Tag Archives: Satyagraha

The Mahatma’s Inner Voice

The voice of intuition is often overruled by the voice of reason, leaving one with a sense of regret.

When Sonia Gandhi turned down the offer to become Prime Minister in UPA 1 in 2004 and attributed her decision to an “inner voice,”  there was a sense of relief at her decision, yet many were intrigued over her choice of words. But then, cynicism crept in and most of us dismissed it as just a catchy turn of phrase.

Yet, the very same words when used in connection with the Mahatma assume a whole new dimension. I am certain that there was not an  iota of self-interest in Gandhiji’s decisions.

The “inner voice” that the Mahatma referred to, goes much beyond the intuitive voice that an average  person becomes privy to and is guided by. Being immersed in spirituality, Gandhiji submitted his physical body to a great deal of penance and perhaps it is this and his self-reflective meditative practices that honed his inner voice of consciousness to provide him the best possible counsel, which he applied  to  the service of the country.

The Dandi March was one such inspiration. The non-violent way  in which Gandhiji showed his followers to not retaliate in the face of great brutality set a tone for the rest of the Independence struggle. It provided India with a  path breaking moral supremacy and brought her closer to being able to achieve her goal of self rule.

Across the ages, there have been many prophets who were privy to this inner voice of wisdom.  I have concurred that from this wisdom has developed the term “prophetic words.” Mahatma Gandhi was certainly among the greatest apostles of peace, who walked this earth.  Who else but he could have chosen to keep away from Delhi when the Indian flag was unfurled for the first time on the 15th of August, to stay with those who were  affected by the riots resulting from the Partition of India. Horace Alexander, a Quaker who was closely associated with Gandhiji, wrote his biography, Gandhi through Western Eyes and was with him on that occasion, made these observations:  “What Gandhi did on that day was one of the most extraordinary happenings in his evening life. He brought peace to that great city of Calcutta, and to the whole of Bengal, where Hindus and Muslims had been killing one another almost daily for over a year.”

At every stage of his life, Gandhiji applied the principles of Ahimsa or non-violence towards all sentient beings and Satyagraha or the adoption of a higher consciousness of truth and morality.  His was a life of humility and self-effacement. He spoke of the Talisman that he employed in his decision-making – whether the action that he was contemplating would benefit the last man – Sarvodaya through Antyodaya, which is at the core of India’s formation as a country.

I have understood that to understand the Mahatma’s inner voice, his own words resonate greatly: “I do not know what you would call a vision, or what you would call prophetic.  When I announced my fast of 21 days in jail, I had not reasoned it. On retiring to bed the previous night, I had no notion that I was going to announce a fast for 21 days.  But in the middle of the night a voice woke me up and said, ‘Go through a fast.’ ‘For how many days,’ I asked? ‘21 days’ was the answer. Now let me tell you that my mind was unprepared for it, disinclined for it.  But the thing came through clearly as anything could be. Whatever striking things I have done in life, I have not done prompted by reason, but prompted by instinct, I would say, God. Take the Dandi Salt March of 1930.  I had not the ghost of a suspicion how the breach of the Salt Law would work itself out. Pandit (Jawaharlal Nehru) and other friends were fretting and did not know what I would do; and I could tell them nothing, as I myself knew nothing about it.  But like a flash it came and as you know, it was enough to shake the country, from one end to another.”

In the tradition of Yoga, all practices aim toward stilling the mind. Among other benefits, a mind bereft of thoughts can invoke  super-natural powers that can offer prophetic guidance and extra-sensory perception also known as Siddhi. 

Whilst great Yogic practitioners would use their powers for self realization, what makes Mahatma Gandhi different is his combining of the spiritual with the temporal; both in his single-minded quest to achieve independence for India and in wishing to wipe a tear from every eye. I am reminded of  the Buddha, who did not end his quest by achieving enlightenment under the Bodhi tree but used his wisdom toward alleviating the same suffering that led him to question the meaning of life.

There is not much to look forward to from muscular leaders who will have the Mahatma’s statues dusted and pay lip service to him on his 150th birth anniversary in the name of nationalism. If only Gandhi would resurrect now to solve the problems of modern times. At the least we could emulate his universal and eternal vision even in the smallest ways. May all that was good in the Mahatma light a spark in those who follow, so that they might act as beacons for the world.

Melanie P. Kumar has been an Independent Writer and contributing for more than 20 years now.  Married to a Gandhian scholar, she has had occasion to travel to many of the important places associated with Mahatma Gandhi. She has also attended innumerable seminars on Gandhi, which has prompted her interest in writing about the Mahatma in an effort to understand him.

Gandhi by Naatak: the Man Behind the Legend

“No man’s life can be encompassed in one telling. There is no way to give each year its allotted weight, to include each event, each person who helped to shape a lifetime. What can be done is to be faithful in spirit to the record and try and find one’s way to the heart of the man…”

Thus begins Richard Attenborough’s epic 1982 film Gandhi with the extraordinary Ben Kingsley as Gandhi. The much-lauded film, a deeply moving homage, was made by an Englishman, for an international audience. Every word spoken in that film is in English. Even Gandhi’s unforgettable words on being shot, “He Ram!” known to every Indian, are spoken as “Oh God!” in the film.

In pleasing contrast, Naatak’s play, Gandhi, musical theater in the tradition of Naatak’s own “Mahabharat,” is multilingual, capturing India’s vibrancy in its many tongues. Hindi, Gujarati, Tamil are spoken, Bengali is sung along with Hindi and Gujarati, and we even see a couple of signs in Malayalam. Supertitles in English make the languages accessible to all. I watched it on September 20 at the Cubberley auditorium in Palo Alto.

In writer and director Sujit Saraf’s telling, the story begins with Mahatma Gandhi‘s journey to England, where he went to study law.

He returned to Bombay as a barrister, and after an unsuccessful 2-year stint, left for Durban, South Africa for work. Armed with his legal degree, he successfully represented oppressed Indian laborers, and gained stature and respect, both in South Africa, and in India. On returning to India as a well-known figure, he took on his historic role in India’s independence movement, transforming in time to “the little brown man in a loincloth who led his country to freedom” in the words of American broadcast journalist Edward R. Murrow at Gandhi’s funeral.

Attenborough’s film has been criticized by some as hagiography. as it unquestionably and admiringly portrays the saintly qualities of the man. Gandhi also had his eccentricities and odd, extreme behaviors. Sujit Saraf’s telling paints a more balanced portrait of the man, with his idiosyncrasies. He was not born, after all, as the Father of the Nation. In a few clever scenes, Naatak shows Gandhi’s foibles. He stops drinking cow’s milk, believing that the milk meant for calves is taken forcibly from a mother. When asked why it was OK to drink goat’s milk, and why he didn’t have the same reservations, he smiles and shrugs.

Then, the experiments with celibacy. As asked in the play, “Shouldn’t his wife have a say in the matter?” The play shows his early life and career in great detail, and humanizes the legend. Listen to more about this portrayal at KQED radio, where Sujit Saraf spoke with Michael Krasny on Forum earlier this month.

Naatak presents with fitting respect, Gandhi’s coining the term Satyagraha, the force of truth: the term for peaceful protests and civil resistance that are among his greatest contributions to society. Gandhi emerges as a man of conviction, a believer in fairness and justice, a calm, skilled negotiator in the face of racist opposition.

What runs most deeply through the play, as in his life, is Gandhi’s deep desire to unite Hindus and Muslims. On being told that “there is too much bad blood” in Noakhali, Bangladesh, he responded movingly “It is the same blood, good or bad.”

One of the most egregious and dishonorable attacks by Britain on Indian soil, the massacre of Jallianwala Bagh in Amritsar, is depicted with tremendous artistry and power. As General Dyer commands his troops “Take your positions!” and continues with “Fire!”, the dancers fall to the ground, one by one, until none are standing. This, for me, was the most powerful scene in the play.

It was on the anniversary of this day that Gandhi planned to peacefully protest British oppression by marching to the coastline and making salt from the Indian Ocean. With civil resistance, he broke the British resolve.

In addition to NehruJinnahMaulana Azad, and Sardar Patel, Naatak’s play is inclusive of more of the major historical figures and freedom fighters of the time:  Bhagat SinghRabindranath TagoreSarojini Naidu, and Dr. B.R. Ambedkar.  Soon after Tagore appears, we hear one of his most famous patriotic songs “Ekla Chalo Re” (“If no one comes when you call, then go on alone”).

Then independence and the bloodbath following Partition, was shown with a stage lit in blood-red.

The play ends with Gandhi’s assassination, the shock of the nation and the heartbreak of his loss permeating the audience. He fell to the volatile religious sentiment and animosity that he worked so hard to quench.

The play focuses much time on the making of the man. I wondered if a trade-off could have been made with more time devoted to the independence movement.

The acting overall is impressive and moving, even though some attempts to show his culture shock when he arrived in England to study law, being taught how to dance and play the violin, were a little slapstick.

The set is made of newspaper reports from Gandhi’s times: a period of extraordinary historic importance, World War II, India’s independence and Partition. The mood and import of the scenes are accentuated by the changing lighting that one sees through the set pieces.

The inclusion of live music and dance continues to enrich Naatak’s impressive productions. The dances are colorful and engaging, complementing the seriousness of the lyrics, set in South Africa in the early 19th century, and pre-Independence India. The music was extraordinary. Music director Nachiketa Yakkundi and his troupe are jewels at the edge of the stage.

Performances continue for the next two weekends, with a special performance on Oct 2, 2019, the 150th anniversary of Gandhi’s birth. Tickets are available (if any are left!) at www.naatak.org.

This article was originally published at www.rajiwrites.com and is included here with permission.

This article was edited by Culture and Media Editor Geetika Pathania Jain, Ph.D.

Cover photo credit: Kyle Adler