Tuesday, October 21, 2008

MK Gandhi aka 'Mahatma'.

Robert Payne's anecdotal The Life and Death of Mahatma Gandhi is quite an insightful biography. According to his reckoning (ibid, page 290), while Rabindranth Tagore, the Nobel laureate, was already 'Gurudev' (Celestial Teacher) and Gandhi's South African associate, Charlie Freer Andrews, 'Deenabandhu' (Brother to the Poor) in 1915, Tagore was still to bestow the 'Mahatma' title on Gandhi.

Another source, however, attributes the authorship of the Mahatma epithet to Nautamlal Bhagavanji Mehta, an Indian freedom fighter and Gandhi's supporter, and the date and the place of the conferring it as 21 January 1915 and Kamribai School in Jetpur, Saurashtra (Gujarat) respectively. http://digbig.com/4xsbg.

In the 20 January 1927 issue of Young India, though, Gandhi wrote: "I myself do not feel like a saint in any shape or form." Was that a rejection of the Mahatma title earlier conferred on him? Or, self-doubt?

Payne offers this anecdote about an incident that must have occured during Gandhi's last sojourn in Delhi (ibid, page 550):

Once he was asked: "If you are a Mahatma (Great Soul), perform a miracle and save India." He answered sadly: "I am not a Mahatma. I am an ordinary person like everyone else, except that I am much frailer."

By the way, General Jan Smuts who had had first-hand experience of Gandhi in South Africa reportedly told his contemporary and friend, Winston Churchill, that Gandhi "... is a man of God. You and I are mundane people." http://digbig.com/4xsbc.

Payne cites Gandhi telling Manubehn on 22 January 1948, i.e., eight days before he was assasinated (ibid, page 573) inter alia: "I am a true mahatma."

He again quotes him telling her on the night before the assasination (ibid, page 579): "If I were to die of a lingering disease, or even from a pimple, then you must shout from the housetops to the whole world that I was a false mahatma. ... And if an explosion takes place, as it did last week, or of someone shot at me and I received his bullet in my bare chest without a sigh and with Rama's name on my lips, only then should you say that I was a true mahatma."

This pronouncement was at 10:00 pm on 29 January 1948. At about 5:10 pm the next day, he got his wish.

Parting shot: "My respect for the Mahatma was deep and deathless. ... and therefore on January 30, I bowed to him first, then at point blank range fired three successive shots and killed him. " (Nathuram Godse's statement in the court of Mr Justice Atma Charan, Red Fort, ibid, page 639)

Related posts: The Mind of MK Gandhi http://digbig.com/4xrdn. The more, the less sexier. http://digbig.com/4xrdp. Celebrity revisited. http://digbig.com/4xsbf.