Quotes from Gandhi: His Life and Message for the World, by Louis Fischer


- ‘If Gandhi had lived in India three thousand years ago his birth would have been wrapped in myths and his youth in miracles.’ (8)
- ‘When doubts haunt me, when disappointments stare me in the face, and I see not one ray of hope on the horizon, I turn to the Bhagavad-Gita, and find a verse to comfort me; and I immediately begin to smile in the midst of overwhelming sorrow.’ Gandhi (15)
- ‘The tale of Krishna’s life on Earth mingles legend with hazy prehistoric fact. God, the story says, incarnated himself in the womb of an Indian king’s sister, and Krishna was thus born without the intervention of man.’ (15)
- ‘He who broods over results is like a man given to the objects of senses; he is ever-distracted, he says good-by to all scruples, everything is right in his estimation and he therefore resorts to means fair and foul to attain his end.’ (18)
- ‘Called to the bar on June 10, 1891, he enrolled in the High Court on June 11, and without spending a single extra day in England, sailed for Bombay on June 12.’ (19)
- ‘Gandhi did not believe in renunciation for its own sake or to torment the flesh. ‘A mother,’ he wrote in a letter,’ would never by choice sleep in a wet bed but she would gladly do so in order to spare the dry bed for her child.’ ’ (31)
- ‘Any documentary film of Gandhi in India shows his almost total unawareness of self and oneness with others in contrast to the self-consciousness and conspicuous stage mannerisms of the lesser politician.’ (31-32)
- ‘In renunciation, it is not the comforts, luxuries and pleasures that are hard to give up. Many could forgo heavy meals, a full wardrobe, a fine house, etcetera; it is the ego that they cannot forgo. The self that is wrapped, suffocated, in material things – which include social position, popularity, and power – is the only self they know and they will not abandon it for an illusory new self, for a different life, shorn of material trappings, which they may never attain, which perhaps does not exist, not for them, at any rate, and not in their surroundings. Gandhi, however, had the courage to jump from the solid ground of his old self into the unknown where, by some unfathomable endowment, he knew he could find a shelf from which to move his world. It was not easy. It must have been physically painful. He was powerfully sexed; women attracted him even after his vow. He had a ‘capacious stomach’, he said, and a strong appetite. He was earning well and might have become a very rich lawyer.’ (33)
- ‘Gandhi never sought to humiliate or defeat the whites in South Africa or the British in India . He wished to convert them. He hoped that if he practiced the Sermon on the Mount, General Jan Christiaan Smuts would remember he was a Christian.’ (35)
- ‘A Satyagrahi bids good-by to fear. He is therefore never afraid to trust the opponent. Even if the opponent plays him false twenty times, the Satyagrahi is ready to trust him the twenty-first time.’ (36)
- ‘He lived a frugal, Spartan existence, sleeping in the open, except when it rained, on a thin cloth.’ (38)
- ‘Gandhi became the cook for seventy-five of his compatriots in one prison. He also performed hard labor which blistered his hands, and volunteered to clean the toilets.’ (38)
- ‘There are thousands who are in opinion opposed to slavery and war who yet do nothing to put an end to them. There are nine hundred and ninety-nine patrons of virtue to every virtuous man.’ Thoreau (39)
- ‘Romain Rolland, who had come under the influence of Tolstoy, made a shrewd comparison between Tolstoy and Gandhi. ‘With Gandhi,’ Rolland wrote in 1924, ‘everything is nature, modest, simple, pure – while all his struggles are hallowed by religious serenity, whereas with Tolstoy everything is proud revolt against pride, hatred against hatred, passion against passion. Everything in Tolstoy is violence, even his doctrine of nonviolence.’ ’ (40)
- ‘[Gandhi did] at all moments what he thought right and not what he thought expedient, or comfortable, or profitable, or popular, or safe, or impressive.’ (40)
- ‘1913, the government released Gandhi and Polak and Kallenbach, who had been arrested with him. ‘All of us,’ Gandhi commented, ‘were disappointed upon our release.’ ’ (46)
- ‘[Gandhi] sailed for England on July 18, 1914. Before leaving he sent General Smuts a gift of a pair of leather sandals he had made in prison. Smuts wore them on his farm near Pretoria until 1939 when, as a gesture of friendship, he returned them to Gandhi in India, saying, ‘I have worn these sandals for many a summer since then, even though I may feel that I am not worthy to stand in the shoes of so great a man.’ ’ (48)
- ‘Gandhi craved for his country a psychological metamorphosis which would give it inner freedom and, then, inevitably, outer freedom, for once the people acquired individual dignity they would insist on better living and nobody would hold them in bondage.’ (54)
- ‘Many British officials were devoted to the country, and, after twenty of more years’ service, felt at home in India and like foreigners when they went home to England. They ate out their hearts and ruined their health coping with difficult problems and difficult people whose gratitude they craved but rarely received.’ (61)
- ‘Imperialism is government of other people by other people for other people. It is a perpetual insult, for it assumes that the outsider has the right to rule the insiders who cannot rule themselves. Even if the British had converted India into a land flowing with milk and honey – they did make some deserts flow with ample water – they would have been disliked. Subjection breeds a desire for liberation. Hence imperialism digs its own grace – and there can be no good colonizers.’ (61)
- ‘Ready to die for a principle, [Gandhi] preferred to compromise and arbitrate.’ (62)
- ‘[Gandhi] did not worry about losing ‘face’ by admitting error. He had none of the dictator’s yearning for infallibility. On the contrary, ‘it is only when one sees one’s own mistakes with a convex lens, and does just the reverse in the case of others,’ he said in his autobiography, ‘that one is able to arrive at a just relative estimate of the two.’ He exaggerated his own blunders and minimized his neighbor’s. Somebody once suggested that he might lose his moral authority. ‘Moral authority is never retained by attempting to hold on to it,’ was his retort. ‘It comes without seeking it and is retained without effort.’ ’ (64)
- ‘At the Nagpur Congress session in December, 1920, Gandhi accordingly promised that if India ’s nonco-operation remained nonviolent, government would arrive in a year.’ (68)
- ‘ ‘Let the opponent glory in our humiliation of so-called defeat,’ he cried. ‘It is better to be charged with cowardice and weakness than to be guilty of denial of our oath and to sin against God. It is a million times better to appear untrue before the world than to be untrue to ourselves.’ ’ (71)
- ‘Throughout life, Gandhi explored new fields of communication. Sometimes he would go to a huge mass meeting, but instead of delivering a speech he would sit cross-legged and sway and say nothing and then he would smile and touch his palms together in the Hindu greeting and the crowd would kneel and weep. He had communicated. He had touched their hearts. In interviews, Gandhi did not merely make statements and answer questions. His chief purpose was to establish a close relationship with the other person because that contributed more to understanding than his words.’ (75-76)
- ‘Gandhi never fasted to wring advantages from the British government. His fasts were directed to his own people because between them and him a chord of sympathy presumably existed on which fasting played. A fast had to be unselfish.’ (76)
- ‘All through life he was an irrepressible fundraiser. The sums were used to buy spinning wheels for peasants, open city stores for village khadi, and train spinning and weaving teachers. As his train stopped at stations he would cup his palm out the window so people could put coins and bills into it.’ (83)
- ‘If we do not waste our wealth and energy, the climate and natural resources of our country are such that awe can become the happiest people in the world.’ Gandhi (84)
- ‘His ideal village, he write in Harijan of July 26, 1942, would be a ‘complete republic, independent of its neighbors for its vital wants, and yet interdependent for many wants in which dependence is necessary.’ It would feed itself and grow ‘useful crops’ – not opium – for sale, and have schools, a theater, a clean water supply, public halls, and electricity in every hut – surely evidence of his acceptance of western techniques when they benefit the mass of needy individuals. A self-governing, self-reliant village, trading chiefly with nearby self-sufficient villages and importing a minimum of complicated appliances, was Gandhi’s recipe for democracy in Asia… There is no support for the oft-repeated assumption that Mahatma Gandhi advocated regress to a preindustrial society; he wanted progress with the aid of western technology but not at the expense of man the animal and man the spiritual human being.’ (87)
- ‘To Gandhi, mechanization or any other form of progress was not an end in itself; he judged material advances by their moral and spiritual effects on human beings.’ (88)
- ‘His menu for the growth of individuals was fearlessness. Prophet of nonviolence, he nevertheless declared that ‘where there is a choice between cowardice and violence, I would choose violence,’ for cowardice reduces a man’s self-respect and hence his stature. Gandhi himself had no fear; it is this more than any other quality which accounts for his growth from the ordinary person he was in his twenties and early thirties to the mountain of a man he ultimately became. He did not fear governments, jails, death – it would unite him with his God – illness – he could conquer it – hunger, unpopularity, criticism, or rejection.’ (89)
- ‘He respected dissent. It is the hallmark of manhood.’ (91)
- ‘In argument he never tried to overbear or overwhelm the opponent by intellectual bludgeoning. He made the opponent a fellow seeker after truth. The aim was to covert, never to coerce or suppress.’ (93)
- ‘ ‘Isolated independence is not the goal, it is voluntary interdependence.’ Liberated colonies so treasure their new-found independence they think it is a viable reality. But the law of nature, in love, friendship, work, progress, and security, is creative interdependence.’ (105)
- ‘The British government had assigned two Scotland Yard detectives to guard Gandhi in England . They were special policemen, giants in size, who usually protected royalty. They grew to like ‘the little man’. Unlike most dignitaries, Gandhi did not keep them at arm’s length or ignore them. He discussed public affairs with them and visited their homes. Before leaving England he requested that they be allowed to accompany him to BrindisiItaly , whence he would sail for India . Their chief asked the reason why. ‘Because they are part of my family,’ Gandhi replied. From India he sent each a watch engraved ‘With love from M.K. Gandhi.’ ’ (106)
- ‘Some untouchables have tried, by accepting Christianity or Islam, to escape their dire, humiliating lot, but the fifty or sixty million of them bow to fate in the belief that they are doing penance for ancestral wickedness and in the hope of elevation in an incarnation yet to be.’ (111)
- ‘In the early years of his Mahatmahood, Gandhi favored the case system. ‘I consider the four divisions to be fundamental, natural, and essential,’ he said in 1920, and on October 6, 1921, he wrote in Young India, ‘prohibition against intermarriage and interdining is essential for the rapid evolution of the soul.’ This defense of an ignoble aspect of Hindu orthodoxy stands as a quotable charge against him, but he actually reversed himself in word and deed. ‘Restriction on intercaste dining and intercaste marriage,’ he declared on November 4, 1932, ‘is no part of the Hindu religion. Today, these two prohibitions are weakening Hindu society.’ ’ (111-112)
- ‘He was able to say in the Hindustan Standard of January 4, 1946, ‘I therefore tell all boys and girls who want to marry that they cannot be married at Sevegram Ashram [to which Gandhi moved after he left Sabarmati] unless one of the parties is an untouchable.’ ’ (112)
- ‘Returned to India , he attended a Bombay meeting in May, 1918, called to improve the conditions of untouchables. On being introduced he asked, ‘Is there an untouchable here?’ and when no hand was raised he refused to deliver his address.’ (113)
- ‘One morning a man, later revealed as Ambalal Sarabhai, the biggest textile manufacturer in Ahmedabad, drove up in a car, put thirteen thousand rupees in bills in Gandhi’s hand and departed.’ (113)
- ‘At the very beginning of [Gandhi’s 1932] fast week, the famous Kalighat Temple of Calcutta and the Ram Mandir of Benares, citadels of Hindu orthodoxy, were thrown open to untouchables for the first time in thousands of years of Hindu history… During the six-day fast, weddings were postponed, and most Hindus refrained from going to cinemas, theaters, and restaurants. A spirit of reform, penance, and self-purification swept the land.’ (123)
- ‘The fast transformed antiuntouchable discrimination from a religious duty into a moral sin and wrote into life a bill of Harijan rights.’ (124)
- ‘He lived without a wall, accessible to everybody; he ate, slept, walked, talked, worked, read, and spun in public, and all his acts and thoughts were public property.’ (125)
- ‘He answered every letter in his voluminous correspondence, and never formally.’ (128)
- ‘ ‘And so,’ commented Dr. E. Stanley Jones… ‘one of the most Christlike men in history was not called a Christian at all.’ ’ (130)
- ‘I do believe that in the other world there are neither Hindus, nor Christians, nor Moslems.’ Gandhi (131)
- ‘Gandhi occasionally chided the missionaries for making Christians of hungry Indians whom they fed and sick Indians whom they healed. ‘Make us better Hindus,’ he pleaded. Gandhi could have converted many Christians to Hinduism. At a hint from him, Miss Slade and others would have become Hindus. He just told them to be good Christians.’ (131)
- ‘ ‘We have too many men of science, too few men of God. We have grasped the mystery of the atom and rejected the Sermon on the Mount.’ This was not Gandhi speaking, but General Omar N. Bradley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff of the United States armed forces, in a speech in Boston on November 10, 1948. ‘Ours,’ Bradley continued, ‘is a world of nuclear giants and ethical infants. We know more about war than we know about peace, more about killing than we know about living.’ ’ (133)
- ‘His body did not give the impression of age. His skin was soft and smooth, and had a healthy glow. His beautiful hands did not shake when he ate or wrote. He never reminisced. Lloyd George in his seventies would commence to answer a question on current events and soon be talking about his conduct of a First World War campaign or his fight for social reform at the turn of the century. Gandhi concentrated on plans for the future and the struggles of the day.’ (141)
- ‘He wore his dentures only for eating and after a meal took them out and washed them in public.’ (142)
- ‘You heard not just words, you heard his thoughts being born. You did not receive a polished propaganda product as with most politicians; you watched a mental process which was creative for him and you.’ (142)
- ‘All the props of a big man’s impressiveness – the palace or historic mansion, the guards, the wait in the antechamber, the closed door about to open, the power of the office – were lacking.’ (142)
- ‘Living with him one could see why he was loved: he loved. Not merely in isolated incidents, but day in, and day out, morning, noon, and night, for decades, in every act and word, he had manifested his love of individuals and of mankind.’ (142-143)
- ‘Some had written and spoken as well as he or better. Gandhi’s greatness lay in doing what others might do but don’t.’ (143)
- ‘Gandhi would rise at 4 in the morning, walk three or four miles, sometimes in bare feet, to a nearby village, remain there one or two or three days talking and praying incessantly with the inhabitants, and then trek to the next rural settlement. He lived in the huts of peasants who agreed to harbor him, and subsisted on local fruits and vegetables and goat’s milk if available. That was his life from November 7, 1946, to March 2, 1947; he had just passed his seventy-seventy birthday. In those four months he lived in 49 villages.’ (164)
- ‘The division of India caused the death of hundreds of thousands of Indians and the uprooting of fifteen million who became refugees. It brought on the war in Kashmir, gigantic economic losses to all parts of the Indian subcontinent, and a continuing religious-nationalistic bitterness with disastrous effects and potentials.’ (171)
- ‘The crystals of Indian nationalism were not yet packed together in a hard enough mass to prevent the axe of religion from cutting it in two. Britain granted national freedom to India beforeIndia had become a nation; therefore she became two nations.’ (176)
- ‘Gandhi was really like the father of a nation still unborn.’ (176)
- ‘His goal had never been the ejection of the British and the substitution of government by Indians. Two-part independence sired by religion out of hate and power and lust and delivered in a pool of blood gave him no please. He had the strength and courage to reject it; this is the true dimension of his greatness. India achieved her independence on August 15, 1947, but Gandhi announced that he ‘cannot participate in the celebrations.’ ’ (176)
- ‘Yet faith never left him. ‘No cause that is intrinsically just can ever be described as forlorn.’ ’ (176)
- ‘ St. Francis of Assisi was hoeing his garden when someone asked what he would do if he were suddenly to learn that he would die before sunset that very day. ‘I would finish hoeing my garden,’ he replied.’ (177)
- ‘Government ministers pressed Gandhi to accept a guard and have worshippers searched. The idea repelled him.’ (188)
- ‘His legacy is courage, his lesson truth, his weapon love. His life is his monument.’ (189)

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