In India we venerate Gandhiji as the Father of Our Nation. Every October 2nd we remember him and thank him for helping India get her freedom. Mostly though we see him on the Indian currency and in portraits in many government offices.
But who was Gandhiji and what made him loved by a whole nation of people? How did he manage to bring together people of different communities, religions and castes together to fight for the idea of one India? What were the dreams of the future the father of the nation had for his country?
Some of the answers to these questions can be found in the Young India Books Children’s Choice Award 2016 winner "My Gandhi Story". The book is a creation of Rajesh Chaitya Vangad, Nina Sabnani and Ankit Chadha.
The first thing that catches the eye is the beautiful Warli paintings, a style unique to the tribal Adivasis or tribals living in the Gujarat and Maharashtra border. The entire book feels like a mural with a storyteller narrating Gandhiji’s story.
The narrator is an artist too who decides to draw Gandhiji on the wall, while others choose Buddha and Mother Teresa, all excellent choices.
The artist says he chose Gandhi because he was like the people of India. He too worked hard all his life not just in writing policies or drafting political speeches but by actually working and doing every possible sort of job.
"At different times in his life he was a farmer,carpenter, weaver, tailor, barber, cook, sweeper, nurse...Everyone should learn to do everything, he said."
Children can learn about what the Father of the nation was like as a child. He was just a regular child who was very shy and found his multiplication tables difficult! He also loved the passing ships in his port town, Porbandar.
Gandhiji went to England to study and found everything new and different. He tried very hard to fit in by dressing and eating like them. The book talks about the first time Gandhiji comes face to face with discrimination. Gandhiji was thrown out of the train despite having a ticket simply because he was brown. This made him very angry and he decided to fight this injustice. After 20 years he decided to come back to India and fight against the British. Before that though he travelled extensively to meet people from all over India.
What he learnt and saw made him discard his suits and adopt the dhoti, the very basic cloth the poorest of Indians wore. He also learned to spin his own cloth using a Charaka or spinning wheel. This was an act of declaring independence. By doing so, mill spun clothes of the British were not needed.
Gandhiji realized that Indians were discriminating against Indians too. He tried to remove the stigma of untouchability by drinking water from wells designated to them.
The book details how Gandhiji slowly changed the way people thought by doing, by meeting people and discussing; He propagated equality for all. His largest contribution was that he fought all injustice by non-violent means. He refused to rouse the people or use methods of terror. Far from it, he used peaceful actions to resist and persist against the British. He fasted and organized peaceful demonstrations against the colonialists. The Dandi salt march and the boycott of foreign clothes were classic examples.
The British tried everything to stop Gandhiji including putting him in jail. Gandhiji though continued to work as best as he could from the confines of the prison, by reading, writing and praying for his beloved country. Finally, the British left India on August 15th, 1947 thus allowing her people to decide their destinies on their own.
My Gandhi Story brings out facets of Gandhiji that everyone can emulate. Daily, we face biases and injustices at home, in school, on the street or elsewhere. We could learn from Gandhiji to not let it slide, to oppose it peacefully and to be never cowed down. The book also tells us that Gandhiji was not a superhero with special powers. His love for country and his fellow men translated into actions. He could have easily stood over them but instead he chose to lead by being like them and showing them that everyone could be a hero. Self-reliance was his motto and as the future he dreamed of, our country would do very well by remembering the lessons of his life.