Is that frail, dhoti-clad man with his spinning wheel and lofty ideals and barrelful of wisdom today far away from us, lost in the grey veils of time, his lustre dimmed by the flash of cars and the beeping and twinkling of cellphones and laptops? Are India’s young people today, inspired by footballers, cricket and movie stars, not able to easily fathom what Mahatma Gandhi meant for India and the world?
The responses of the young college students we spoke to are a revelation. He is very much a part of their lives, his teachings still accessible to them through his books and stories of his life.
Radhika Jhalani, 18, of Hindu College, sees Gandhi as The Father of the Nation, someone “whose picture we see on our currency, because of whom we are living in a relatively free India but whose values and teachings we have forgotten.” What remains, however is the immense respect “in our hearts for the man whose story we cannot forget,” she says.
For Devika Sharma, 18, of Jawaharlal Nehru University, Gandhi is an indomitable spirit, filled with compassion for humanity and never appearing in the least bit intimidated by anyone or anything. He epitomises the fact that living truthfully is the highest achievement of all. His non-violent philosophy, his humour and his general demeanour are what set him apart from other revolutionary thinkers and visionaries. Above all, he proves that words are not important and what matters is your actions and your belief in the truth of your convictions, Sharma adds.
Gandhi will remain an integral part of the history of India, says Ummang Sharma Bajpai, 18, also from Hindu. Gandhi’s ideals of honesty and non-violence form a major chunk of the notion and understanding of morality in our world, he says.
What is important, he adds, is that Gandhi’s teachings are now a part of the curriculum for Delhi University students. “Gandhi’s ideas and experiences can act as a guiding beacon for us when we are confused or faced with dilemmas. Of course, we must not follow his story blindly; it is important for us to analyse the situation on our own and use his principles to navigate our way through unclear situations. Also, in the materialistic and frenzied world, his philosophy of simple living can help us go a long way,” he says.
Jhalani finds My Experiments with Truth a wonderful book. “The biggest thing it taught me was we can go on the wrong path at times, choose the wrong thing over the right, but if we realise our errors and want to come back on the right path, we can.”
This book “rekindles the fire in me,” says Sharma “because of the fact that he never gave up in life and sought to bring the change that everyone wished for.”
Both Jasmine Bhalla, 17, of Hindu and Kritika Narula, 18, of Indraprastha College for Women, swear by this book. “It’s written with stark honesty - I guess it urges everyone to be honest and forthcoming too. Gandhi’s written words imply that at the end of the day, what matters most is inner peace - and one can only achieve it through the truth,” says Bhalla.
Narula finds Gandhi’s autobiography a testimony to his truthfulness and honesty, in which he reveals every single detail of his life, including his mistakes. His other book and speeches help her realise that his vision of India wasn’t just a dream, he had pragmatic solutions to make that happen.