Honorable Mr. Dasgupta, Mr. Pandey, Mrs. Hildebrandt, Professor Dr. Lütt, Peter Rühe, guests and dignitaries present here on the auspicious occasion of the 136th birth anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi.
First of all, I would like to thank you all on behalf of my family for giving me the opportunity to talk about the life of my grand father Prabhudas Gandhi that he passed with his grand uncle Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi.
When young Prabhudas arrived in South Africa in 1906 he was an innocent child of 5 years of age, and when he returned from South Africa to India in 1914 he was a boy of 13. It was during this period that Mahatma Gandhi developed passive resistance, which he later called active non-violent resistance or Satyagraha. This incredible and astounding movement left an ever-lasting impression on the juvenile mind of young Prabhudas. He took lessons in communal life, basic education and programmes of back to nature under the direction of Gandhiji. Although, at this age, he did not play any significant role in the movement but he passed his whole life following the principles set by his grand uncle very strictly.
My grand father recollected all those events and scenes minutely that he witnessed on the side of Gandhi in South Africa which were published in a book titled Jivano Parodh, English: Dawn of Life, in 1948. In this book he also describes the background of the development of Gandhi's strong will power for starting this all-new type of movement as well as the experiments that Gandhi performed to establish and provoke the principles of nonviolence.
Mr. Polak, who was Gandhiji's co-worker and friend who worked with him on Tolstoy Farm, writes about this book: "Prabhudas Gandhi had shown a great punctuality in describing the events in this book by his unique and sharp memory. The book gives us the details, as they were actually, in the development of Gandhiji's life."
But rather than saying more about the book, I would like to quote some events from it.
In 1913, a group of 16 satyagrahis was preparing to get arrested. This group contained Gandhiji's wife Kasturba, Prabhudas Gandhi's parents Kashi and Chhaganlal and other members of Phoenix Settlement. The children of the settlement went to the railway station to bid farewell to this group.
Prabhudas Gandhi writes, "When the railway engine entered into the platform, my heart started beating very fast. Departing from the group of children, I turned to my parents who were about to board the train. For a while I threatened thinking that the parents are going to jail. Only the thought that I would be left alone, and I will have to look after my youngers made my heart very sad. I was about to sob. I suddenly bowed to my parents and others and moved hurriedly from there. Gandhiji himself was also trying to convince a little girl who too was departing from her mother.'"
This event helps us to understand the efforts made by Gandhiji to inspire and to hold the morality of the members that were following him in the passive resistance.
Gandhiji believed that education should play a vital role in solving even the minutest problem of the society. At Phoenix Settlement the teenage children were proved helpful by this type of education. Once most of the elders were under imprisonment because of the Civil Disobedience. It was very important to keep postal contact with the outside world. At this time, these children took over the responsibility of sending the posts to and bringing from the railway station. The children were carrying the parcels on long sticks inmidst of the lonely distance of two and half miles. Prabhudas describes this incidence:
"I was allotted the task of bringing and delivering the post of printing press from the railway station which was two and half miles away from the settlement. The curve path passing from the dense forest looked quite lonely and fearful. The snakes hanging on the trees were looking as if they are oscillating on my head. After this walk of four to five hours, when I was reaching the campus, I was proud and satisfied."
In Phoenix Prabhudas and his younger brother Krishnadas met with malaria. Gandhiji started their treatment very patiently. He had a perfect trust on naturopathy treatment. My grand father wrote about his experience of the treatment given by Gandhiji "I was used to have a bandage of mud for twenty four hours which was being changed every two ours. After fourteen days of this treatment, the fever vanished entirely without any medicine.
Prabhudas Gandhi returned to India in 1914 alongwith Gandhiji and other family members after applying Satyagraha in South Africa successfully. They were given a very warm and magnificent welcome in India.
Gandhiji was very much interested to re-establish hand made clothes industry in India in order to become independent from British textile industry and ultimately to achieve also political independence. So, first Maganlal Gandhi learnt weaving from some interior part of South India. Gandhiji and Prabhudas became his disciples for this activity. Both got used to do weaving work in Gandhi's first ashram in India located in Ahmedabad. But while giving a jerk to the bobbin with the string, it fell down many-a-times causing an injury on Gandhiji's leg. In the beginning, this happened five or six times in a day. Even after much bleeding, Gandhiji did not leave the work. Prabhudas writes, "What a strong willpower Gandhiji has!"
Illness of tuberculosis and stay at hill station
Prabhudasbhai in his early age met with the disease of tuberculosis. The disease reached such a stage that the doctors suggested that one of the lungs must be removed by an operation. The whole family was under great tension. All the members decided to follow the surgeon's opinion. But only Gandhiji opposed this. He said that if extra care is paid about food, water and the environment we may overcome this situation without surgery. He worked out a treatment and suggested that Prabhudas must start living in the very healthy, hygienic and natural atmosphere at Almoda, a hill station in North India. Further he suggested nutritious food. The treatment also included Yoga and Pranayama - breathing exercises. Prabhudas followed the schedule set up by Gandhiji and started living in Almora. During his three years stay at the hill station, Prabudasbhai convinced his grand uncle to visit him for three weeks which was one of Gandhis very rare vacations. After 3 years the disease had vanished almost completely and Prabhudasbhai became hale and hearty.
Afterwards Gandhiji found a life partner for Prabhudasbhai.
Normally Gandhi did not attend functions like marriagse. In his whole life he attended only two or three marriages. Prabhudas Gandhi and Ambadevi Gandhi was one of those lucky couples that got blessings from Gandhiji at their wedding. Not only that Gandhi remained present but the wedding was completely planned by him. In addition to Hindu tradition Gandhiji included the ideals of social services in the ceremony. The couple had to perform activities of social services like cleanliness, prayer, devoting labour, cloth weaving, cow welfare etc.
While blessing the couple Gandhiji said, "May both of you remain devoted to social work for the life time and have maximum control over your senses, because you have taken an oath of devoting your married life for the social welfare."
Prabhudas Gandhi and Ambadevi Gandhi had literally remained attached to these ideals expressed and demanded by Gandhiji throughout their life and considered public services equal to prayer services.
During the 'Quit India Movement' in 1942 Prabhudas Gandhi experienced imprisonment for a second time in his life. From the childhood he had poor physical fitness, eventhough Gandhi and family members allowed him to participate in passive resistance campaigns. He had passed a very hard and pitiable life when he was put in an isolated cell. For a long period of two and a half years he stayed in jail along with Jawahrlal Nehru, Vinoba Bhave and other leaders.
Following his prison term my grand father and his wife were sent by Gandhiji to a small village in the North Indian state of Uttar Pradesh in order to carry out constructive work for the uplift of the poor.
To re-establish a proper economy in the poor villages, Gandhiji believed in the power of the spinning-wheel. When he got a spinning-wheel of the old pattern from a small village he was very pleased. The new and easy technology of preparing handmade cloth was established. While spreading this technology in poor villages Prabhudasbhai writes, "By the preparation and use of handmade cloth it is possible to create a dream world through an easy instrument like the spinning-wheel."
After some decades of constructive work among the poor villages he published a journal containing the results. He proved that financial freedom is possible through the wheel.
The conviction of Prabhudasbhai and Gandhiji is more important even today where global industrialization is pushing the world into the centralization of capital.
After independence my grand father founded a number of organizations. He devoted his entire life for constructive activities like creating employment, implementing basic education, and removing untouchability and inequality. Along with these activities he spared time for his writings on his times with Gandhi and on spiritual life.
Many organizations of North India got inspiration and moral strength from the life style and work of Prabhudasbhai Gandhi and his wife Amba for making activities that were based on the Gandhian ideology towards an overall upliftment of the village folks.
My grand father remained thoroughly detached from possessing unnecessary items, from enjoying luxury gadgets, not only in the organizations that he established but also even in his personal life.
In this context I would like to narrate an example from my home about the virtue of 'aparigraha' (non-possession) in Prabhudas Gandhi's life. When my wife and I bought a refrigerator, he opposed that act in our joint family by saying that he would observe a fast for a day against that purchase. And he did it. Only lateron we understood the seriousness of how contradictory our decision was against the ideals of his life.
In the later life of my grand father several persons visited him at our home at Rajkot in Gujarat. Some of them were non-Indians who were studying the principles of Gandhiji. One of them was Peter who, like all family members of Prabhudas Gandhi got his heart touched by the devoted and clean personality of my grand father. The Gandhian spirit which we could experience in seeing him using a spinning wheel, reading, writing, and taking perfectly controlled food, can not really be expressed in an article or lecture. The footage and pictures you're going to see in 2 minutes may give you an idea what a wonderful person he was.
At the end of my speech, I would like to say a few words about the relevance of Mahatma Gandhi's teachings for us today. Present days societies allover are confronted with the effects of globalization, pollution, terrorism, unemployment due to the application of modern labour saving technology etc. Behind all these problems, one can see the madness of man towards a materialistic life, the ambition of man for taking control over nature, the craziness of man to adopt terrorism and violence for getting justice. To overcome all these unbalancing factors of society, we have to learn to translate Gandhi's ideas into nowadays situation and apply them wisely, as it has been done for example by Martin Luther King jr, Nelson Mandela or Lech Walensa. Therefore, a careful study of Gandhi's life and work is more important than ever before.
Finally, on behalf of my whole family, I would like to thank my friend Peter Rühe, the management of the Museum Haus am Checkpoint Charlie and the Indian Embassy for giving me the opportunity to share my views with you tonight.