YOUNG WORLD

When letters speak

S. SIVARAMAN

Every letter got his attention...

Every letter got his attention...  

Gandhiji was a prolific writer. He spent several hours a day writing. He wrote for the journals he edited, he wrote letters, speeches, resolutions and reports. He used the print medium to a great extent to spread his message. But more powerful were his personal letters. He used this powerful medium to reinforce his views on life and problems facing the nation. He received almost a 100 letters a day. He always replied to all of them. He wrote or dictated at least 10 letters a day. He instructed his secretaries on the disposal of some others. He used his day of silence to reply to more letters.

Gandhiji preferred to write his letters. He was apologetic when he had to dictate them. He encouraged children to develop a beautiful handwriting, citing his own case of neglect. He considered bad writing as violence to the recipient.

His letters reflected his personality, his concerns, his passion, his dreams, spiritual yearnings, anguish and penchant for truth. He was economical with his words and wrote as he thought. He confessed that his letter was `unrevised' and never imposed his views on others.

To Mirabehn he wrote: But you should grow along your own lines. You will therefore reject all I have said in this that does not appeal to your heart or head. You must retain your individuality at all cost. Resist me when you must. I do not want you to impute infallibility to me.

His letters were crisp, short and to the point. To a correspondent he wrote: Always cultivate a compact style... it will be a good practice for you after having written your long letter to reduce it to a quarter and see whether you cannot say the same thing in quarter length.

There was no dearth of wit and humour in his letters. He wrote to Dr. Ansari saying, "... on your return there will be sufficient still left of me as your patient for you to examine and tamper with."

Gandhiji had serious difference of opinions with his colleagues in Congress. In reply to Jawaharlal's letter (after the Madras congress) he wrote: Though I was beginning to detect some differences in viewpoint between you and me, I had no notion whatsoever of the terrible extent to these differences. Whilst you were heroically suppressing yourself for the sake of the nation... you were chafing under the burden of this unnatural self-suppression... ."

While in Yerwada prison, Gandhiji had spare time to write letters, he wrote around 80 letters per week, mostly on slips of paper. One of the boys in the ashram wrote a letter asking him why he used slips of paper. Gandhiji's reply was: "the prisoner should consume the minimum of everything. Second, he who observes the vow of non-possession is a trustee of all property and, therefore, I must use the property of this prison like miser. Third, isn't this property really ours? With whose money have these things been bought? Fourth, in the poor country the less the consumption of such things the better. Fifth, it hurts me to use anything extravagantly at a time like this."

Gandhiji's letters to the Viceroy were couched in courteous terms, yet firm. On March 2, 1930, Gandhiji wrote to Lord Irwin on his intention to break the salt laws, after listing the inequities and describing the British rule as a curse.

The above selection is only an illustration and there are many such letters in which the Mahatma reveals his personality. Gandhiji was a man of action and his goal was self-realisation. The path he chose to realise Truth was non-violence, universal love and service. For him, even writing a letter was a service.

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