Ideals vary with regard to everything. So every man has his own ideal of human greatness. Some worship the man of power, some look up for inspiration to the silent, patient worker, who is dedicated to knowledge, trying to keep the torch of science and philosophy burning like Einstein, C. V. Raman or Satyen Bose. There are others, again, who love the man of action, the doer of deeds as Stalin in Russia or Netaji Subhas Ch. Bose in India and outside. And there may be others also, who are impressed by the man who obeys the inner call and renounces the world and dedicates himself to duties of love and service, like Swami Vivekananda.
But my ideal of a great man is something different from any of those mentioned above. A great man, in my opinion, must be, above all littleness, — the petty jealousies and prejudices that afflict the ordinary man. He must be dedicated to a noble ideal, entirely selfless, free from all narrowness, truthful in speech, fearless in action, but polite in manners and yet a lion in spirit. He must appeal to the noblest elements of our nature. Such a great man has faith in the fundamental values of life. He must be a dreamer of dreams and a doer of deeds; among the great, equal to the greatest, among the humble one of the humblest.
Such a man is, no doubt, rare. But here in India we had one who fulfilled all these. He is Mahatma Gandhi and him I regard as my ideal great man. Born on October 2, 1869 be had the usual education of the son of well-to-do Indian parents. He spent a few years at school where from he matriculated; and then, against much opposition, he went to England, where he qualified as a barrister. But from the moment that he learnt to think for himself, he followed the path of truth. He had vowed to his mother to abstain from animal food and wine. While in England, no temptation or inducement could make him false to his vow. A pledge once given was, for Gandhiji, a sacred trust.
He subsequently went to South Africa and there he discovered his true vocation. He found the Indian community suffering under the most humiliating indignities. He took up the cause of his countrymen and organized the famous ‘passive resistance’ movement on Tolstoy’s principles. For ten years, he struggled, suffering imprisonments and other punishments. In the end he succeeded in getting many of the anti-Indian laws amended.
In 1915 he returned to India. In course of the next few years, be became a political leader whose integrity ever one came to admire and whose convincing arguments few could resist. In an age of violence he fearlessly preached and practiced the gospel of nonviolence. To the unarmed people of India, he brought the weapons of Non-co-operation and Civil Disobedience. He felt in himself the woeful poverty of his people and literally put on a beggar’s robe show his identification with their cause. For wearing a loin-cloth Winston Churchill jeeringly called him the ‘half-naked’ Fakir.
But nothing would deter Gandhiji. Beggar though he made himself, (eating meal daily that cost him six pieces), no prince could match his dignified self-assurance. He spoke without rhetoric, but his elequence touched the inmost chords of our heart.
He went to the Round Table Conference in London in 1932 to get justice for his countrymen. In prison or in other places his mind remained serene. His heart was big with love and sympathy for humanity. But he always retained the logic of a scientific thinker. He did know what his people wanted, the freedom that meant life, the food they were denied, — and out of his knowledge came his plans for giving them food flag and freedom’. In his Satyagraha of 1931 these ideals were upheld.
During the Second World War he refused to compromise with his gospel of ahimsa, or to co-operate with the British in their war against Hitler, unless he could do so as a free citizen of a free country. The record of his life during these years is, indeed, the political history of India.
Nothing became him so well as the end of his life. Freedom had come, but with freedom had come communal passion and Hindus and Moslems, on both sides of the Border, were cruelly killing each other. The frail old man, on the verge of his seventy-eight years, went from place to place, seeking to establish peace and goodwill where there were enmity and strife.
He went to Noakhali to soothe and assuage the feelings of the Hindus who had suffered from Muslem atrocities. He went to Patna to heal the sufferings of the Moslems. He went to Delhi and each day he preached love and communal amity in his post prayer meetings. In one such meeting, on 30th January, 1948 an insensate fanatic, unable to bear his message of goodwill, shot him dead. It was a noble death, much like that of Christ’s crucifixion. Humanity will realize afresh the way of Peace that was Gandhjji’s article of faith as the apostle of Non-violence. Let us revere his memory by preaching —”Peace upon earth and goodwill to all men.”