my return to India from some months' touring in the West, I found
the whole country convulsed with the expectation of an immediate
independence-Gandhiji had promised Swaraj in one year - by the help
of some process that was obviously narrow in its scope and external
in its observance.
Such an assurance, coming from a great personality, produced a frenzy
of hope even in those who were ordinarily sober in their calculation
of worldly benefits; and they angrily argued with me that in this
particular case it was not a question of logic, but of a spiritual
phenomenon that had a mysterious influence and miraculous power
of prescience. This had the effect of producing a strong doubt in
my mind about Mahatmaji's wisdom in the path he chose for attaining
a great end through satisfying an inherent weakness in our character
which has been responsible for the age-long futility of our political
We who often glorify our tendency to ignore reason, installing in
its place blind faith, valuing it as spiritual, are ever paying
for its cost with the obscuration of our mind and destiny. I blamed
Mahatmaji for exploiting this irrational force of credulity in our
people, which might have had a quick result in a superstructure,
while sapping the foundation. Thus began my estimate of Mahatmaji,
as the guide of our nation, and it is fortunate for me that it did
not end there.
Gandhiji, like all dynamic
personalities, needed a vast medium for the proper and harmonious
expression of his creative will. This medium he developed for himself,
when he assumed the tremendous responsibility of leading the whole
country into freedom through countless social ditches and fences
and unlimited dullness of barren politics. This endeavour has enriched
and mellowed his personality and revealed what was truly significant
in his genius. I have since learnt to understand him, as I would
understand an artist, not by the theories and fantasies of the creed
he may profess, but by that expression in his practice which gives
evidence to the uniqueness of his mind. In that only true perspective,
as I watch him, I am amazed at the effectiveness of his humanity.
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An ascetic himself, he does not frown on the joys of others, but
works for the enlivening of their existence day and night. He exalts
poverty in his own life, but no man in India has striven more assiduously
than he for the material welfare of his people. A reformer with
the zeal of a revolutionary, he imposes severe restraints on the
very passions he provokes. Something of an idolator and also an
iconoclast, he leaves the old gods in their dusty niches of sanctity
and simply lures the old worship to better and more humane purposes.
Professing his adherence to the caste system, he launches his firmest
attack against it where it keeps its strongest guards, and yet he
has hardly suffered from popular disapprobation as would have been
the case with a lesser man who would have much less power to be
effective in his efforts.
He condemns sexual life as inconsistent with the moral progress
of man, and has a horror of sex as great as that of the author of
The Kreutzer Sonata, but, unlike Tolstoy, he betrays no abhorrence
of the sex that tempts his kind. In fact, his tenderness for woman
is one of the noblest and most consistent traits of his character,
and he counts among the women of his country some of his best and
truest comrades in the great movement he is leading.
He advises his followers to hate evil without hating the evil-doer.
It sounds an impossible precept, but he has made it as true as it
can be made in his own life. I had once occasion to be present at
an interview he gave to a certain prominent politician who had been
denounced by the official Congress party as a deserter. Any other
Congress leader would have assumed a repelling attitude, but Gandhiji
was all graciousness and listened to him with patience and sympathy,
without once giving him occasion to feel small. Here, I said to
myself, is a truly great man, for he is greater than the party he
belongs to, greater even than the creed he professes.
This, then, seems to me to be the significant fact about Gandhiji.
Great as he is as a politician, as an organiser, as a leader of
men, as a moral reformer, he is greater than all these as a man,
because none of these aspects and activities limits his humanity.
They are rather inspired and sustained by it. Though an incorrigible
idealist and given to referring all conduct to certain pet formulae
of his own, he is essentially a lover of men and not of mere ideas;
which makes him so cautious and conservative in his revolutionary
schemes. If he proposes an experiment for society, he must first
subject himself to its ordeal. If he calls for a sacrifice, he must
first pay its price himself. While many Socialists wait for all
to be deprived of their privileges before they would part with theirs,
this man first renounces before he ventures to make any claims on
the renunciation of others.
There are patriots in India, as indeed among all peoples, who have
sacrificed for their country as much as Gandhiji has done, and some
who have had to suffer much worse penalties than he has ever had
to endure: even as in the religious sphere, there are ascetics in
this country, compared to the rigours of whose practices Gandhiji's
life is one of comparative ease. But these patriots are mere patriots
and nothing more; and these ascetics are mere spiritual athletes,
limited as men by their very virtues; while this man seems greater
than his virtues, great as they are.
Perhaps none of the reforms with which his name is associated was
originally his in conception. They have almost all been proposed
and preached by his predecessors or contemporaries. Long before
the Congress adopted them, I had myself preached and written about
the necessity of a constructive programme of rural reconstruction
in India; of handicrafts as an essential element in the education
of our children; of the absolute necessity of ridding Hinduism of
the nightmare of untouchability. Nevertheless, it remains true,
that they have never had the same energising power in them as when
he took them up; for now they are quickened by the great life-force
of the complete man who is absolutely one with his ideas, whose
visions perfectly blend with his whole being.
His emphasis on the truth and purity of the means, from which he
has evolved his creed of non-violence, is but another aspect of
his deep and insistent humanity; for it insists that men in their
fight for their claims must only so assert their rights, whether
as individuals or as groups, as never to violate their fundamental
obligation to humanity, which is to respect life. To say that, because
existing rights and privileges of certain classes were originally
won and are still maintained by violence, they can only be destroyed
by violence, is to create an unending circle of viciousness; for
there will always be men with some grievance, fancied or real, against
the prevailing order of society, who will claim the same immunity
from moral obligation and the right to wade to their goal through
slaughter. Somewhere the circle has to be broken, and Gandhiji wants
his country to win the glory of first breaking it.
Perhaps he will not succeed. Perhaps he will fail as the Buddha
failed and as Christ failed to wean men from their iniquities, but
he will always be remembered as one who made his life a lesson for
all ages to come.
[Editor's Note: All credits to the author, India's only Noble
Prize winner for literature and author of the classic epic poem,