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getting to know Gandhi

Reading Gandhi’s autobiography My Experiments with Truth was definitely… interesting.

...While it was written in a simple manner, it wasn’t something I could just rush through ... And it didn’t seem appropriate reading material while in the can :p

All in all it took me almost two weeks to finish it!

Here are my thoughts and reactions to it:
  • The narration style was very simple, certainly a reflection of the person he was.

  • ahimsa … hate the sin and not the sinner … “it is quite proper to resist and attack a system, but to resist and attack its author is tantamount to resisting and attacking oneself”

  • It was a bit frustrating when he’d refer to events that were assumed the reader knew about (details of the satyagraha movement in South Africa, or the Jalianwala Bagh massacre, for example). I feel so *historically illiterate*…

  • I realize I have had no concept of time in relation to Gandhi and *when* all this was taking place. Keeping it straight in my head that he was born in 1869, that he lived through WW1, that he traveled by sea between India, Britain & South Africa… that this “only authorized American edition” in my hands was first published in 1957 - that’s as old as Malay(si)a! Too many things that indicate an immense gap between then and now, which I didn’t realize existed…

  • I also had no proper grasp of ANY of his work & contributions prior to this book. Sure, I knew of the term “passive resistance.” I knew that parable of him throwing his sandal off the train when he realized he’d lost its other half while rushing for the train, saying it would serve him no purpose to hold on to just one, and the person who found both items would be blessed with a good pair of sandals. I vaguely knew he had served as a lawyer in South Africa. But I certainly had no idea of much time he’d spent in S.A., or that the foundation of satyagraha (inadequately translated into English as passive resistance) was laid while he was there…

  • Speaking of South Africa… I somehow had had the impression that South Africa had been the “domain” of the Dutch – didn’t realize the British had a foothold there too. Nor that there was a sizeable population of Indians who’d been moved there as indentured laborers to work things like sugar cane plantations (similar to those who were brought to Malaya to work the rubber estates…). So there was a class of “non-Negro yet colored” subject to discrimination in addition to the “regular” discrimination of white vs “Negro” in that country. Musta been a mess….

  • Reading of how he worked to obtain certain basic rights for the Indians in South Africa, and later in India itself, he described so much of the autocracy practiced by the Brits in their colonies. The thing is, coming from an ex-colony myself, I don’t really know details of what the British did to us. Certainly didn’t help that history was so badly taught in school such that even if they *did* cover such a topic, I’d have totally tuned it out :p I’m also curious to know more about what happens after the time described in this autobiography, both about Gandhi specifically and India generally. But any books I actually find, they had better be really engaging in order to overcome my aversion to anything with the taint of “history.” But I *do* see myself finally watching that movie with Ben Kingsley as Gandhi :-)

  • I admire that he looked beyond the many different “types” of Indians (Hindu, Musalman, Gujarati, Farsi, Christian, Punjabi, etc) and saw that they were all Indians, with India as their motherland.

  • His description of traveling by train, third class, not being able to get a seat, at least once being shoved through a window in order to get onboard… are things any better now? I have the impression that I’ve seen recent (well, maybe within the last 5 years?) news clips of trains in the region filled to overflowing; people hanging out of the doors, maybe even on the roof?

  • His experiments with attaining Truth via, among other things, regulating what food he consumes in line with purification of the body, was totally fascinating. My thoughts on fasting are a pale echo of his, but an echo just the same: there’s no use conducting a “fast of the body” when a parallel “fast of the mind” is not also carried out. The benefits of fasting (like during Ramadhan, for example) are few when one spends most of the fasting day mentally consuming the food one is looking forward to devouring as soon as the sun goes down…

  • When at the “farewell” section, it is most humbling to read his thoughts – how he feels he is nowhere close to self-restraint, to his Truth – and if he feels that way about himself, what about us in today’s excessive, cluttered, noisy, selfish, worldly, materialistic, obsessive lifestyle?
What I’m taking away from this book, ultimately, is a gentle reminder that while my default mode - no thanx to how religion is “taught,” unthinkingly practiced and shoved down people’s throats – is to define what God is not, I also need to keep in mind what God is.

Comments

  1. I read that book when I was a kid. Reading your post, I really want to grap a copy and reread it again.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Really, there can only be one Ghandi. Who would have thought that one frail old man will be able to change Indian history.

    ReplyDelete
  3. Adam : cool, I hope you do!

    SnglGuy : yeah, we need reminders that sometimes one person CAN make a difference! We're surrounded by so much negativity and defeatist attitudes nowadays...

    ReplyDelete

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