Society - People
By: - at October 23, 2013

15 Interesting Facts about Gandhi

Just about everyone knows the name Mohandas Gandhi and some may only know him as Gandhi, but there is no denying that he was truly a great historical figure. With so many things that Gandhi accomplished throughout his life, it is hard to remember all of his accomplishments off the top of ones head. Those living in India tend to know a little more about his life and acts, but everyone in the world should know more about what he did for the people of India. There always seems to be something new you can learn about this particularly interesting and historic figure.

Gandhi

Here are fifteen interesting facts about Gandhi you may not have not already known from history class.


15)  No Relation between Two Gandhis
There has been some confusion over the years with people thinking that Mohandas Gandhi was related to Indira Gandhi.

Gandhi and Young Indira
Gandhi and Young Indira

In fact, there was no relationship between Mohandas Gandhi and Indira who was prime minister of India from 1966-1977 and 1980-1984. Immediately after gaining its independence, Jawaharlal Nehru took the seat of prime minister. He served from 1947-1964. His daughter succeeded him in the position, but Indira's last name was also Gandhi.

Indira Gandhi (left) and Jacqueline Kennedy
Indira Gandi (left) and Jacqueline Kennedy

As an interesting twist, the entire Gandhi political family was victim to assassination plots. Indira was assassinated by her Sikh bodyguards. It was after her time in office that her son Rajiv served as the prime minister of India. He succeeded Indira in office immediately after her death and served as India's prime minister until 1989. While he was not killed in office, but he too was the victim of an assassination plot. He was killed in a suicide bombing that a Sri Lankan terrorist organization claimed responsibility for.

Rajiv Gandhi
Rajiv Gandhi
By Bart Molendijk / Anefo (Nationaal Archief), via Wikimedia Commons

While the future will only say what will truly happen to the remaining Indian politicians with Gandhi as a last name, it is expected that 2014 will be the year that Rahul, Rajiv Gandhi’s son, will take the seat of prime minister. Rahul attended Harvard University and Florida’s Rollins College.

Rahul Gandhi (right) and Prime Minister of Greece George Papandreou
Rahul Gandhi and Prime Minister of Greece George Papandreou
By Office of the Prime Minister of Greece, via Wikimedia Commons

It is hoped he will continue the dynasty as prime minister, but have the fortune to avoid any assassination attempts that his family has been plagued with for generations.


14)  Gandhi Was Very Shy
Everyone knows Gandhi as the strong activist willing to be the voice of an entire nation who stood up to the British government in order to gain independence for India. What you may not know was the crippling shyness his early life was plagued with. Gandhi was not what you would consider a natural born leader. There is one account, according to History.com, of Gandhi running home from school because he did not want to talk to the other students. This is not what you would expect from the man named as the ‘Man of the Year’ by Time Magazine, and who was featured in the late 1990s ad campaign for Apple’s “Think Differently”.

Even in school, Gandhi was not considered one of the best students. He was always in the middle of the class. This was attributed more to his extreme shyness than to his intelligence. He was able to eventually overcome it enough to move on to attend University College London. He graduated with a law degree and was ready to practice law.

Lord Pethick-Lawrence and Gandhi in 1946
Lord Pethick-Lawrence and Gandhi in 1946

Simply getting through college was not enough to cure Gandhi’s shyness. In fact, there is one account of his first trial experience where Gandhi’s knees actually started shaking so badly he had to sit down and admit defeat. This shyness likely did not go away when he was fighting for the independence of India, which points to his conviction to free his people.


13)  Man of Peace Not a Nobel Peace Prize Winner
It is hard to imagine anyone in history more qualified for receiving the Nobel Peace Prize than Gandhi. While it is true that he was never bestowed with the honor, it does not mean that he was not recognized by the committee or even nominated for the award. In fact, Gandhi was nominated several times. The committee put his name up for consideration in 1937, 1938, 1939, 1947, and even in 1948. The committee never said whether he would have received the award had he not been assassinated.

Nehru and Gandhi in 1947 - One of the Last Photographs Before Gandhi's Assassination
Nehru and Gandhi in 1947 - One of the Last Photographs Before Gandhi's Assassination

What we do know is that the committee did not feel it was a good idea to award Gandhi posthumously. They instead gave no awards that year stating that “no suitable living candidate” had presented themselves. In retrospect, the committee announced in 2006 that they regretted never giving Gandhi the prize. In an effort to posthumously recognize Gandhi and his lack of winning the Nobel Peace Prize, both Martin Luther King Jr. and the 14th Dalai Lama mentioned Gandhi in their acceptance speeches. The Dalai Lama even went as far as to recognize Mahatma Gandhi as his mentor. It is an unbelievable honor for someone who was never awarded the honor of the prize themselves to be mentioned by two other Nobel Peace Prize winners.


12)  Fellow Hindu Murdered Gandhi

Nathuram Godse:
Nathuram Godse

Gandhi stood in opposition to anything that would separate the people of India. A misunderstanding of his intentions ultimately led to his death by the hands of a fellow Hindu. Hindu nationalist Nathuram Godse was very sensitive to the plight of India, and followed everything in the national and international media with great intent. He was enraged when Gandhi spoke out against the bloodshed between the Hindus and Muslims over a partition created by the British government to create religious states for each religion (India and Pakistan).

What Godse did not know was that Gandhi had actually expressed his opposition for any partition. He is quoted as saying “Partition is bad. But whatever is past is past. We have only to look to the future.” Unfortunately for Gandhi, this was either never heard by Godse, or Godse did not care, and viewed Gandhi as pandering to Muslims. As a result, Gandhi was shot at close range three times.

 

Birla House Where Gandhi was Assassinated in Delhi
Birla House Where Gandhi was Assassinated in Dehli
By Wilson Loo Kok Wee, via Wikimedia Commons

Godse was quickly arrested along with a co-conspirator and a separatist group who helped orchestrate the plot. The separatist group received prison sentences while Godse and his co-conspirator were hanged for murdering Gandhi. The states of India and Pakistan remain separated to this day.


11)  Gandhi Started Being an Activist in South Africa
India is the country most people associate Gandhi with, but it may come as a surprise to know that he actually started his activism in South Africa. This was a result of Gandhi encountering difficulty finding employment as a lawyer in his homeland and looking else ware for employment opportunities. An Indian law firm in South Africa gave him a one-year legal contract to work in South Africa and with it Gandhi had the opportunity to begin his legal career. While in South Africa, Gandhi was treated poorly and witnessed other Indians being treated badly by the British and Boer (Dutch) governments who ruled South Africa at the time.

Gandhi Working as a Lawyer in South Africa in 1906
Gandhi Working as a Lawyer in South Africa in 1906

Gandhi started working tirelessly to protect the civil rights of the Indians living in South Africa. It was at this time that Gandhi started his use of the concept “satyagraha”, which is Indian for “firmness in truth”.

Gandhi with Stretcher-bearers of the Indian Ambulance Group During Boer War
Gandhi with Stretcher-bearers of the Indian Ambulance Group During Boer War

It also is known as nonviolent resistance, and is the same concept that was later used by civil rights activists like Martin Luther King Jr. during the civil rights movement in the U.S.

Gandhi with the Leaders of the Non-violent Resistance Movement in South Africa
Gandhi with the Leaders of the Non-violent Resistance Movement in South Africa

It was not until 1914 that Gandhi returned to India where he would become the voice of the civil rights movement, and started working for independence for his homeland from English imperialistic rule. It appears that what Gandhi learned in South Africa proved to be effective, because it soon garnered a huge following of like-minded activists searching for peace and unity that would ultimately win India its independence.


10)  Gandhi Was Married at Thirteen
At the age of seven, Gandhi was already engaged to Kasturba Makanji. Gandhi’s marriage was arranged on account that his father was the chief minister for small states in Western India, and it was customary for families of power to arrange marriages for their children. This powerful position meant he had to find a suitable bride for his son. The bride Gandhi's father chose was Kasturba, who was the daughter of a wealthy merchant family and a proper match in the eyes of his father. The two were ultimately married when they reached the age of 13.

Mohandas and Kasturba Gandhi in 1902
Mohandas and Kasturba Gandhi in 1902

The two were highly devoted to one another and ended up having four sons together. The couple remained together until Kasturba died at the age of 74 in 1944. After her death she was interned at the Aga Khan Palace. The palace was located in what is now known as Pune, India. This location was chosen by Gandhi's family due to their political activism starting in the year of 1942 and the significance of the location.

Aga Khan Palace
Aga Khan Palace
By http://www.djoh.net, via Wikimedia Commons

The couple even remained married after Gandhi decided to take a vow of celibacy, further demonstrating their commitment to one another. The vow was to demonstrate his commitment to public service, self-discipline, and spirituality as a great leader. He took the vow in 1906 and his wife stayed by his side without question, supporting him until the day she died.

Kasturba's Gravesite at Aga Khan Palace
Kasturba's Gravesite at Aga Khan Palace
By Tatiraju.rishabh via Wikimedia Commons





9)  Unexpected Tie between Gandhi and Mother Teresa
When thinking about peaceful figures in the history of the world, often Mother Teresa comes to mind just as often as Gandhi's name typically does. It is surprising to learn there is actually another connection between these two massively spiritual leaders. When a historic figure dies, it is customary to parade the casket for the public to see and to mourn the loss of such an influential figure in a funeral procession. In the case of Gandhi, a caisson was used to pull the casket throughout the city. A caisson is another name for a two-wheeled cart that is typically used to carry ammunition during war, and is very similar to the apparatus that was used in Franklin Delano Roosevelt's funeral procession as well as John Fitzgerald Kennedy's. 

Funeral Procession for Gandhi Passing India Gate, Delhi
Funeral Procession for Gandhi Passing India Gate, Delhi

The caisson used in Gandhi's funeral was really nothing more than a gun carriage normally used to carry guns from one location to another. It seems like a rather ironic way to transport the body of such a peaceful individual, but even stranger when you consider the same caisson was used to carry the body of Mother Teresa after her death.

Caisson Used in U.S. Military Burial
Caisson Used in U.S. Military Burial

It is unknown what has happened to the caisson that was incidentally used in both funeral processions. It would be interesting to find out if this particular caisson is being saved by someone out in the world for use for any other historic peaceful figure's funeral procession in the future.


8)  Known for Being Punctual
pocket watchOne of the things those close to Gandhi state about his character is that he was an extremely punctual individual throughout his life. Even though Gandhi had rid himself of worldly possessions, he maintained possession of a pocket watch that only cost a dollar for the entirety of his life. This watch was used regularly to make sure he was on time to whatever engagements he had to be at. It is thought this was something that was either instilled in him by his father or something he learned during his time as a lawyer, and many agree that both had a great deal to do with his extremely punctual nature.

Regardless of where he got his sense of punctuality from, there is no denying the interesting fact that Gandhi was actually ten minutes late to a prayer meeting the day of his assassination. Perhaps, if he had been on time, he might still be alive today. What is known is that Gandhi exhibited rare signs of being upset on the day he was killed, just because he was frustrated at his tardiness.

Gandhi Spinning Yarn - A Testimony to How Simple His Life Was
Gandhi Spinning Yarn - A Testimony to How Simple His Life Was

The pocket watch was sold recently along with personal plans and other meager possessions Gandhi possessed at the time of his death. While the sale of these items for over $2 million probably would not of sat well with Gandhi had he been alive today, it is still a sign of just how important people find him as a historical figure.


Young India- Other Tool Used by Gandhi:
Young India- Other Tool Used by Gandhi

7)  Fumbled First American Radio Broadcast
At the time Gandhi was working toward the independence of India, the radio was the main form of political communication. World news and entertainment were broadcasted over the radio because television had not become as popular as it is today as a form of mass communication. Because of this, Gandhi was set to perform his first radio speech to America via an English sound studio. Even though he would go through several addresses during the years following his first broadcast, it was his first public address he had ever conducted. Gandhi was understandably nervous about how his words would be received by the public. Another form of political communication was a weekly journal published by Gandhi called Young India.

Unfortunately for Gandhi and his ignorance of how broadcast radio worked, his first words of the speech he fumbled poorly. Gandhi did not know that the microphone was already broadcasting his speech and Gandhi was accidentally recorded as saying, “Do I have to speak into this thing?” His voice was immediately broadcasted to the United States and unfortunately he initially came across as quite naive to the listening public.

Gandhi's First Falter Did not Stop Him from Achieving Intense Popularity in America - Graffiti in San Francisco
Gandhi's First Falter Did not Stop Him from Achieving Intense Popularity in America - Graffiti in San Francisco
By Victorgrigas via Wikimedia Commons

While it is likely that this was slightly embarrassing for Gandhi, he was able to overcome the fumble quickly enough to save his entire broadcast. Soon, Gandhi found his footing and spoke from a position of relative comfort in relation to his rocky start. As mentioned above, he would go on to broadcast over the radio many more times at home and abroad, most likely becoming much better at delivering radio broadcasts.


6)  Corresponded with Leo Tolstoy
Gandhi had many influences over the years that shaped his thinking. Among these is Leo Tolstoy's, "The Kingdom of God Is Within You". It was Tolstoy’s belief in nonviolent resistance that helped influence Gandhi to become a nonviolent leader in the face of social unrest. It was also due to Gandhi reading this book that inspired correspondence between the two men. Tolstoy’s belief was that it was the responsibility of the individual to denounce aristocracy as a burden. While anarchy might not have been an ideal Gandhi shared with Tolstoy, the idea of abstinence, chastity and opposition to private property resonated heavily with Gandhi.

Leo Tolstoy in 1897
Leo Tolstoy in 1897

Most of the letters dealt with questions from Gandhi to Tolstoy about the theological applications in respect to nonviolent resistance. In some of the other letters, Gandhi speaks about Tolstoy’s health and wishes him well and a speedy recovery.

Gandhi Fasting and Spinning Yarn
Gandhi Spinning Yarn

The period of communication between the two was brief, with only a 13 month period of time between the start of their communication in October of 1909 and the closing of it in November of 1910. One letter written to an Indian newspaper titled “A Letter to a Hindu” was a direct result of this stimulating intellectual correspondence.


5)  Brought Copy of Civil Disobedience to Round Table
In 1931, Gandhi was heavily involved in India’s fight for independence from the British government's rule over the Indian people. And rightfully so, he was welcomed to several Round Table Conferences. Gandhi was well-known for austere living at all times. It was shocking to many to see Gandhi bring along a book with him to the second Round Table Conference. The title of the book was not as shocking as the mere fact that he brought along reading material and was titled, "Civil Disobedience," by Henry David Thoreau.

Henry David Thoreau
Henry David Thoreau

In the book, the American writer talked about the need for individuals within a society to take responsibility for the actions of their government, and to not stand idly by as the people of the nation are treated unjustly. It was his position that any citizen not taking up opposition to governmental tyranny was, in fact, becoming an agent of injustice as wrong as the government itself. The motivation for the book was national disgust over slavery that was becoming rampant during the Mexican-American War.

1931 Round Table Conference
1931 Round Table Conference

This book seems to have had a profound influence on Gandhi's thinking and sent a message to the other members of the Round Table Conference as to the exact position that Gandhi was bringing to the discussion. It was his intent to free the Indian people from a tyrannous government.


4)  Gandhi Liked to Joke
It is understandably hard to think about such a serious thinker as a ‘jokester’, but Gandhi was far from staunch. Gandhi liked to joke with those around him in order to bring a smile to the faces of those who might otherwise be rather challenging to get a smile out of. In one account, Gandhi was asked how he felt about Western Civilization. His response was delivered lightheartedly and he said that he felt it would be a good idea to have civilization in the west.

Gandhi Cracking a Smile
Gandhi Cracking a Smile

This is surprising coming from the same person who is quoted as saying, “The greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the way its animals are treated.” It may be surprising for some to understand the drastic change from his seriousness to almost joke-like tone, but knowing Gandhi's personality, it all makes sense. He wanted to put everyone at ease when working through something extremely difficult, especially at events such as Round Table discussions or the debate of the separation of Pakistan and India. 

Gandhi and the Next Prime Minister of India Nehru in 1946
Gandhi and the Next Prime Minister of India Nehru in 1946

The last thing Gandhi desired was to create tension where no further tension could probably be handled. He took great steps to make sure those around him were as comfortable as possible, while going about the extremely difficult and strenuous process of freeing the Indian people.


3)  Gandhi Went to School While Jack the Ripper Terrorized London
One of the most peaceful men of all time just happened to be going to school in London at the same time that Jack the Tipper was making headlines all throughout the British press. Gandhi went to school in 1888 while Jack the Ripper was going around London killing one prostitute after another. There is nothing recorded stating what his feelings on the terrorizing situation were, but the murders are sure to have had some influence on his attitude toward violence.

Published Wanted Poster for the Killer Known as Jack the Ripper
Published Wanted Poster for the Killer Known as Jack the Ripper

Gandhi spent most of his time at college either in the classroom or studying. It is unlikely that the historical figure was ever even close to any sections of London in which Jack the Ripper might have been doing his dirty work. Even at that time, Gandhi had more important matters to attend to than keeping up with the actions of a killer.

Jack the Ripper was never actually caught and the murder remains an unsolved mystery to this day. It is odd that someone who killed so many people was able to get away with it. Normally someone will have seen something or reported something that would lead to knowing the identity of the killer. This led to many believing that the culprit may have been an English Lord or some other person of high social esteem. 


2)  Gandhi Was a Big Walker
Walking had always been a big part of Gandhi’s life. Even while in school, he preferred to walk long distances rather than get involved in organized sports. It was his belief that walking was the best exercise, and credited it to remaining in great health even in the later years of his life. To wit, Gandhi was able to easily walk the 241 miles of the Salt March of 1930. He was 60 years old when he walked from his ashram to Dandi and the sea.

Gandhi During the Salt March
Gandhi During the Salt March

gandhi walking in london rainWhile living in London, Gandhi was able to save money as a result of choosing walking as his preferred means of transportation. He would walk eight to ten miles a day, and claimed it was the only thing that was maintaining his health while living in a foreign land. Walking became a big part of any conversation those around Gandhi would have. They would walk and talk when they were not sitting and enjoying tea together.

Gandhi’s love of walking is associated in the minds of many as marching symbolically as a form of protesting. Before Gandhi, the idea of marching as a form of political dissent was fairly unheard of but would later be employed by the NAACP and Martin Luther King Jr.


1)  Gandhi Was a Lawyer People Could Respect
When talking about a lawyer, most people do not hold them a very high esteem due to the nature of their profession. In fact, Gandhi went to school to become a lawyer and even practiced law in South Africa, but he was never the kind of lawyer that had the reputation of being shady or a cheat. Gandhi was committed to bringing about compromise in the cases he tried, instead of the typical tactics of manipulating the system or the testimonies of key witnesses. He said that this was a result of his recognition of a lawyer's true role being to bring parties together, rather than to create further separations and discontent.

It was his belief that it was because of the way he practiced law that he never compromised his soul. He stated that he never lost because he was able to create a compromise that both parties could agree upon.

Gandhi in the 1920s
Gandhi in the 1920s

It was this belief of creating compromise that made him so prolific in activism, as well as when he practiced law. The same principles that applied to tending to legal matters, helped when dealing with heads of state and mobs of angry religious followers. He took his role very seriously, and worked hard to bring about change in the most conscientious and effective manner possible.


Further Investigation of Gandhi
This is only an account of some of the most interesting facts about Gandhi. A look at the accomplishments of the man allows you to understand even more about what he was all about. While it is interesting to learn things like Gandhi spoke English with an Irish accent thanks to learning English from an Irishman, there is so much more to this pivotal, historic figure. Learn about the people he met with to try to reach great compromises and the struggles he encountered throughout his life. You may be astonished to discover some of the intense difficulties he encountered trying to win India her independence, only to be killed for a misunderstanding of his intent of only a single phrase he spoke only a single time during a speech about the separation of Pakistan and India. His memory will live on in the hearts and minds of people everywhere, especially within the hearts and minds of the Indian and British people for generations. 


 

 

 

 

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