at Sir Mutha Venkatasubba Rao concert hall in Chennai on January 26, 2024. | Photo Credit: B. Jothi Ramalingam

At a time when we want to be the first or the oldest, when in economic development we want to be the fastest, and when it comes to statues we want the tallest, it is refreshing to find a man of some status, who referred to himself as ordinary, said former Governor of West Bengal Gopalkrishna Gandhi.

Mr. Gandhi was referring to his grandfather Mahatma Gandhi in a talk at The Hindu Lit Fest 2024, on January 26, 2024, sharing insights from a book he has edited, Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi I Am An Ordinary Man: India’s Struggle for Freedom (1914-1948).

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Gandhiji was a fearful boy. He was scared of the dark as a child, and a housekeeper, Rambha, had then told him that if he said the name of Rama, he would not be afraid anymore. This, Mr. Gandhi said, resonated throughout Gandhiji’s life. Eventually, there were two things he came not to fear — defeat and death — all through his experiences in South Africa where he was beaten almost to death, and through his experiences during the years before and after Independence, when he faced physical threats.

‘Crediting ordinary people’

Despite receiving the support of thousands — both in South Africa during his struggle to secure the rights of Indians there and in India, Gandhiji had no illusions about his stature, about his ability to sway the masses. Illustrating this, Mr. Gandhi said, when the Mahatma was in London after the Indian struggle in South Africa, Sarojini Naidu had organised a meeting. Addressing the gathering, Gandhiji had said that the real heroes and heroines of the struggle were the ordinary men and women, many of whom had died, and not him or his wife. He called these people “the salt of the earth” on whom the future of India would be built. At a time when supremacy and self-glorification claim our attention, Mr. Gandhi said, it may be remembered that the Mahatma recognised the extraordinary in ordinary people.

Gopalkrishna Gandhi remembers his grandfather, Mahatma Gandhi | The Hindu Lit Fest 2024

Gandhiji never accepted Partition — he believed Muhammad Ali Jinnah was wrong, and he wanted to keep the country united on the basis of shared faith. “Is it too late for this subcontinent of India, for South Asia? I believe it is not,” said Mr. Gandhi. Whenever there has been violence in the name of religion, there has also been, he said, extraordinary, redemptive action by people who do not subscribe to violence.

‘Opposed Father of the Nation title’

Though Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose had described him as the Father of the Indian nation, it was a never a description Gandhiji accepted or liked being used, Mr. Gandhi said. There was never anyone between Gandhiji and the people, even if those people were violent. Even at his death, there was no one between the man who assassinated him and the man himself, except perhaps, as Rambha had taught him and as Gandhiji said when he breathed his last, Rama.

Today, Mr. Gandhi said, when the highest, fastest and tallest call for attention, Gandhiji, the ordinary man does not call for either attention or acceptance: just for a gentle recollection of being ordinary and yet doing extraordinary things — this, was what he had shown to be the secret of success, the strength, the sheer genius of our unhappy, yet absolutely extraordinary and unique land.

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