How do we remember Gandhi? Too often, only as a name out of history, an almost legendary figure who blazed a trail through the political and social traditions of a bygone generation? Not as a man whose values and attitudes have any relevance in today’s world.
But if we relegate him to our past, we do him and ourselves a great disservice. Whenever-and wherever-human beings still act on the assumption that their progress lies in thrusting others aside, the relevance of Gandhi’s way of life should be unquestionable. Wherever brute force takes over from reason, and greed and lust obscure the path of love, Gandhi still offers us a way out of Hell. During his own lifetime, this way was spurned as often as it was followed. But it was never devalued. At a period in India’s history when violent struggle seemed inevitable, Gandhi showed that it was possible to use another kind of force altogether. In doing so, he gave the whole world an alternative to violence as a means of resolving conflict. He also showed mankind the difference between dignity and mere pride.
Even when his own world was in flames, he never stopped believing that non-violence was a viable alternative. He could not concede that there was no higher law than that of destruction; all he would concede was that perhaps the world was not ready for it.
Is the world ready now? Violence seems to have become a part of our daily lives, but we are increasingly aware of its ugliness. In the years since Gandhi’s death, others have espoused ‘satyagraha’ and tried to follow what he used to call “this grand law of love”. Some have paid for their convictions with their own lives, just as he did, fearlessly and with their faith unsullied.
Gandhi would not have been surprised by men and women like these; nor would he have considered them his disciples. He believed that anyone who made the same effort as he had, and cultivated the same hope and faith, could achieve as much. He claimed he had no ‘ism’ to pass on. Yet he communicated something to these people.
What has he to say to the rest of us? His own answer to this question was that his life was his only message. Punctuated by his own doubts, even by mistakes, it was a chronicle alight with the goodness and courage of its hero. As a message, it was eloquent enough.
A generation after violence brought it to an abrupt end, it is a life worth re-visiting. For it carries in its chapters the mild but unassailable truth that peace is a positive force and that it can still move the human race away from darkness and towards light.