Thursday, January 11, 2007

Gandhi

My wife recommended that I read Louis Fischer's Gandhi biography, which I finished last weekend. Reading the book gave me a different outlook on Greg Mortenson, whose Three Cups of Tea biography I reviewed a few weeks ago. I may compare the two individuals in a future post, but for now I'll stick to Gandhi.

What struck me first of all about Gandhi is that he didn't pursue his life's work until around the age of 40. Before then, he was an undistinguished lawyer and an absent husband, both geographically and emotionally. It was not until he was forced to give up his seat on a train for a white man that he began his crusade for personal freedoms and brotherly kindness.

Another fascinating thing about Gandhi is that he held no formal title or office within either the Hindu faith or the government of India, yet from what I can tell he had more influence on both institutions than any other person alive at the time of his death. For example, the "untouchables" or "outcastes" historically were not allowed to visit Hindu places of worship until Gandhi decided to "fast unto death," at which time many Hindu temples opened their doors to the untouchables. As Louis Fischer described, discrimination of the outcastes changed from religious duty to reprehensible sin almost overnight.

Gandhi was loved almost universally, regardless of ethnicity, religion, nationality, etc., with few exceptions. He had a deep love and respect for people of all faiths, and in many cases he was accused of being overly sympathetic to Christianity and Islam. He rewarded evil with good and was passionately non-violent.

Interestingly, Gandhi frequently changed his mind, and he was publicly unashamed of that fact. Whereas in at least one recent political race in the United States, one candidate was lambasted for changing his stances over time, Gandhi is quoted as saying "My aim is not to be consistent with my previous statements on a given question, but to be consistent with truth as it may present itself to me at a given moment."

To me, Gandhi's greatest accomplishment was to show humankind a way to love rather than hate, to coexist rather than separate, and to give rather than take. Ironically, a "devout" member of his own faith killed him for perpetuating such harmfully harmonius attitudes.

Louis Fischer's writing style was accessible, he did not overly deify Gandhi nor attempt to unfairly find fault with him, and he kept his narrative concise, at under 200 pages. Fischer's account was not a page-turner the way some other books are, but it was only occasionally slow reading. He packed a lot of history and information into a very readable book.

I would recommend Louis Fischer's Gandhi biography to anyone interested in civil rights, non-violence, and leadership. In a day and age where we see bumper stickers that read "we're making enemies faster than we can kill them," Gandhi had a very different approach.

2 comments:

chetan said...

As Eistein told about Gandhi- "Generations to come, it may be, will scarce believe that such a one as this, ever in flesh and blood walked upon this earth.", is completely true.Its really great to see your blog on him. Actually in india people have forgotten him, his principles. he is limited to movies only, but when it comes to real life, people are doing the opposite what he has told. Let wish that people will follow him still.

Indar said...

I have read Fischer's book Gandhi at least twice. I was quite moved by it. It is an objective balanced account. I believe he captured the essence of Gandhi was this comment: "He was a karma yogi, ever active, ever moving on and on towards the goal. The least he could do was to do the most he could do. He woked unceasingly."