ON Gandhiji’s 70th birthday, October 2, 1939, Dr S Radhakrishnan who, in his later years was to become President of India, presented to the Mahatma a book consisting of tributes paid to him by a wide range of admirers from India and abroad. It was, in many ways, a fascinating study of one who had accepted Truth as his God and non-violence as his religion. Dr Radhakrishnan then planned to re-edit it and with some more meaningful essays present a revised edition to Gandhiji again, on his 80th birthday on October 2, 1949.
That, alas, was not to be. As we all known Gandhiji was assassinated on January 31, 1948. Dr Radhakrishnan felt compelled to write a new Introduction, ask more friends to sum up their understanding of the Mahatma which were then incorporated in a new edition, and this is what we have now. Over a hundred greatest thinkers from different parts of the world have willingly obliged the editor with their views on the dear departed. “No country but India and no religion but Hinduism could have given birth to a Gandhi” wrote The Times (London) in an editorial.
EM Forster, the distinguished author said that he would call Gandhi “a very great man, likely to be the greatest of our century”. Forster among other things said that when he heard of Gandhiji’s assassination he realised how small he himself was, how small those around him were, how impotent and circumscribed were the lives of most people spiritually and how “in comparison with that mature goodness, the so-called great men of our age are no more than blustering school boys”. A very touching tribute to the Mahatma indeed. As a matter of fact, the tributes paid to Gandhiji each excels the other. Among those who did so include CF Andrews, the theosophist George S Arundale, Albert Einstein, CEM Joad, Salvadore de Madariaga, Vincent Shean, GDH Cole, Aldous Huxley, Romain Roland, Upton Sinclair, President Harry Truman, Eamon de Valera, Lord Halifax, Lord Mountbatten, Thakin Nu, Lin Yotang, Ananda K Coo-maraswamy and Sri Aurobindo and one can’t think of a more distinguished set of people. In a very lengthy article Gurudev Rabindranath Tagore wrote that the conviction came to him “that not since Socrates has the world seen his (Gandhiji’s) equal for absolute self-control and composure”.
What is amazing about all the tributes is their consistency, their unequalled love for a man who they had no occasion to meet but whose personal philosophy won them over. Though they were all agreed on the greatness of Gandhiji, different people saw different aspects of the man. Ernest Barker, a professor of Political Science at Cambridge University thought Gandhiji was ” a mixture of a great Indian tradition of devout and philosophic religion and the western tradition of civil and political liberty” and because of that Gandhiji “has been a great bridge”.
Kingsley Martin found that the “unique feature of Gandhiji as ‘father of New India’ was that he possessed an extraordinary intelligence service , since everyone from the humblest to the greatest came and poured out to him their troubles”. Sri Aurobindo’s tribute is beautiful. He said “that the light which led us to freedom, though not yet to unity, still burns and will burn on till it conquers”. An editorial in the British press (New Chronicle) said that “the hand that killed the Mahatma is the same hand that nailed the Cross, the hand that fired the faggots, the hand that through the ages has been growing ever more mightily in war and less sure in the pursuit of peace, your hand mine”. Said the paper: “It was he who, more than any other man we have known in modern times, made it clear that fear can be conquered and that it is faith which endures”. It is remarkable that even devout Christians found in him the best in Christianity. As a social workers, Maude Royden put it, “it is a strange thing that Christians should feel, as many of us do, that the best Christian in the world today is a Hindu”.
The other is a tribute from John Haynes Holmes a distinguished priest who told his New York parishioners that “Gandhi is great among all the great of ages past” and holds his place “with Lao Tse, Buddha, Zoroaster, Jesus as one of the supreme religious prophets of all time.” Generations comes and go, but let no Indian ever forget the man who in his lifetime spread the message of Truth and Non-Violence, not just in words, but in daily practice. To know him is to understand the meaning of life just as to know him is to be proud of being an Indian.
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