We took an unexpected trip to the house (now a museum) where Gandhi spent his last months, and where he was assassinated, on January 30, 1948, on his way to prayers. He was living with friends who had felt he would be safe in their house and had insisted he join them there.
M K Gandhi was one of my childhood heroes. I cannot say that I have spent very much time, in my adult life, thinking about his incredible lessons, about inclusiveness, tolerance, and non violence. Now I plan to return to reading more about him. But it is funny how lessons get burned into young minds. As I walked into his bedroom, tears sprang to my eyes; I felt as though I were returning to some childhood dream of what the world would be like. His few remains were displayed in a case hanging on the wall--the most precious, and recognizable of them, his glasses. The wearing of glasses is considered a sign of intellect, thoughtfulness, knowledge, wisdom--some people wear them even though they don't need them.
Gandhi's room itself was pure white, with very few, but just enough, accommodations to comfort. There were his prayer beads, tenderly arranged in a circle around a precious, well worn book, his small desk and the cushions against which he propped himself when visiting with others. The loom, of course, sign of his allegiance to the very fabric of India.
Some of his pithy sayings (which now might have been tweeted) were printed up on placards and arranged through the house. Over the fireplace: "Simplicity is the essence of Universality." When President Obama visited India, he was criticized in some circles for talking too much about Gandhi, and not enough about modern India. I say Obama was right. Gandhi's philosophy is at the heart of modern democracies anywhere. Think about his extraordinary vision and work, in light of the "Jasmine Revolution" as it is called in papers here, in Egypt right now. Our children already have attitudes of racial and religious tolerance ingrained in them since they were babies; their world may be more peaceful and harmonious.
The day after our visit, I was up and dawn, listening to Delhi come to raucous life, thinking about Gandhi, and global warming, and immense poverty, and feeling overwhelmed by the hopelessness of change: China, India, and the US have to come together to solve these problems. They are not. How nice it would be, I thought, not to worry about intractable problems, and to simply have a quiet life of reading and writing. What difference does it make, what we each do? We are trying to empty the beach of sand with a teaspoon. But then I thought about my friend Jacqueline Novogratz, and the inspiring work she is doing with her Acumen Fund; I thought about the health clinics springing up across India, where poor people have access, among other things, to eye glasses. She is changing lives one at a time. Such are the thoughts of one person deciding how she wants to devote her remaining years of work life.
Bhagavad Gita--the Song of God--called Nothing in Return. "Let not the fruits of action be thy motives, Nor be thy attachment to inaction." That stopped me. The next passage was from M K Gandhi: "It is the action, not the fruit of action, that's important," he said. "You have to do the right thing. It may not be in your power, it may not be in your time, that there'll be any fruit. But that doesn't mean you stop doing the right thing. You may never know what results come from your action. But if you do nothing, there will be no result."