Full Circle: Golly, Mr. Gandhi

Published 11:00 am Sunday, July 29, 2018

I’ve always admired Mahatma Gandhi.  As a child I thought he was Scottish. You know,

Mahat McGandhi.  Then I found out his true name was Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi, a real mouthful for my young mouth. Thankfully, my study of him became instantly simpler when one day I learned I could refer to him as just “Gandhi.”  Whew!

By parental arrangement, Gandhi married a girl unknown to him when he was only thirteen. In spite of this risky beginning, he grew to love Kasturbai deeply, referring to her as the solace of his life.  It’s only a guess, but I’m thinking she must have been the envy of every housewife in India for Gandhi, not being what you’d call a clothes horse,  pretty much freed her from the burdensome task of laundry.  I mean, as her husband wore only a dhoti (a loincloth that looked like an XXL Curity diaper) and a chaddar (shawl), all Kasturbai had to do was soak, scrub on a flat river stone, wring, dry and his wardrobe was good to go.

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Gandhi shed his traditional attire and adapted this simple outfit as his way of identifying with the poor and ill clad masses. He, as well, spun his own cloth on a box charkha, which looked remarkably like a very small American windmill. To him this contraption was not just a tool, but rather a symbol for the emancipation of the Indian people from British colonial rule; his boycott of their foreign cloth.

On one occasion his simple handmade outfit caused quite a stir when he met the King of England.  Upon being asked if his simple dhoti and chaddar had been enough clothing for such an auspicious occasion, Gandhi famously quipped, “The King had on enough for the both of us.”

Gandhi was also known for his wise sayings: “Nobody can hurt me without my permission.”  “In a gentle way, you can shake the world.”  “A man is but the product of his thoughts; what he thinks, he becomes.”  “An eye for an eye will make the whole world blind.”  But who knew that this fearless campaigner for the rights and dignity of all people suffered his whole life from an acute fear of speaking in public?  Gandhi’s glossophobia was so severe that as a young lawyer, the first time he faced a judge, he froze and fled the courtroom in panic.

This is only my theory, but perhaps … just perhaps … it was necessary for him to be born with those outrageously over-large, jug-handle ears so that he alone was able to listen to the plight of the poor, the downcast and those who were invisible to others—the people whom no one else heard.

Ironically, in his hesitation to speak, Gandhi discovered how much more he could say with his silence.  Indeed, his sparse words affected … and changed … countless millions of people throughout the world and, in time, Gandhi became known as “Bapu,” the father of the non-violent Indian independence movement.  His most powerful way of politically revolting was to fast, a tactic he employed seventeen different times, the longest of which lasted 21 days!

I do not know if this story is true, but if so it perfectly illustrates not only the mastery of his use of words, but also his deeply satisfying and stunning wit. When Gandhi was studying law at University College in London, he had a professor named Mr. Peters who disliked Gandhi intensely and frequently displayed prejudice and animosity towards him.  One thing that particularly vexed Mr. Peters was Gandhi’s refusal to lower his head when addressing him, as he felt that, as a professor, he deserved.  As you can imagine, this caused frequent confrontations.

Peggy Keener

One day Mr. Peters was having lunch in the university dining room when Gandhi approached with his tray and sat down beside him.  Thoroughly disgusted, the professor burst out, “Mr. Gandhi, you do not understand.  A pig and a bird do not sit together to eat!”

Gandhi looked at him—as a parent would to a rude child—and calmly replied, “You do not worry, Professor.  I’ll fly away.”  With that he moved to another table.  Mr. Peters immediately reddened with rage and decided that such an insinuation was the last straw.  He would take revenge.  This would not be easy, however, as Gandhi performed brilliantly on all his tests, so the professor knew he would have to find a way to cleverly get his comeuppance.

So the next day, in front of the class, the cocky professor singled him out by asking, “Mr. Gandhi, if you were walking down the street and found two packages—one full of wisdom and one full of money—which would you take?”

Without hesitating, Gandhi responded, “The one with the money, of course!”  Smiling sarcastically, Mr. Peters replied, “I, in your place, would have taken wisdom.”  Gandhi shrugged indifferently and said, “Each one takes what he doesn’t have.” With that remark, Mr. Peters was beside himself with mortification.  So great was his anger that he wrote ‘IDIOT !!!’ across Gandhi’s exam paper.  Gandhi looked at it, then returned to his desk where he calmly contemplated his next move.

A few moments passed.  Then Gandhi rose from his seat, walked up to the professor and said in a dignified, but caustic tone, “Mr. Peters, you have signed my exam, but you have not given me a grade.”

“Full Circle” is written by Peggy Keener, the author of two internationally award-winning books: “Potato In A Rice Bowl” and “Wondahful Mammaries.”