Biographical Poetry posted June 9, 2024

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Father of the Nation

Mahatma Gandhi

by Debbie D'Arcy

A timid child, devoutly raised to honour and exalt
the promised gift of truth and love his Hindu faith had taught.
He learned about self-sacrifice from mother's Vishnu creed,
her fasts and moral rectitude would sow a precious seed.
This awkward, tongue-tied youngster, fearing ghosts beneath the bed,
in customary fashion, at thirteen, would then be wed.
All meaning from the day was lost, more rated for its treats
of dressing up in fine array, in play and eating sweets!
Distracted from his schooling, he embraced his married role,
then kinship deaths, so closely timed, would haunt his gentle soul.
Resolving then to study law with London as his choice,
he'd part in vow of abstinence and hope to find his voice.
With pride in Empire's dazzling heart, the splendour that it bore,
he struggled to adapt at times, amazed at what he saw.
For bitter dockland strikes exposed a woeful class divide,
a sign of moralist decline that left him mortified.
Returning to his homeland as a barrister-at-law,
his art of public speaking still so diffident and raw,
he wasn't going to make the grade, a burden hard to bear,
so off to southern Africa, a twelve month contract there.
And this would be a turning-point, a coming forth of age,
when vile and racist shackles would then tighten and enrage.
Humiliation stung with shame, a forceful catalyst
that stirred his nascent vocal gift and sparked this activist.
For here a land divided, the worst of British rule,
where Asians were subjected to a hateful ridicule.
Though smarting from his treatment, he divined his peaceful code,
defending rightful dignity his birthright had bestowed.
He overcame his stage fright and would blossom overnight,
campaigning then for Indians to claim their human rights.
Infusing solidarity, a tool for the oppressed,
he emphasised, with strict accord, that force be not addressed.
But progress in his mission then would stutter and reverse,
as more and more he grew opposed and rued the white man's curse.
His protests would be met by jail, contempt so often shown;
still challenged after two decades, he yearned to go back home.
And there, amid resistance, his work was never done
as, loyal to the British, he'd recruit for World War One.
But triggered by the Rowlatt Act,* detaining shamelessly,
he broke away, endorsed the 'fight' that caused calamity.
His dominance was rising fast, commanding global sway,
subduing fear of foreign might and urging hope to stay
for independence was the aim, the right to prosper free,
renouncing yoke of servitude to live in unity.
Relentless in his leadership, he launched his best campaign,
the Salt March* would initiate his civil protest reign.
Success was undeniable though thousands bound for jail,
whilst daunting the authorities with fearlessness and scale.
With bold belief and hunger strikes, this rebel would inflict
his passive will to undermine, to weaken and evict.
'Twould take til nineteen forty-sev'n for British rule to leave
and then, in tragic twist of hate, the wider world to grieve.*
But Gandhi's glory lay in faith "to see God face to face."
and that encompassed all beliefs to see truth as their base.
For this should not be formalised in dogma, causing strife,
but honoured in the challenges that rule our daily life.
And stripped of earthly trappings, his great path would never stray
from shedding light on darkness in a world of disarray.
A single voice amid the crowd inspiring all be free,
cast off the shroud of fear and shame and live in harmony.



Image: courtesy of Google free pics; Information sourced from the internet.

Stanza 1: Mohandas Koramchand Gandhi (1869- 1948) was born and raised in a Hindu family in Gujarat, on the western coast of India. His father was a chief administrator of the state; his mother a devoutly religious woman whose morally rigorous lifestyle strongly influenced her son's later life.
The honorific, 'Mahatma' (from Sanskrit 'great-souled, venerable'), was first applied to Gandhi in South Africa in 1914.

Stanza 2: He wed, at the age of 13, a 14 year old Kasturba Kapadia, with whom he had 4 surviving sons. An unremarkable student, he had a restless, rebellious spirit, concealing a burning passion for self-improvement, influenced by heroes of Hindu mythology.

Stanza 3: At 16, his father and then his first child died, leaving him in a state of anguish. Though he persevered with his studies, his heart wasn't there and, instead, he was spurred on by a suggestion to go to London to study law. Agreeing to a vow of abstinence from meat, wine and women, he still didn't
satisfy the fears of his elders who ex-communicated him from his caste.

Stanza 4: Initially, proud of his British citizenship and seduced by the prospect of immersing himself in Western culture, he studied hard and qualified as a barrister. However, during his period in London, he was shocked by the bitter strikes he witnessed and the realities of the Industrial Revolution that prioritised materialism over morality.

Stanza 5: Returning to India, he discovered his mother had died in his absence and any possibility of carving out a successful career in law seemed remote. In his first court appearance he cut a very sorry figure and was still inhibited by shyness. It was therefore with some relief that he accepted the offer of a year's work in Natal (another colony of the British Empire) in South Africa.

Stanza 6-7: There he was quickly exposed to discrimination in all its brazen forms. This was the daily lot of Indian trader and labourers in Natal who accepted oppression with resignation as they did their meagre earnings. Not for Gandhi, however. he had not, so far, been noted for his self-assertiveness or aggression. It was, without doubt, an epiphany for him, a moment of truth and a decision peacefully to defend his dignity as an Indian and a man. He would become an activist.

Stanza 8-9: Almost overnight, he became a proficient campaigner, educating his fellow countrymen in their rights, addressing their grievances to the government, infusing solidarity and self-belief. None of it was plain-sailing and he realised that he was making little impression on the South African Europeans. He was also subjected to abuse, both physical and mental.
His contention was always that, as a citizen of the British Empire, he was entitled to the same equal rights as everyone else. His treatment failed to undermine his loyalty and truth and, controversially, he assisted in the Boer War by organising a party of stretcher bearers to support British troops against the Boers.The end of the war brought little relief to the oppressed (both Africans and Indians) and, as more discriminatory measures were introduced, so greater resistance followed with Gandhi and vast numbers of his followers being subjected to prison sentences.
That said, it was all the worst possible advertisement for the South African government and pressure for compromise and change was being exerted from the governments both of Britain and India.

Stanza 10-11: Back in India again, he found himself once again engaged in WW1 this time using combatants as opposed to volunteers in their role as stretcher-bearers. Though this seemed to conflict with his peaceful creed, he insisted that true nonviolence could not co-exist with cowardice.
In 1919 the government of India passed what became known as the *Rowlatt Acts which essentially extended the repressive measures imposed during WW1 to combat subversive activities and terrorism. These were intended to have been reduced. As a result of protests against the law, British troops fired on a large crowd of unarmed Indians in the Punjab area of India, killing several hundreds and injuring many more. The massacre of Amristar left a permanent scar on Indo-British relations and marked the prelude to Gandhi's full commitment to the cause of Indian independence from Britain.

Stanza 12: In 1934 as leader of the Indian National Congress, he launched the Salt March against the British-imposed tax on salt affecting the poorest section of the community. One of the most spectacular and successful of his nonviolent campaigns. The march took 25 days and covered 240 miles with Gandhi speaking to large crowds along the way. A minimum of 60,000 were imprisoned, including Gandhi. But this was only the start of his civil disobedience campaigns which were poking the bear of British colonialism.

Stanza 13: In 1947 British rule came to an end with Partition, the formation of the two new dominions of India (Hindu) and Pakistan (Muslim). It was one of the greatest disappointments of Gandhi's life that Indian freedom was realised without Indian unity. *Approximately 5 months after this momentous event, he was shot dead on his way to prayer by a Hindu fanatic. Nathuram Godse.

Stanza 14-15: "Truth resides in every human heart, and one has to search for it there, and to be guided by truth as one sees it. But no one has a right to coerce others to act according to his own view of truth."
He criticised those who sat in caves meditating, saying that his cave was carried with him wherever he went.
His understanding of faith was constantly evolving throughout his life and additional inspiration came from his reading of the Bible as well as the Quran.
Influenced heavily by his mother's ascetic lifestyle, he shunned all materialism, wearing the attire of the poorest classes and even donning a loin cloth.
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