The book, The Essential Gandhi, covers essential things about Mahatma Gandhi that one should know. It contains quotes from the writings of Gandhi that talks about his life, work and his convictions.
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The author presents Gandhi’s stand on issues like spirituality, suffering, poverty, politics, non-violence, and civic disobedience among others. Gandhi’s biographer, Luis Fischer, did this by collecting pierces of Gandhi’s work with some explanatory head notes on each of these works.
The book shows Gandhi from his early life and talks about him in two parts: first, as the man; second, as the Mahatma himself. Gandhi married his wife at an early age of thirteen years and went to Britain to study law. When he finished and went back to India, Gandhi did poorly in his work as a lawyer.
A group of Indian Muslims hired him to serve as a lawyer of their community in South Africa. It is here that Gandhi started undergoing transformation. The author says that “Gandhi was a self made man and the transformation began in South Africa … His was a remarkable case of second birth in one lifetime” (Gandhi, pg. 32).
Gandhi went through various forms of prejudice, harassment and beating but he held onto what he was convinced of as right. He also expressed his concerns and made known to people what he knew was right. He witnessed and experienced instances of racism and prejudice in his place of work, travel and even in his residency.
While in South Africa, he learnt that the Indian merchants did not practice justice in their business deals. Gandhi believed that this was not true. He called a meeting of all Indians in the city of Pretoria on arrival where he presented his first public speech. In reaction to the beliefs and actions of the merchants, Gandhi said, “I strongly contested this position in my speech and awakened the merchants to a sense of duty” (Gandhi, pg. 33).
The book also shows that Gandhi had compassion and determination. When a mob attacked him, he did not sue them, even though he had all the right to do so. He had compassion on this mob and was determined to let them learn their wrongs.
Gandhi stated that he was sorry due to the Mob’s ignorance and narrowness. He argued that he was sure these people were convinced that what they were doing was right and he had “no reason therefore to be angry with them” (Gandhi, pg. 44).
The book also addresses the issue of non-violence. Gandhi was a man of anger and he learnt, through biter experience, that trying to solve issues through violence out of anger was not good and sometimes could not bear fruit. He said that, “anger controlled can be transmuted into a power which can move the world” (Gandhi, pg. xii). Gandhi believed that it was not possible to change the convictions of a person by use of violence.
He learnt this through his wife who resisted his constant verbal and physical abuses to force her to do what was against her convictions. Through this knowledge, he suggested that people could not force governments to change their policies through violence and power politics.
This conviction also helped him to lead the people of India to resist the rule of the British by use of non-violence means. Through his message of nonviolence, Gandhi advised all people to embrace truth and oneness and seek this truth in other ways apart from violence.
Together with nonviolence, courage and truth were important political principles of Gandhi. He called these principles Satyagraba. He learnt and practiced these principles throughout his life.
When he came back to India, Gandhi applied these principles and led other Indians in applying them to exert civil disobedience against the British and thus gain their independence. According to him, national independence alone was not enough to give a person peace and prosperity.
The Essential Gandhi also brings out the issue of religion and shows how Gandhi viewed its various forms. He did not despise any religion. He gave a deep discussion of many forms of religion and their defects. His view on religion helped him try to unite the Indian people who were being divided along religious lines.
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This book also addresses other issues and ideas, which Gandhi not only believed but advocated for and encouraged people to embrace. The author argues that Gandhi believed that untouchability was evil against humanity. Even though this was the case, his view on humanity made him to live together with those the society considered as untouchables.
He also argues that Gandhi’s claim of British citizenship shows that his move towards forming a movement to lead India to independence was not out of sheer patriotism. He valued humanity and considered it his responsibility to protect both camps of the British and the Indians.
He said, “I felt that if I demanded rights as a British citizen, it was also my duty, as such, to participate in the defense of the British Empire” (Gandhi). Thus, what drove Gandhi to seek freedom for the Indians was not the desire for political supremacy or patriotism, but it was for humanity.
Gandhi, Mahatma. The Essential Gandhi: An Anthology of His Writings on His Life, Work, and Ideas. New York: Random House Inc., 2002. Print.