I recently heard Gandhi speak at St. Mark’s United Methodist Church in Sacramento. To be more exact, Arun Gandhi, Mahatma Gandhi’s grandson, told us stories about his famous grandfather and about learning to practice nonviolence during violent times.
Growing up in South Africa during the 1940s, Arun Gandhi was an Indian child in a racially divided country. He was beat up by the whites and by the blacks. When his parents realized that he was going to the gym to lift weights and become tougher, they sent him to stay with his grandfather in India. His grandfather happened to be Mahatma Gandhi, one of the most important figures of the 20th century.
Arun Gandhi told us several stories about his grandfather. His grandfather sold autographs to raise money for his cause. Arun wanted an autograph for himself. His grandfather told him he would have to pay, like everybody else. This was during the time that his grandfather was negotiating India’s independence from Great Britain. In the midst of these intensive international negotiations, the young Arun would interrupt his grandfather, demanding an autograph. His grandfather calmly refused. Arun insisted. The important politicians his grandfather was meeting with would suggest that his grandfather give him an autograph, please! But Mahatma Gandhi never raised his voice or became angry. He remained firm, loving and calm. In this way, his teenage grandson learned about nonviolence as a way of life.
Once, on the way home from school, the young Arun threw away an old, used-up pencil. When he arrived home, he asked his grandfather for a new one. His grandfather asked where the old pencil had gone. Arun explained that he threw it away. His grandfather sent him back to retrieve it. After a long search, he found it. His grandfather told him never to forget the labor and the world’s resources that went into producing this pencil. To discard this little pencil was to disregard all the resources used in its creation. Through this example, his grandfather taught him about our connection to all things and to all people.
Arun’s time with his grandfather, before Mahatma Gandhi was assassinated in 1948, taught him about nonviolence on a very deep, personal level. Some people view nonviolence as a political tactic, with strategic advantages, just as violence might have certain strategic advantages. However, his grandfather saw it as a way of living life, of creating economic and environmental justice, racial and ethnic harmony.
Mahatma Gandhi said, “Be the change you want to see in the world.” For him, nonviolence was a life choice, not a political tactic. True nonviolence might be the only way to inspire others to move away from violent or unjust actions. It’s not just enough to try to create change outside oneself. Dr. Arun Gandhi inspired me to become the change I want to see.