Gandhi’s Grandson Shares Lessons for Nonviolent Life

Arun Gandhi Grandson of Mahatma Gandhi

How would your parents or caregivers had responded if you had, on multiple occasions, disruptively, and for no good reason, burst into a room where they were either working, or conducting important meetings?

For many, the resounding answer would be punishment, or at least a stern talking to. Arun Gandhi recalled during an assembly Tuesday morning at Hatboro-Horsham High School, that his grandfather, Mohandas Gandhi, did neither.

Instead, the late leader of India, whose penchant for righting social and political injustices through peaceful and non-violent actions, paused from his “high-level political discussions” – which in the mid-1940s were aiming to tackle weighty issues including the independence of his country and the emancipation of women – and simply placed his hand over his grandson’s mouth. With the then 12-year-old Arun Gandhi quieted, the elder Gandhi continued talking.  

“He could control his anger to that extent,” Gandhi told a crowd of juniors and seniors. “If we make an attempt to achieve 50 percent of that … it will make a difference.”

After he “barged in” numerous times, Arun Gandhi said the political leaders his grandfather had been meeting with urged him to simply give in so the boy would go away. But, the man nicknamed Mahatma, or the “great soul” remained steadfast in refusing to give his grandson an autograph without the child paying for it – and first earning the money to do so. After all, everyone else had to pay and family was no exception.

“I never felt neglected,” Gandhi later told about three dozen freshman and sophomores from English and social studies classes gathered around in a circle. “He thought all human beings were part of the family.”

Gandhi’s visits to the Hatboro-Horsham High School auditorium and classrooms throughout Tuesday were part of a “diversity awareness” program to help teach students about tolerance, according to Principal Dennis Williams.

And tolerance, coupled with the ability to learn to control his anger, was something Arun Gandhi said he had to learn as well. As a 10-year-old living in South Africa, Gandhi said he faced discrimination because of his skin color and was beat up by white and African children alike. The constant bullying taught him the “eye for an eye” notion and he began working out at the gym to get strong so he could fight back.

His parents, who were concerned about their son’s desire to seek revenge, sent him to live with his grandfather, Mohandas Gandhi, for what would be the next 18 months. Over that course of time, he learned countless lessons from his grandfather. But nothing, he said, compares to the ability to deal with one’s anger.

“Anger is a wonderful emotion,” Gandhi said. “We need to be ashamed of the way we abuse it and not of the emotion itself. Anger is like electricity … It can be just as deadly and destructive.”

Gandhi’s visit was organized by the Hatboro-Horsham Educational Foundation, which is hosting an evening gathering with Gandhi at 7:30 p.m. tonight. Executive Director Laurie Rosard said who better than Gandhi to illustrate not only diversity, but an “alternative view of the world.”

“We thought he’d be able to bring history alive,” Rosard said, adding that the discussions gave students a chance to meet him. “They’ve heard the name many times.”

Junior Amanda Simon, along with senior Raghu Vaddempudi, introduced Gandhi during the student assemblies. Simon, a student ambassador, said she could tell after hearing him speak that he is “pleasant and peaceful.”

The biggest lesson Simon said she got out of reading Gandhi’s books and hearing him speak was to “look at things on the bright side and not revolt.”

Vaddempudi said he especially enjoyed the lessons about anger and how it impacts our personal lives. 

“I never thought of how Gandhi’s philosophy applied to my life.”

Coincidentally, neither did Arun Gandhi. During the time he lived with his grandfather, Arun Gandhi said even though hundreds “assembled outside just to get a glimpse of him,” he did not truly understand the significance of his grandfather’s impact then, or the role it would later play on his life.

“I’ve been looking at this legacy as a life,” Gandhi said. “It’s showing me the way to create peace in the world.”

No longer barging into important political meetings, the younger Gandhi, who has been traveling the world speaking to young people since 1987, now encourages individuals to save half of their “pocket money” to create a fund used to build schools in impoverished countries. Within six months time, students at a middle school in Portland, Oregon, for example, collected almost $5,000 and sent it to Arun Gandhi.

“Our lives are not meant to be lived from day to day,” Gandhi said. “Our lives are meaningful. We all have to contribute to make this world a better place for future generations.”

Using a Web site called Yorn students were able to submit questions during the assemblies with their smart phones. Here’s a sampling of some of the questions students asked of Arun Gandhi:

Question: Were there ideas that your grandfather had that you did not agree with?

“I didn’t agree with all of his eating habits. He didn’t have any favorite dishes. He didn’t live to eat. He ate to live.”

Question: Do you believe we can achieve world peace?

“It is possible if we make it possible … If we have that commitment to create that peace we can create it, but it has to begin with each one of us.”

Question: What is your opinion on the deaths of Osama bin Laden and Muammar Gaddafi?”

“I don’t like violence. I don’t like war … find out why those people hate us so much that they want to destroy us. Change our relationship if it needs to be changed.

(On the ongoing wars in Iraq and Afghanistan) “We went out and destroyed our own people … nearly 7,000 people. We haven’t achieved much. We have just created more hate towards us … We didn’t do this to protect ourselves. We did it to seek revenge for ourselves. We shouldn’t mix the two up.”

Question: Should prisons be used to hold people who have committed crimes?

“We do need prisons. They should be places where we treat them and give them education and change them,” Gandhi said, adding that now prisons offer a “good gym and a law library.” “They come out of the prison stronger criminals instead of stronger human beings … We focus more on the person than the problem. We see crim increasing … and that is because we have not addressed the problem.”