Every October 2nd, August 15th, January 26th, I fondly remember Gandhi Ji.
I was twelve – a young idealist with big dreams for my own life and a compelling desire to see India as a free and prosperous nation, free from the bondage of two hundred years of subjugation by the British.
Then in one of the rarest moments of my life, I had the good fortune to meet the most admired person in India, and the world –the Apostle of Peace and Non-violence, Mahatma Gandhi. The revered Father of India!
On massive, public grounds called the ‘Maidan’, a crowd of thousands had settled down on the ground. All from far and near were there. I sat along with my sixty schoolmates and teachers, anxiously glancing in every direction to catch the first glimpse of this magnificent hero of mine. I was viewing over a sea of Muslim caps, Congress Party’s Nehru caps, turbans of every color, shape, and size. Occasionally, heads popped up here and there. A bunch of people would stand up abruptly, as if aware of an arrival.
Then, as if magically, there appeared a diminutive figure, sparsely clad in a white home-spun cotton ‘Khadi Dhoti’, tucked in between the legs, giving the appearance of a loincloth. His narrow shoulders were wrapped around in a white, home-spun shawl. I was immediately reminded of Gandhi’s image, sitting on the ground with folded legs, spinning cotton yarn at a Spinning Wheel. He inspired Indians to be self-reliant, so as to be independent of the need to import cotton from the mills of Manchester, in Great Britain. Gandhiji’s images had inspired me, as they had done millions of others. I looked around at my friends. We were all wearing white saris with blue borders – a fabric of five and a half yards of hand-spun cotton. I was proud of myself.
As he got seated on a small, raised platform in the middle of the vast grounds, there was a hush, a deafening silence! Could this be Gandhiji? The same towering figure, which had shaken the foundations of the British Empire? Where was the augur who had incensed the Rulers to a fiery rage? Could this slight, slender frame endure all the hardships of endless imprisonments – sleeping on cold, cemented floors; fasting endlessly to make a point, and subjugate the mighty master’s will?
Yet this was Mahatma Gandhi, whom I had heard again and again over the loudspeakers, who had endeared himself to me, as to millions of others!
He spoke. Stillness prevailed. From microphones all around, his every word rang loud and clear – entering my consciousness. The echoes rolled from soul to soul.
As he spoke, I did not hear a lion’s roar. Yet, this calmly persuasive, magnetic voice was energizing and compelling:
“Arise, my children, rise!
Rise to your soul’s call!
Rise in Freedom, every waking moment!
Remember. When India introduced Zero to the Science of Mathematics, the possibilities became infinite, unlimited, un-limiting!
One small zero – one individual at a time, small or big, can magnify the possibilities a thousand-fold.
Each small voice, when joined by millions of your heroes, can reach across seven seas.
Do not underestimate the power of zero. The power of even the smallest, the gentles of you.”
The crescendo of his tone and message rose from perceptibly calming to invigorating, to uplifting. It was a magical moment; a mesmerizing experience! I was awed by the strength of Gandhiji’s convictions; the appeal of his persuasion across a wide spectrum of society.
“Follow you Dharma, your moral duty.
God’s truth demands Liberty and Justice for all.
We all are the children of one God. We Hindus, and we Muslims invoke the one and the same God, whether we call Him Ram or we call Him Allah.
We, all Indians, deserve the right to be in charge of our own destiny.”
Gandhiji’s inspiring, invigorating word liberated the downcast souls and challenged the masses. Even the faint-hearted, the indifferent felt an enthusiasm to take up the cause.
“There are times when you have to obey.
A call which is the highest of all, that is the voice of conscience.
Even though such obedience may cost many a bitter tear,
And even more, separation from friends,
From family, from the state to which you may belong,
From all that you have held as dear as life itself.
For this obedience is the law of our being.”
A fine mix of elation and enthusiasm hung in the air. I was witnessing a rare moment in eternity, a moment bigger than life, infinitely bigger than myself!
Gandhi Ji’s message rings just as true today.
On becoming citizens of the United States of America, by birth or adoption, we have pledged to uphold the principle of ‘Inalienable rights of Liberty, Equality, and Justice for All’. In expressing our voice by casting our vote to elect the President and Congress, we fulfill our civic duty. Follow our Dharma. Our decisions on societal issues have an impact on our lives. They give direction to the destiny of the Nation too.
Remember, your one powerful vote has the power to change the course of history!
Usha Dhupa has lived extended periods of her life in Africa, India, England, and America. Her rich experiences over eight decades give us a panoramic view of her life. Find the rest of this story in her recently published book ‘Child of Two Worlds‘.