Mahatma Gandhi has been a great man of our times, and it has indeed not been possible yet to evaluate how great he was. For more than 50 years I have been thinking of the institution that was he–first when I knew only his writings, then for 33 years as an associate, and also since his death. The more I think the greater and deeper seems to be the human treasure-house that was Gandhiji, and the more I feel that the personality of this maker of our era was truly amazing.


It is said that if we read the works of Tagore and Aurobindo we know the depth of these intellectual giants. But one does not get the impression that they have much more worth saying than they have said. In contrast Gandhiji, despite his simple, straight-forward language, seems to the man who read his works to be much deeper than it appears through the peep he has in his mind.


When Gandhiji’s younger son, Devdas, was a child, a white man asked him: “What is the philosophy of your father?” The boy replied, “My father’s philosophy is too simple to understand.” In one way this statement is literally true. Four words–truth, violence, self-discipline and selfless service–give the epitome of his faith. He would often say that whatever other faults a man might have, they would be banished by truth. But his truth had a very wide definition. To his mind truth and God were indistinguishable.


Talking to any man Gandhiji’s eyes showed a spontaneous thy, so that it was easy for him to understand whatever he meant. He would correctly assess his point of view and give such advice as would, with the effort he was capable of, give him success. After long and close observation of him and his methods, I am convinced that he had more faith in our capabilities than we ourselves. Even in face of flagging faith he would tell us that we would accomplish the job about which we had doubts, and we found invariably that we indeed could do it. This is not my experience alone but of innumerable others. I recall the veteran Abbas Tyabji, who once told me that Gandhiji had not accomplished through us jobs which we thought we could not and which we could still not do on our own.


This is why Romain Rolland called him a “poly-psychologist”, or a man who could understand the psychology of various individuals and societies. From the unlettered Tamil and Telugu labourers of South Africa to the anti-religious English intellectual, Charles Bradlaugh, only he had the capacity to correctly understand the psychology of all. He never lost an argument even with argumentative intellectuals, yet he never tried to show off his intellectual capacity. Humility was like a shield to him. Study, thinking, and experience had raised his intellectual capacity so high that we lose track of it. In contrast, his own capacity to assess others was never found wanting. Perhaps it is characteristic of individuals who dominate an era that they invariably have the width, depth and freshness to accomplish the objects they set out to serve.


Modesty: Gandhiji’s qualities were unabounded. As an example, though he had unshakable faith in his principles and unlimited self-confidence, he was extraordinarily modest. He would say that man either had inborn modesty or had none; unlike other qualities it could not be acquired. To try to be modest would only create artificiality, and if one made extraordinary efforts to acquire it, he would get along with it and pride of being modest.


Once again during conversation he remarked that if one was fifty, was he to say out of modesty that he was only 45, or 49? A truthful man would not boast of his knowledge, character or faith; If he is modest he would only say that he did not know if his knowledge, character and faith would be able to stand the test. Where great men had faltered it was not for a common man to assert that he would not.


Whenever referring to a failing of anybody, Gandhi would always add that he did not know if he himself could have stood the test. All one could say was that if we had faith in God, He was bound to give us strength.


This was Gandhiji’s modesty. He had faith, self-confidence and character and had the determination top carry his efforts to the limit of his capacity, but at all times his determination would not deteriorate into foolhardiness, forsaking propriety. Perhaps his modesty was the obverse of faith in self and in truth, Perhaps any person utterly devoted to truth is bound to be modest and lack vanity.


Gandhiji’s humility was evident from social relations. He was all-veneration for veterans, like Dadabhai Naoroji, but even with leaders of his own time like Tilak, Chittaranjan Das, Motilal Nehru, Poet Tagore, Sir M. Visvesaraya and Hakim Ajmal Khan he was modest to a fault.


Mrs. Annie Besant had bitterly criticised Gandhiji after their differences came to a head, but he continued to have and show the same respect to her as of old. It is difficult to say how much of it was due to his own modesty and how much due to chivalry for a woman. When he was presiding over the Belgaum Congress and Mrs. Annie Besant entered, he stepped down and escorted her to the dais close to his presidential seat. How could he forget that she was a predecessor of him as Congress President?


Once I had a rather sharp discussion with Gandhiji and remarked, “You advise youth to be obedient. Of course they should obey their leaders, but you do not seem to realize how difficult it is to work as a subordinate. Whether in South Africa or in India, you have been only a leader, not a follower. You have no doubt capacity to take work from people according to their capacities. But you have always had to tell others what to do, never to obey others’ instructions.”


Gandhiji replied simply: “In my childhood I obeyed my father. Apart from that, when I came from South Africa to India I worked as a volunteer under the direction of the Congress

Secretary, Shri Ghoshal.” It was an example of a straight, to the point and modest reply. And really, come to think of it, the man who had worked as a Barrister in South Africa working as a Congress volunteer. Not only this, the Congress General Secretary would make him do various odd jobs also, like buttoning his own coat.


“Freedom From Prejudice: One quality I noticed in Gandhiji was his freedom from prejudices. Once there was a talk of his going to Finland. He had accepted the invitation. I mentioned its geographical situation and its vulnerability to pressures both from Europe and Asia. His reply was: “I do not know anything about Finland yet. But it will be a sufficient reward to confer with people who invite me.”


Gandhiji by nature had faith in others. Also, he always maintained that what he could do, others could also do. Despite bitter experiences, he would never lose hope or be uncharitable to others. It was a matter of principle for him to believe, rather than disbelieve, others. If the faith is belied, he would say, one can rectify the situation. But to begin with disbelief is not good not only morally, but even practically. He said: “I do not follow a decision made beforehand. Instead I try to fashion the path according to the situation and I try to fashion it according to principles and practicability. I cannot let myself be bound by prejudices, except the prejudice in favour of truth and world welfare.”


This is a point of view which needs to be thought over deeply. Mankind, especially in India and ancient Greece, tried to put its experience in particular philosophical moulds, and then saw nature and psychology through the view given by the mould. All philosophy has in this way degenerated into moulds.


Gandhiji regarded truth as God and non-violence as the path to reach it. He did not allow spurious rationality or mechanical consistency to saddle him. Thinking from his own unprejudiced mind, he would follow his intuition, and once having got the way try to get arguments to explain his intuitive decisions. This is what explains his success in life. He was not afraid to commit mistakes. He even defined Swarajya as “the right to commit mistakes and to learn from them.”


This is why Gandhiji did not try to fashion a philosophy of his own. He said so long as he was alive he would constantly make experiments, and so long as these experiments continued his philosophy of life could not be finalised. In a nutshell Gandhiji put his faith in an action-filled, experimenting life, not in pre-conceived notions. He was not a slave to any pre-arranged programmes or system. Only when we appreciate this can we assess the real value of his unceasing experiments with truth.


If we wish to express real gratitude to Gandhiji on occasion of his centenary, for his unparalleled services to the country and for his unparalleled efforts for its emotional integration, we should try to fulfil and bring to life his dream of welding together the various clans, races, religions and cultures inhabiting India.