Gandhi, An autobiography. The story of my experiments with truth.
A reflection on the book – Gandhi An Autobiography, The story of my experiments with truth written by M.K. Gandhi published in 1957 by Beacon Press.
I have had a few books read to me, a few more narrated to me by others who have read them but the large majority I have read myself. It was in Benin City, Nigeria, while waiting for my bus to Lagos that I scanned through the books displayed at the bus station and came across Gandhi’s book. Suffice it to say that for many years I have been attracted to the man Gandhi of whom I knew little but just enough to conclude that he really deserve his title Mahatma.
I had been a Student Activist, a Union Leader and generally have held positions where I have been the voice for the voiceless and the face for those who found it difficult to speak to power. But I am no Gandhi, though I wish I am one. I came to meet Gandhi, for the very first time in London. Though he died in 1948, we did not get to meet till 2002. Our chance meeting in London, in Madame Tussauds, was unplanned and speechless. As I stood next to the man, I was awe struck about his frail stature and his not so impressing height. I wondered how such a simple man, without much of an earthly possession, became the snare of the British in India and ended up creating a movement that has come to be a standard for all freedom fighters all over the world.
As I read through the last page of the autobiography and placed the book on my bedside desk, I was lost in thought trying to put together all that I had read again. No doubt, this was a difficult book. The difficulty was not in the fluency of the English language into which it has been interpreted from the original version in Gujarati by Mahadev Desai, who was until his death in 1942 Mahatma Gandhi’s personal secretary. The difficulty was not even in understanding the political situation in South Africa and India during the Satyagrahas that Mohandas lead. It was not in understanding the Hindu words that dot the book here and there which. As a Yoruba man who is well versed with the Yoruba language, I have come to understand that the English Language is deficient in many respect with providing an exact meaning of words stated in the originating language.
The major difficulty with the book is in accepting that Gandhi actually lived. Extending it a bit more, in acknowledging that he was a man of similar composition of Spirit, Soul and Body like
the rest of us. This was perplexing and difficult to comprehend. Here was a man who graduated from the prestigious
University College London and got called to the bar in June 1891. With this, he had all the needed pieces to become extremely wealthy practising law. Yet he chose, not by compulsion or any accident of fate, the simple life of a peasant, travelling 3rd class on Indian rails to get from one notable event to another. He was international in outlook, studied in the United Kingdom, practised law in South Africa and eventually took domicile in India, his native country. In each of these countries, he left giant footsteps. At great personal risk to himself and his family, he never for once give up his belief in the good of the human being. He was beaten, kicked into a gutter and been thrown a train, yet there is no record that he took to violence to get his views through. A civil right activist, per excellence, he fought to protect the rights of Indians in South Africa and then in India itself.
Being a Gandhi comes with a cost and it takes him that has a pure conscience to bear this price. On the whole, the book left me with an understanding that there is no force yet known to man that can be an impediment to anyone who has purposed in his mind to seek the greater good of mankind in general. Gandhi was the closest that a mere mortal has gotten close to the truth and he preached that love transcends all. While we may have opposing views, this doesn’t make us enemies but rather should promote mutual respect, tolerance and love. In fact, he encourages that we should “love the meanest of creation as oneself.”
Gandhi had said “I have nothing new to teach the world. Truth and non-violence are as old as the hills.” In this I find the sage very wrong. Our lives today are filled with violence of the strangest kind. It’s on the news, nearly every night. The killings on the street of Melbourne, the shootings in Virginia, Orlando and New York. The mass murder in Manchester, in Jerusalem, in Berlin, need I go on? How I wish the world will learn from Gandhi and subject itself to be taught about truth and non-violence.
Some remarkable excerpts from the book:
It has always been a mystery to me how men can feel themselves honoured by the humiliation of their fellow beings.
– Gandhi, An Autobiography p.155
About the same time I came in contact with another Christian family. At their suggestion I attended the Wesleyan church every Sunday….The church did not make a favourable impression on me. The sermon seemed to be uninspiring. The congregation did not strike me to be particularly religious. They were not an assembly of devout souls; they appeared to be worldly-minded people going to church for recreation and in conformity to custom. Here at times, I would involuntarily doze.
– Gandhi, An Autobiography p.160
How was one, accustomed to measure things in gold sovereigns, all at once to make calculations in tiny bits of copper? As the elephant is powerless to think in the terms of the ant, in spite of the best intentions in the world, even so is the Englishman powerless to think in terms of, or legislate for, the Indian.
– Gandhi, An Autobiography p.245
To see the universal and all-pervading Spirit of Truth face to face one must be able to love the meanest of creation as oneself. And a man who aspires after that cannot afford to keep out of any field of life…..I can say without the slightest hesitation, and yet in all humility, that those who say that religion has nothing to do with politics do not know what religion means.
– Gandhi, An Autobiography p.504
I have disregarded the order served upon me not for want of respect for lawful authority, but in obedience to the higher law of our being, the voice of conscience.
– Gandhi, An Autobiography p.414
There was strict untouchability in Bihar. I might not draw water at the well whilst the servants were using it, lest drops of water from my bucket might pollute them, the servants not knowing to what caste I belonged. Rajkumar directed me to the indoor latrine, the servant promptly directed me to the outdoor one. All this was far from surprising or irritating to me, for I was inured to such things. The servants were doing the duty, which they thought Rajendra Babu would wish them to do
– Gandhi, An Autobiography p.406
The brute by nature knows no self-restraint. Man is man, because he is capable of, and only in so far he exercises, self-restraint……..For perfection or freedom from error comes only from grace
– Gandhi, An Autobiography p.317
To save or not to save you is in His hands. As to me you know my way. I can but try to save you by means of confession.
– Gandhi, An Autobiography p.367