Illustration: Jayachandran/Mint
Illustration: Jayachandran/Mint

The Gandhi you know, and the one you don’t

There are facets of the man that the whole world knows. Mint presents some that not many are aware of

Married as teenagers, and ‘jealously possessive’ till her death decades later

Gandhi and Kasturba—both born in 1869—were married in 1883
Gandhi and Kasturba—both born in 1869—were married in 1883

Gandhi and Kasturba—both born in 1869—were married in 1883. Back then, it was a five-day bullock-cart journey to cover the 300kms between Rajkot, where he lived, and Porbandar, the wedding venue. Gandhi and Kasturba were married for 61 years, and he often describes himself as a jealous and possessive husband. She died in 1944 at the Aga Khan Palace in Pune, where she was imprisoned with Gandhi from 1942 onwards for participating in the Quit India movement.

London calling, and the experience of life on a broader canvas

In 1888, Gandhi moved to London to study law, convincing his mother and brother that his religious values would not be compromised. This was a period of exposure not just to bad weather and worse food, but also to ideas and people who would influence his personality. He tried French, dancing and violin lessons, worked on his English and etiquette, attended meetings on Christianity, and started his experiments with truth, diet, religion and value-based living.

Life hack for the overseas student is simple: live the simple life

Money is always short for a student abroad, and it was no different for Gandhi. After his initial indulgences in efforts to “be an English gentleman", he buckled down and started counting pennies, feeling the guilt of having to ask his brother for money. He moved to cheaper lodgings, began cooking for himself, and kept careful account of expenses, a habit that would continue all his life even when lakhs passed through his hands as part of the freedom movement.

Finding religion again, in a foreign land

Oddly reminiscent of NRIs today, Gandhi rediscovered Hinduism abroad, in London. His faith had largely been prescribed by custom—until he read Sir Edwin Arnold’s translation of the Gita, The Song Celestial. He later met Madame Blavatsky and Annie Besant, who inspired him to read more on Hinduism. He also spent his time with Christian friends, understanding their books, and reading on Islam, exposure to all of which led to a syncretic way of thought.

An unenthusiastic vegetarian finds his vegetarianism bible

Early in his London years, Gandhi came across Henry Stephens Salt’s A Plea for Vegetarianism in one of the few vegetarian restaurants in the city (he’d been subsisting on bread). “From the date of reading this book, I may claim to have become a vegetarian by choice," wrote Gandhi in his autobiography. Later, his obsession with vegetarianism, purity and the rather harsh language with which he describes meat-eating earned him bitter critics.

The rebirth of Gandhi as the researcher of multiple diets

Until he went to London, Gandhi was a reluctant vegetarian, kept to the path only by the dictates of his father and vows extracted by his mother.
Until he went to London, Gandhi was a reluctant vegetarian, kept to the path only by the dictates of his father and vows extracted by his mother.

Until he went to London, Gandhi was a reluctant vegetarian, kept to the path only by the dictates of his father and vows extracted by his mother. As a teenager, he’d eaten meat for a year on the sly, wishing he could one day do so “freely and openly". In London, often hungry, he managed to find and sign up with the Vegetarian Society. This was the beginning of his experimenting with diet—fruitarian, veganism, intermittent fasting, and more.

A lawyer at last and back in India, but without the skills to practise Indian law

Two days after he was called to the Bar in 1891, and three busy and educative years in London later, Gandhi sailed for India and tried to establish a practice. It was a long haul as he hadn’t practised or apprenticed in Britain. He was well-versed in Roman law, which helped him later on in South Africa, but in court in India, he found himself at a loss. He was painfully shy and afraid, said Gandhi, and unfamiliar with Indian laws, having studied in England. He tried setting up a practice in Bombay, but eventually gave up and moved to Rajkot where his family’s connections helped him secure work such as drafting memos and documents.

The doctor who fired up a leader and funded the freedom fighter

Dr. Pranjivandas Mehta was the “reader" to whom Gandhi addressed his sermons in “Hind Swaraj", based on a conversation the two had in London in 1909. Mehta, who shaped Gandhi’s ideas and backed him financially, was a doctor, lawyer and diamond merchant in Rangoon. They met when Gandhi was a student in London. More than a decade before the Dandi March in 1930, Mehta wrote to him about the need for action against repressive tax laws. Mehta died in 1932.

THE SOUTH AFRICA YEARS



Illustration: Jayachandran/Mint
Illustration: Jayachandran/Mint

A new continent, a chance for a new beginning, yet some old failings

When an opportunity to work for Durban-based businessman Abdulla Sheth came up, Gandhi saw it as a chance to see the world. The job—helping Sheth’s lawyer—was for a year and the pay, first-class return fare and £105. Gandhi moved to Durban in May 1893. There, too, his fear of public speaking kept him from going to court, but he built up a successful practice drawing up documents and working for rich businessmen of the region.

Getting on board the train to fight racial discrimination

After he was famously thrown off a train for refusing to move to a third-class carriage in 1893 at Pietermaritzburg railway station, Gandhi began closely observing the entrenched racial discrimination. Over the next few years in South Africa, he met more Indians from all classes and communities, learnt what it meant to be a “coolie", and began petitioning the government for rights and peacefully protesting against unfair taxes.

A farewell party 19 years too early turns into a struggle for Indians’ rights

His farewell party turned into a working committee meeting for the new resistance
His farewell party turned into a working committee meeting for the new resistance

Gandhi was set to return home when a newspaper article caught his eye—a Bill before the House proposed to deprive Indians of their right to elect representatives to Natal Legislative Assembly. When he realized Indians knew little about this and didn’t plan to oppose it, he decided to stay. And his farewell party turned into a working committee meeting for the new resistance. Gandhi’s year-long stay in South Africa would turn into a 20-year one.

Organizing the local community

He founded the Natal Indian Congress in 1894, worked for the rights of indentured labourers, protested against the system of passes for Indians and organized the local Indian community, both rich and poor, into a force for passive resistance. It was in these movements that Gandhi learnt his first lessons in community building and peaceful protest, besides opening his eyes to the deeply entrenched inequality, both in South Africa and India.

In a sign of the times, petition collects 10,000 signatures

To begin their protest against the proposed disenfranchisement of the Indian community, Gandhi sent telegrams to House representatives asking them to postpone the Bill. Overnight, he drafted a petition to be presented before the House, and volunteers wrote up multiple copies. The Indian community crisscrossed the city and collected 10,000 signatures. The Bill was disallowed then, but reintroduced and passed into law in 1896.

Crushed under the substantial weight of the £3 tax on Indians

In 1894, the Natal government proposed an annual £3 tax on Indian indentured labourers and their family members. The genesis of the tax, says Gandhi, was in the fear Europeans had of Indians, many of whom came as indentured labourers, served their tenure, bought land and made a success of themselves. It was a long battle against the levy—with 10,000 jailed and many killed in police firing—which they lost. It was only 20 years later that the tax was rolled back.

The importance of public support and the art of managing public institutions

Perhaps this holds true today as well. Based on his experiences in South Africa, Gandhi wrote: “It has become my firm conviction that it is not good to run public institutions on permanent funds. A permanent fund carries in itself the seed of the moral fall of the institution... Institutions maintained on permanent funds are often found to ignore public opinion… The institution that fails to win public support has no right to exist as such… (The satyagraha in South Africa extended) over six years, was carried on without permanent funds though lakhs of rupees were necessary for it."

An unread man, perhaps, but a very good reader of men

Abdulla Sheth, or Dada Abdulla, wrote Gandhi, was “practically unlettered" but had “an acute intellect and was conscious of it". The shipowner ran the biggest Indian firm in Africa at the time, having made his fortune selling gold from South Africa to India. Abdulla, who hated racism, quickly saw the young man he’d hired was a sharp organizer and supported Gandhi’s many campaigns. It was in Abdulla’s house that the Natal Indian Congress was launched on 22 May 1894.

Illustration: Jayachandran/Mint
Illustration: Jayachandran/Mint

An Indian holiday, and Europeans see red about the green pamphlet

In 1896, Gandhi returned to India for six months, where he met a number of newspaper editors, Congressmen and influential citizens and explained the plight of Indians in South Africa. A pamphlet on “The Grievances of British Indians in South Africa", better known as the “Green Pamphlet", got picked up by news agencies around the world. This didn’t go down so well back in Durban, and Europeans there began a campaign against Gandhi’s return.

The return, a hostile welcome, an exemplary act of forgiveness

When the ship with Gandhi and his family reached the port of Durban on 18-19 December 1896, it was not given permission to berth—much like migrant boats that often remain at sea today as they try to enter European waters. Finally, on 13 January 1897, he was allowed to come ashore but was met by a mob that assaulted him. Friends in both civil society and the police helped him escape. He decided not to prosecute his assailants although the police were willing to support him.

Getting on the same track as the ordinary citizen

Gandhi spent a year in India from October 1901. He attended a Congress session in Calcutta, and spent a month with his mentor, Gopal Krishna Gokhale. He travelled home to Rajkot in a third-class compartment— the start of a lifelong habit. He described the compartments as filthy, crowded and uncomfortable, and compared them unfavourably with third-class carriages abroad. It was train travel that made Gandhi aware of the travails of ordinary citizens.

An Indian with a defined opinion on equality and human rights

Gandhi continued to mobilize Indians to agitate against discriminatory policies and laws, and enrolled in the Transvaal Supreme Court as an attorney in 1903. He also launched Indian Opinion, a weekly paper, to spread the message of civil rights. The paper highlighted the poor conditions under which indentured labourers worked. Indian Opinion formed the basis for Gandhi’s later publications, Navjivan and Harijan, to build on themes of equality and freedom.

Divided loyalties during the Second Boer War

Gandhi raised an Ambulance Corps during the Second Boer War. Though he sympathized with the Dutch, he backed Britain. This was before Gandhi’s ideas about resistance to imperialism took shape. He believed that if Indians demanded rights as British citizens, it was also their duty to participate in the defence of the Empire. It was this reasoning that made him volunteer the services of Indians during the World Wars as well.

The influential Parsi backer who opened up purse and home, and then kept on giving

Rustomjee Jivanji Gorkoodhoo, or Parsee Rustomjee, was a prominent businessman and a supporter of Gandhi. His house in Durban was “a centre of public activity and a resting place for strangers from India", writes Gandhi’s friend Albert West. In 1893, Rustomjee helped collect 10,000 signatures for a petition against the bill to deprive Indians of their vote. Income from trusts he set up continued to fund Indian schools in South Africa as well as famine relief and other causes Gandhi took up after his return to India in 1915.

Illustration: Jayachandran/Mint
Illustration: Jayachandran/Mint

JAN Smuts finds out that he has some very big shoes to fill

From the early 1900s till he returned to India for good, Gandhi faced off against Jan Smuts, the then colonial secretary. As with most of the people he went up against, Gandhi earned Smuts’s grudging respect. Gandhi presented him with a pair of sandals he had made, which Smuts would use, return on his 70th birthday, and remark “I have worn these sandals for many a summer...even though I may feel that I am not worthy to stand in the shoes of so great a man."

Hind Swaraj and criticism of imperialism, technology, railways

In 1909, while travelling from London to South Africa, Gandhi wrote in one sitting Hind Swaraj—a manifesto for self rule that was especially critical of Western civilisation, modern education, international trade, and the role of the railways in enslaving populations. The British banned it as seditious. Many years later, he explained that his comments in Hind Swaraj related to imperialism and exploitation and the role the railways had played in it.

The true Tamil tiger in the form of Thambi Naidoo

Among the first satyagrahis between 1906 and 1914 in South Africa were C.K. Thambi Naidoo and his family—including his wife Veerammal, their seven children and his mother-in-law. He was a cartage contractor and the owner of a fodder store, but jail time left him in penury. The family eventually moved to Tolstoy Farm, where he was in charge of sanitation and Veerammal was the cook. He continued on the path of passive resistance until his death in 1933.

Clothing as a symbol and a tool for policy

In London and South Africa, Gandhi was fastidious about how he dressed. In Volksrust prison in 1908, he sewed the caps black prisoners wore—what we know today as the Gandhi cap—and took to wearing it. In 1912, he adopted the clothes Tamil indentured labourers, whose interests he represented, wore. Once back in India, he went back to wearing Gujarati clothes, but in 1931 adopted the loincloth and shawl. Clothes, for Gandhi, were also a tool of political strategy.

Reaching a settlement on the Indian question

It took till 1914, and many protests, much violence, deaths of satyagrahis and long jail terms before Gandhi and Smuts reached an agreement on “the Indian Question". This led to the passing of the Indian Relief Bill that gave in to all the demands of the South African Indian community: the £3 annual tax was abolished, marriages considered legal in India became legal in South Africa as well, and the domicile certificate became sufficient right to enter India.

The great march in South Africa before the great march in India

Gandhi’s Great March in South Africa in 1913
Gandhi’s Great March in South Africa in 1913

A precursor to the Dandi March was Gandhi’s Great March in South Africa in 1913 to protest against the tax on indentured labourers and a Hindu-Muslim marriage ban. On 15 October 1913, Gandhi, Kasturba and 15 others left the Phoenix settlement for the Natal border with Transvaal, with 3,000 workers joining them en route. Police beat up, detained and killed many but they pressed on, making world headlines and forcing the government to look into their demands.

Architect, sponsor, follower, soulmate, dissenter: a man of many parts

A wealthy architect, Hermann Kallenbach owned the 1,000-acre Tolstoy Farm, where Gandhi launched his first satyagraha in 1910. Influenced by Gandhi, he became a vegetarian and participated in experiments in cooperative living, diet and politics. Gandhi described Kallenbach as his “soulmate". He went on to become a Zionist—politics that they disagreed on—but the respect remained. He visited Gandhi at Sevagram before moving to Israel, where he died in 1945.

Secretary, loyalist, treasurer, editor, teacher: a woman of many parts

Sonja Schlesin was Gandhi’s efficient, outspoken and committed secretary in South Africa. She drew much praise from Gandhi, his clients and fellow satyagrahis. Schlesin started working for Gandhi at the age of 17, and not only managed his law practice but also the satyagraha campaign and the Transvaal Indian Women’s Association. She kept track of donations, edited Indian Opinion, visited satyagrahis in prison and was one of the trustees of Phoenix Settlement. After Gandhi left South Africa, she went back to university, and in 1920, became a high school Latin teacher—a position she held for 23 years. She died in 1956.

Illustration: Jayachandran/Mint
Illustration: Jayachandran/Mint

A return delayed by World War I, but back to India for good in 1915

Gandhi finally left South Africa after more than 20 years, and arrived in India in January 1915, having been delayed by the outbreak of war in Europe. Gandhi and Kasturba looked for a place to settle their “Phoenix family". They had reached India before him and were staying at Santiniketan. Gopal Krishna Gokhale promised to cover all the expenses for a new ashram, and Gandhi felt great relief that he’d not only be freed of the stress of fund raising but would also have a guide.

Fighting the good fight but also knowing when to give ground

Be it dealing with Smuts in South Africa, the Kheda and Champaran satyagrahas, leading the Dandi March or a fast to secure the rights of mill workers, Gandhi knew how to yield before people were spent by hardship and the patience of the authorities wore thin. In Kheda, he gave in when he saw farmers wavering and a landowner presented a compromise. The farmers had been awakened politically, he said, and a campaign was “worthy" only if satyagrahis emerged stronger.

From phoenix to Sevagram via Kochrab and Sabarmati, the rise of the ashram

The idea of a community with a common goal was central to Gandhi’s ideals. After experiments at Tolstoy Farm and Phoenix Settlement in South Africa, he set up his first Indian ashram in Kochrab in May 1915, where he settled followers who had come with him to India. However, the plague broke out two years later and the ashram was shifted to Sabarmati, from where he led the Dandi March in 1930. In 1936, he moved to Wardha, set up Sevagram, and made it his headquarters.

A first-hand experience of poverty in the villages of Bihar

In Bihar, Gandhi and a team of volunteers that included Acharya J.B. Kripalani and Maulana Mazharul Haque, opened primary schools in six villages. It was also among his early experiences of coming face to face with dire poverty. When he got his wife to ask a woman why she did not wash her clothes daily, the woman replied, “The sari I am wearing is the only one I have. Tell Mahatmaji to get me another one and I shall bathe and put on clean clothes everyday."

The Cantabrigian as a firm apostle of Indians

A close friend of both Gandhi and Rabindranath Tagore, C.F. Andrews was a priest from Cambridge who came to Delhi in 1904 to teach at St Stephen’s College. Over time, he came to identify closely with the problems of Indians around the world, became a critic of imperialism, and wrote prolifically on the problems faced by Indian indentured labourers. Gandhi’s nickname for him was Christ’s Faithful Apostle, taken from his initials. He died in 1940 in Kolkata.

Before discovery of India, a rediscovery of India

After returning to India in January 1915, Gandhi and Kasturba spent close to a year taking the train around India and Burma, third-class all the way, as he wanted to reacquaint himself with people. They travelled to Poona, Porbandar, Rajkot, Delhi, Wadhwan, Burdwan, Shantiniketan, Haridwar, Rishikesh, Mathura, Vrindavan, Madras, Rangoon and more, talking about their struggle in South Africa and the gains made by the Indian community there.

One of those rare occasions where great minds did not think alike



An industrialist with diverse interests, Ghanshyam Das Birla first met Gandhi in 1916, and was influenced by his sincerity and search for truth
An industrialist with diverse interests, Ghanshyam Das Birla first met Gandhi in 1916, and was influenced by his sincerity and search for truth

An industrialist with diverse interests, Ghanshyam Das Birla first met Gandhi in 1916, and was influenced by his “sincerity and search for truth". The two had differences of opinion—Birla being a pragmatic businessman and Gandhi an avowed dissenter—but were close and Birla played the role of an unofficial emissary between Gandhi and the British. Birla supported Gandhi for over three decades, and was the founding president of the Harijan Sevak Sangh.

POLITICAL LIFE IN INDIA

Illustration: Jayachandran/Mint
Illustration: Jayachandran/Mint

The start of active politics and his first arrest in his homeland

Gandhi became president of the All India Home Rule League in 1920. A year later, when the Prince of Wales visited India in 1921, people emptied out of the streets and boycotted him after Gandhi’s call. Gandhi addressed a meeting in a mill in Bombay and lit a massive bonfire of foreign-made cloth. But what was to be a peaceful meeting ended in riots with 59 dead. In 1922, Gandhi was arrested in India for the first time for sedition over three articles he wrote in Young India, and was released in 1924.

India’s very own version of the roaring twenties

Throughout the 1920s, Gandhi led the Congress to adopt “Purna Swaraj" as its goal and the path of non-violence as the means. At the 1924 Belgaum Congress session, he was elected party president and served for a year. Under him, civil disobedience intensified, he led the boycott of the Simon Commission, demanded restitution for the Jallianwala Bagh massacre, and an apology for the Khilafat movement. He also founded Gujarat Vidyapith at Ahmedabad.

The Mahatama Gandhi national rural employment scheme 1.0

The slow movement would certainly have appealed to Gandhi who wrote that “when production and consumption become localized, the temptation to speed up production indefinitely and at any price disappears". Following this line of thought, he advocated a revival of village industries, such as ginning, spinning, oil extraction, husking and grinding, “because there is no other way of giving employment to the millions of villagers".

A time to connect and reconnect with friends

After the Salt Satyagraha of 1930, Gandhi and over 100,000 others were jailed, and released a year later. For him, the Second Round Table Conference in London in 1931 was a time of serious business as well as a chance to meet friends he’d left behind years ago. He also met the mill workers of Lancashire. On his return, he was arrested and began a “fast unto death" in jail for the abolition of separate electorates for Harijans, a demand that was granted.

Duty as the bridge between the concept of ahimsa and war

Gandhi preached non-violence and peace yet mobilized Indians to support the British in the Boer War, World War I and World War II. He was in London when World War I broke out, and volunteered Indians for service. When friends mentioned ahimsa, he said participation in war is against ahimsa but fulfilling one’s duty is paramount. “A votary of ahimsa remains true to his faith if the spring of all his actions is compassion," he’d write in explanation later.

A statement of retirement but no retirement from activism

In 1934, he announced his decision to retire from politics and resigned from the Congress
In 1934, he announced his decision to retire from politics and resigned from the Congress

In 1934, he announced his decision to retire from politics and resigned from the Congress to focus on the development of village industries, Harijan service and vocational and skill-based education, and moved to Sevagram. Despite his announcement, he continued to meet British and Indian leaders, and go on fasts to draw attention to rights abuses. He was in and out of prison throughout the 1930s, and toured Orissa on foot, talking of the need to abolish untouchability.

The curious case of the libran who fell under the sway of Leo

Leo Tolstoy’s writings and ideas about renunciation as a means of opposition and a force impressed Gandhi and were akin to his own. He had read Tolstoy’s The Kingdom of God is Within You in 1894 in London, which started him on the path of the search for truth and non-violence. In prison in South Africa in 1908, he reread the Russian writer’s works and began writing letters to Tolstoy the next year. Tolstoy confirmed that passive resistance was crucial not just for Indians but for the world. He described in it the struggle of the Transvaal Indians, and the two corresponded till Tolstoy’s death in 1910.

The millowner Gandhi took on, but their ties didn’t unravel

Industrialist and textile merchant Ambalal Sarabhai supported Gandhi financially on his return from South Africa. He made a generous but quiet donation of 13,000 to save the Satyagraha Ashram at Kochrab, which was foundering as funds had dried up after Gandhi took in a family of so-called untouchables. During the Ahmedabad labour strike of 1918, led by Ambalal’s sister Anasuya, Gandhi went on his first political fast and got Sarabhai, the head of the millowners’ association, to give workers the benefits they had been demanding.

THE QUIT INDIA YEARS

Illustration: Jayachandran/Mint
Illustration: Jayachandran/Mint

Do or die, and years spent in prison after a call for the British to leave

Do or die" is now a pop slogan, but it’s Gandhi’s call for the final push for freedom, “Quit India". After the failure of the Cripps Mission, which was to discuss devolution of powers but didn’t give space to Indians’ demands, Gandhi called on people to demonstrate peacefully and persistently for withdrawal of the British, who were embroiled in World War II. Most Congress leaders were arrested, and jailed till the end of the war. Strikes continued and thousands were jailed.

The loss of a close friend and a life partner in the span of two years

In 1942, Gandhi, Kasturba and their followers were arrested for their role in the Quit India movement, and interned at the Aga Khan Palace in Pune. Gandhi’s friend and personal secretary for 25 years, Mahadev Desai died in prison less than a week after they were arrested. Desai and his wife Durgabehn joined Gandhi in 1917, and worked closely with him, translating his work and doing every task Gandhi asked him to. In 1944, Kasturba also had a heart attack and died in the palace.

The charkha at the centre of swadeshi, self-sufficiency and freedom

The charkha, or spinning wheel, was at the intersection of his ideas of self-sufficiency, swadeshi, dignity of labour and freedom.
The charkha, or spinning wheel, was at the intersection of his ideas of self-sufficiency, swadeshi, dignity of labour and freedom.

The iconic image of Gandhi is of him spinning, serene yet focused. The charkha, or spinning wheel, was at the intersection of his ideas of self-sufficiency, swadeshi, dignity of labour and freedom. Spinning and reviving traditional craft and methods would make villages self-sufficient, he believed. Gandhi described the charkha as the “life-giving sun", saying its revival would “illuminate the planets of other handicrafts" and “solve the problem of economic distress".

A pen-pusher unlike any other, and a wide canvas

A prolific writer and journal keeper, Gandhi was the editor of the Gujarati paper Navajivan, the English paper Young India and the weekly Harijan, which he started in 1933. It was rare to see an edition without an article by him, a practice he started when he published Indian Opinion in South Africa. He did most of his writing on trains and covered everything from the benefits of giving up milk to the need for better sanitation to economic development.

The central role of the village in social and economic development

Gandhi said a non-violent system of government was not possible in an unequal society and “you cannot build non-violence on a factory civilization". He viewed the rural economy as one that “eschews exploitation altogether", a point on which he and B.R. Ambedkar differed, the latter believing villages were held back by caste hierarchies. Gandhi felt each village had to function as a separate panchayat, independent of its neighbours, yet interdependent for larger needs.

Cleanliness is next to godliness predates Swachh Bharat

That he cleaned toilets to advocate dignity of labour is well known. Gandhi wrote extensively on the lack of sanitation, and the filth in third-class railway carriages. He had strong ideas about eliminating mosquito breeding sites—probably because he had malaria thrice, and linked equality with elimination of diseases like leprosy and tuberculosis that bred stigma. Today, this advocacy of hygiene has been repurposed into a political tool.

A very distant forerunner of Thomas Piketty

Gandhi’s idea of wealth and ownership was very different from that of the merchants who supported him. He wasn’t against businessmen earning well; it was that he believed wealth does not belong to an individual but must be used for the community’s welfare. “As soon as a man looks upon himself as a servant of society, earns for its sake, spends for its benefit, then purity enters into his earnings and there is ahimsa in his venture," he wrote in Harijan in 1940. He sought an end to capitalism and inequality but was pragmatic enough to understand the power and necessity of funding an initiative as massive and audacious as freedom.

The man behind FICCI had skirmishes with the congress but also bridged gaps

The president of the East India Cotton Association and an astute cotton trader from Bombay, Purshottamdas Thakurdas, along with G.D. Birla, set up the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry (Ficci) in 1927 in an effort to unite Indian businessmen against imperialists. They, and other businessmen, viewed the Congress as a means to break Britain’s grip on the economy, yet often clashed with the party leadership over its socialist tilt. Thakurdas was respected both in London and British Indian circles as well as within the Congress, giving him a unique position to negotiate.

THE MONTHS AFTER INDEPENDENCE

Illustration: Jayachandran/Mint
Illustration: Jayachandran/Mint

Meeting youth across communities to bring about the miracle of Calcutta

In the run-up to independence, Gandhi travelled to Bihar, Bengal and Punjab to maintain peace. Communal tensions flared often, and after the brutal Calcutta Killings and Noakhali riots in 1946, he spent months in Bengal. Two days before independence, Gandhi reached Calcutta and met young people from the Hindu and Muslim communities. On 15 August 1947, they took out rallies together and raised the flag. It came to be known as the Miracle of Calcutta.

Communal tensions flared often, and after the brutal Calcutta Killings and Noakhali riots in 1946, he spent months in Bengal
Communal tensions flared often, and after the brutal Calcutta Killings and Noakhali riots in 1946, he spent months in Bengal

Partition gave him little cause to celebrate his last birthday

Where did the congratulations come from? Would it not be more appropriate to say condolences?" was Gandhi’s response to the many visitors, letters and telegrams that arrived to mark his 78th birthday. He did not give permission to publish the letters, messages and telegrams he received. He’d wanted to live to 125 but that day, he often mentioned death as he’d focused on unity all his life but was now seeing brutality and communalism in the wake of Partition.

Walking his way to health, and walking the talk

To avoid compulsory games at school, Gandhi took long walks. He discovered the benefits in London where he walked to cut expenses. In Bombay, as “a briefless barrister", he would walk 45 minutes to court. He prescribed it to his mentor Gopal Krishna Gokhale who said he had no time, which prompted Gandhi to write: “No matter what amount of work one has, one should always find time for exercise as one does for meals. Far from taking away from one’s capacity for work, it adds to it."

Reminding people their duties do not include a ticket to ride

After independence, Gandhi spent much of his time praying, fasting and discussing duties of citizens. In October 1947, at a prayer meeting in Delhi, he dwelt at length on ticketless travel: “People think that since they had won freedom there was no need to buy tickets… The railways certainly belong to us now but ticketless travelling has led to a loss of 8 crore… if people start having free rides in trains, it is a kind of violence…"

The ‘fifth son’ who boycotted foreign goods, served jail time like Gandhi

A financial supporter and a follower, Jamnalal Bajaj considered himself Gandhi’s fifth son. He founded the Bajaj group in the 1920s. The call to boycott foreign goods resonated—he saw as exploitative the British practice of importing cheap material made from Indian cotton, and selling it to Indians at exorbitant prices. Bajaj provided land for Gandhi’s Village Industries Association at Sevagram, and served jail time during the Quit India movement.

The last fast to call for communal harmony

On 13 January 1948, Gandhi began what would be his last fast in public life; the aim was communal harmony
On 13 January 1948, Gandhi began what would be his last fast in public life; the aim was communal harmony

On 13 January 1948, Gandhi began what would be his last fast in public life; the aim was communal harmony. Riots had been contained but there was “a storm within the breast. It may burst forth any day", he said, and began. As he weakened over the next five days, political and religious leaders became anxious. Finally, on 18 January, after all communities assured him of holding the peace, Gandhi broke his fast with orange juice given by Maulana Abul Kalam Azad.

Three gunshots in New Delhi that were heard around the world

But, around 5pm on 30 January 1948, he was assassinated by Nathuram Godse at Birla House in New Delhi
But, around 5pm on 30 January 1948, he was assassinated by Nathuram Godse at Birla House in New Delhi

Gandhi often said he’d like to live to the age of 125. But, around 5pm on 30 January 1948, he was assassinated by Nathuram Godse at Birla House in New Delhi. He was 79. After the cremation at Raj Ghat in Delhi, a special train with five third-class carriages took the ashes to Allahabad for immersion. The train stopped at 11 stations en route, where hundreds of thousands met it to pay tribute. An estimated 1.5 million mourners turned out for the funeral.

Mandela to Einstein jobs: Gandhi’s influence reached the world

Nelson Mandela. Martin Luther King. The Dalai Lama. Gandhi has influenced a number of world leaders who stood up for civil rights. Albert Einstein was an admirer and the two exchanged letters, sharing ideas on religion and politics. Management guru and best-selling author Stephen Covey drew from Gandhi’s ideas of “the seven social sins" for his 1989 book Principle-centered Leadership. In the tech world, Steve Jobs was one of Gandhi’s many admirers and used Gandhi’s images for a series of advertisements for Apple computers in the late 1990s with the tagline “Think different".

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