Obituary

Prince of Peace: A ‘Biblical’ tribute to Gandhi

An unpublished tribute to Mahatma Gandhi written some time during 1948-49 and discovered among papers of the Mahatma’s long-time secretary Mahadev Desai, is reproduced here

Swami Anand

Two thousand years ago the Prince of Peace atoned for the sins of his fellow-men on earth by mounting the Cross with words of forgiveness and love for his persecutors. And though man felt ashamed and humiliated he did not mend his ways.

The primitive man hunted for food; in the middle ages he killed for glory. The supermen of our age stalked the globe with a technique of slaughter and enslavement in the wake of greed and exploitation. The earth was rent with weeping and wailing and gnashing of teeth. Humanity lay prostrate under the agony of ‘unnamable’ outrages.

In the midst of all this clash and conflict came, once more, a Wise Man from the East. Like the Good Shepherd he shouldered the ailing sheep, the insulted indentured Indian, toiling far away from home, and comforted him and his tribe. With words soothing and life-giving, he sayeth unto them: "Come ye that grieve and are heavily laden. I bring to you good tidings, --the Gospel of Resistance."

And he shepherded his flock and ministered unto them in their afflictions with tenderness and affection. He taught the worm to turn. He taught little mothers to stand upright and resist racial arrogance and insult, marching with babes in their arms and courting prisons.

He sat among overbearing foreigners and pleaded his people's cause, disarming them with his courtesy and his integrity. He evoked their sympathy with his gentle sufferings and earned a great renown.

And behold, he returns homeward to his own people and concludes with them, once more, a new Covenant: "It has been said by those of old: 'Ye resist not evil', or 'resist evil with evil'. But I say unto you, resist evil within and without you, with the whole might of your soul; resist it with Non-violence, resist it with Truth, resist it without malice. Repent ye, and do penance for your sins, collective as well as individual. Eschew all violence, eschew all hatred, shed all fear and forge yourselves into finest weapons of resistance. “

“You are the salt of the earth. Ye are to establish once more, by testifying to it in and with your lives in this holy land of synthesis, the supremacy of soul over matter; of God over Mammon; of service over self-interest. And ye are to carry the Gospel of this non-violent resistance to the farthest ends of the earth. In this redeeming task, he who shall lose his life shall find it, and he who shall seek to save his life shall lose it."

And he sayeth unto them again:

"Despise no man; but believe in his innate goodness. Harbour no ill-will against him; only resist the evil that has seized him. Resist and suffer cheerfully with no thought of returning evil for evil. Shun all fear. Be brave and wield the weapon of Truth and non-violence, which is Love abounding. They are but the obverse and reverse of the same coin.”

“To me there is no God other than this. It is my sole weapon and my refuge. And know ye, that it is not the weapon of the weak. It is for the bravest. Learn ye, therefore, to wield it against all your ills. It shall sustain you against the mightiest. For it is forged on the anvil of Love that exalteth and that abideth in God."

And behold! Great multitudes followed him.

And he covered the entire land with his journeys, plying his wheel, and with its thread linked men with men, - whole masses of them.

The toilers came from their fields and spinners from their hovels; fishermen left their nets, tradesmen their counters. Rich men, encumbered with large possessions, came too, in search of solace, and he lightened their burdens. Women came resurrected and awakened to the true dignity of their state. The untouchables came with their limbs withered and their souls crushed under the weight of age-old inequities. And he ministered unto them with all the passion of his soul and made them whole.

He made them God's Chosen. Came also the publicans, the hated ones -- servants of Government -- who served the alien rulers and worked against their own country for a mess of pottage. And he called upon them to repent and turned many into humble servants of the dumb millions. Lepers came and he built them shelters and himself washed their wounds. Came also the pharisees, the learned ones, negotiators and peace-mongers. And he suffered them all and treated them with unfailing patience and tenderness.

They came from distant lands and from across the seven seas. They came from all parts of the earth. And he taught them all and made them good men and women. Even like one of his great predecessors, - The Guru Gobind - he would make the sparrow hunt down the hawk, but with a different weapon. With patient labours of a lifetime extending over half a century and spread over the entire land, he worked on his people to forge his weapon and to temper it.

Out of dross he made precious metal; out of earth-clods he made material to challenge and defy the might of an insolent empire; to whose people he bore the greatest friendship, and yet whose end he ordained, even as Krishna had ordained the end of the arrogant Jadavas. He called upon the foreigner to quit the land which he had bled white and in which he had worked much inequity.

And behold! For the first time in human history the world witnessed an epic struggle of a whole nation locked for three decades in non-violent combat with the alien rulers so that her chains should break.

A saga of peaceful peasantries challenging the might of established authority, armed to the teeth, by refusing to submit to its unjust levies, inviting upon themselves untold sufferings and living under conditions of a siege till the privations turn them and their cattle white; of millions throughout the length and breadth of the country defying salt laws in the face of lathis, tear-gas, horse-hoofs; women refusing to part with their pinch of salt till their bones dislodge; men tying their own hands with iron wires to prevent slackening of their grip on raided salt; of gallant men who would be counted among the very peak of any army, offering to be beaten or pounded to death, by official myrmidons, without so much as raising their eyelids in protest; of statesmen, savants, tribunes of their own people - objects of world adoration, leaders of men and of an age, who would adorn the halls of any international assembly -- accepting cheerfully to surrender long indefinite years of their great lives to be wasted in cold, dark, solitary dungeons on a par with felons; of the nation's Bards pouring forth the agony of an age before sobbing magistrates in crowded court-rooms; of apostles who walked the land bare-foot, broadcasting the New Gospel carrying neither purse nor shoes nor yet staves, pleading guilty against their accusers and urging the courts to inflict on them maximum penalties; of wandering monks offering to starve themselves to death in protest against outraged womanhood through long agonizing fasts without a trace of ill-will towards the guilty; of frail little men offering to lay down their lives denying themselves in their prison cells all food and water till death do deliver them, and in the meanwhile coaxing their captors to administer 'without blame' 'some suitable poison' when their sufferings did annoy them; of street urchins proudly mounting the gallows after being court-martialed for bold pranks; of village peasants naively facing military reprisals, with no better armour than plywood planks hung in front of their chests; of whole masses of unarmed, undrilled men and women flinging themselves in blind abandon against bayonets, bullets, guns and bombs.

Righteousness the world over wailed in oblivion. Untruth was in excelsis. Naked Fascism masquerading in the garb of aggrieved innocence stalked the land. It maligned virtue with impunity. Truth was lynched. The stars in high heavens wept over the inequities and the vileness of man. And against it all, in his indignation, the Father of the Nation lay crouched and twisted on his Bed of Fire for the tenth time, challenging his accusers from behind the prison.

And his protest rang through the world penetrating the Iron Curtain. His Great Disciple, who was to him more than his own son, and 'with whom my Father is well pleased', lay in a handful of ashes at the prison corner. And the gentle Mother of the Nation was to meet her millions no more. Outside the prison raged Revolution. The Empire shook, and his mighty accusers trembled. They fell flat. Their chagrin knew no bounds. And behold! The Titan collapsed under the weight of his own inequities.

And he quitted; but not without upholding the disruptionist who clamour for rending his own Mother's garments. Freedom came, but Her face was ghastly. Brother flew at the throat of brother, and women wept. Millions were uprooted and flung on the roadside. Men lost all their sense and shame, and they burned and killed and perpetrated unmentionable abominations. Cities swelled with fleeing men and wailing women. They cursed and called aloud for retribution.

Overwhelmed and humiliated, the anguished Father, bent under the infirmities of age, runs once more to their succour, even like the hen covering her brood under her wings against death. He takes his abode among the sorrowing. He faces the Fiery Ordeal again and again and works miracles.

He repeats to them his lasting message: "Not through hatred and ill-will ye shall seek to avenge yourselves. 'Vengeance is mine' sayeth the Lord. Grieve not; forsake your fear; work and strive for goodwill and unity. For know ye who are afflicted, that Love exalteth, Love alone triumphs."

And he gathered them around him evening after evening as was his wont and prayed with them for the purification of their hearts, beseeching them and admonishing them and instructing them with his words of wisdom and cheer.

They gathered in the ancient city under whose precincts mighty empires lay in dust and in whose neighbourhood his Great Predecessor taught Eternal Wisdom to Man from His Chariot on the battlefield. But so that the Scriptures may be fulfilled, and that the world's Martyrdom may attain its perfection, behold! there comes on the scene, once more, the infamous Ashwathama - the perverse Assassin of Ages, the vile Brahmarakshas with the eternal wound on his mangled head and condemned to everlasting life of a roving ghost, - the embodiment of the accumulated evil of his race.

He comes unrepentant and unrelenting, aye, even with a gusto within, for his unholy design, and accomplishes his foul deed of calculated cold murder before the eyes of a staggered multitude, to the everlasting shame and humiliation of his nation.

To Thee, Father of our Nation! we pay our grateful reverent homage. We salute Thee. We rejoice in the midst of our tears and our shame. We rejoice rather than sorrow and are grateful that the merciful Providence spared Thee to us to accomplish our deliverance, however shameful and agonising the aftermath. We glory in Thy having walked our earth. For Thou hast given to mankind new values and compelled obeisance from a recalcitrant world by challenging it once again to measure its own stature against them.

Thou art indeed in the line of Thy recurring Predecessors - the Great Saviours of mankind.

Thou didst come to fulfil the Scriptures and to fulfil the pledge made in the Song Celestial: "For the protection of the Good, for the destruction of the Wicked, and for the firm establishment of righteousness on Earth, I am born again and again."

Even so through ages hast Thou lived and laboured again and again. All Thy life didst Thou wear Thy Crown of Thorns and bear Thy Cross, finding life's final fulfilment in surrendering it as a ransom for our own sins and shortcomings. Greater love, indeed, hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for goodwill among his fellow men.

We salute Thee, Father of our Nation! None that hath received Thy Light shall walk in darkness.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Swami Anand, born as Himmatlal Ramchandra Dave, took a vow of renunciation while still in his teens, took on the name Swami Anand and became a monk with the Ramakrishna Mission. Before he met Mahatma Gandhi in 1915 on the latter’s return to India from South Africa, he worked in the Kesari, the Marathi newspaper founded by Bal Gangadhar Tilak.

After Gandhiji launched his weekly, the Navjeevan from Ahmedabad four years later he sent for Anand to become the manager of the publication. Swami Anand took over its management in late 1919. He proved to be a good editor and manager and when the Young India was launched, he moved the publication to larger premises.

Gandhiji's autobiography was serialised in the Navjeevan from 1925 to 1928. It was written by Gandhiji at Swami Anand's insistence. The English translation of these chapters was done by Gandhiji’s principal secretary Mahadev Desai which appeared in instalments in the Young India as well.

(Published with permission from Nachiketa Desai, grandson of Mahadev Desai)

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