As odd as it may seem, there are still people in the world who don’t know who don’t know the name “Gandhi.”
In fact, as Arun Gandhi explained to a packed audience in the Stoller Center a week ago, a stewardess on a flight he once boarded was completely lacking in the significance of his last name.
Yet for most of the history-educated population, the mere mention of the name Mohandas Gandhi, India’s late independence leader famous for his philosophy of nonviolence, elicits a passionate response. Regarded by many as a saintly figure, his stature has only increased since the release of the 1982 biopic, “Gandhi,” which won Best Picture at that year’s Academy Awards.
So when Arun, Gandhi’s fifth grandson through his second son Manilal, arrived at Pacific to give a lecture called “Lessons From My Grandfather,” it should have surprised few that the event sold out.
Arun, who was born in South Africa and lived with his grandfather in the years before his assassination in 1948, moved to the United States in 1987 with his late wife Sunanda. As he grew older, he felt the need to honor his grandfather’s legacy by doing such things as hitting the public speaking circuit and starting the M. K. Gandhi Institute for Nonviolence, as well as cofounding the “Season for Nonviolence” in 1996.
“At the grassroots level, it is still alive and kicking,” said the grandson of his grandfather’s legacy.
Yet Arun sees a large disturbing trend in the world at large, complaining Thursday night that “over the centuries, we have created a culture of violence.” In response to a question from the audience about what his grandfather would think of the world today, he replied that the elder Gandhi “would be appalled that we call ourselves a civilization.”
Much of both the actual lecture and the question and answer session that followed revolved around the topic of violence vs. nonviolence. Arun took the opportunity to spin out his views into topics such as parenting methods, gun control, violence in the media, and foreign policy.
“The best example of this was on 9/11,” said the younger Gandhi when discussing how violence has shaped American foreign policy. “When it happened, instead of asking ourselves ‘what compelled these people to do what they did,’ and… ‘how can we improve our relationships with that part of the world,’ we just got so mad and we were led into a war that we can’t end.”
Nevertheless, Arun also discussed his personal views, his grandfather and how his personal experiences with the man came to shape him.
He noted that primarily two important women inspired the elder Gandhi, who was often known by the title “Mahatma.” These women were Mohandas’s mother, Putlibai, and his wife, Kasturba.
He also recollected various anecdotes about his grandfather, often humorously. He remembered an instance in which Mohandas was raising money by selling his autographs for five dollars each. Arun tried his best to get an autograph from his grandfather, claiming that he shouldn’t have to pay because he was related to him. The elder Gandhi politely refused in good humor. “I never got that autograph,” Arun said through a smirk.
Arun consistently repeated that his purpose in speaking was to plant “the grain of wheat” that he got from his grandfather in spreading his philosophy of nonviolence.
“We have to become the change we wish to see in the world,” said Arun, paraphrasing a quote attributed to his grandfather