The Danish Peace Academy
GANDHI AND NORDIC COUNTRIES
MY DEAR CHILD
LETTERS FROM M. K. GANDHI TO ESTHER FAERING
Dr. D.S. Ramachandra Rao
Alice M. Barnes
NAVAJIVAN PUBLISHING HOUSE
First Edition, 3,000 Copies, May 1956
Rupees One Annas Eight
Copyright by Navajivan Trust
Printed and Published by Jivanji Dahyabhai Desai
Navajivan Press, Ahmedabad-14
Dedicated to my two daughters
Nan and Tangai,
As their great heritage
These letters written by Bapuji to me are very precious and sacred, in fact they are the only heirloom I possess, and it is with some reluctance that I publish them. Yet I feel it is my duty as well as privilege to share them not only with Bapujis countrymen, but with all his numberless friends in other lands, so that they may get a first-hand impression of Bapujis real nature and personality.
His love for the individual, his great affection for and understanding of little children, his deeply religious mind, all are revealed in these letters.
So, by sending this little book out into the world, we hope and pray that the reader may get to know Bapuji better, and little by little recapture at least in part his wonderful spirit of service and love.
I acknowledge my gratitude to my friend Alice M. Barnes for having arranged these letters after a careful study of them. She has also given a heading to each letter, so as to make it easier to understand the main thought in it, and has added footnotes to enable the reader to follow the events and identify the different persons mentioned in the letters. I can say that without her work these letters would never have been published; but her labour of love will be justified if theletters are appreciated both in M. K. Gandhis own country and in others.
Kotagiri, Nilgiris, Esther Menon, nee Faering
It was in June 1951 that I first met Shrimati Esther Menon, at Kotagiri, in the Nilgiri Hills. In the course of our first conversation, we discovered that the subject that most interested us both was Gandhiji and his approach to national and international problems. A few days later, as we were returning from a meeting. we could not help talking of him again, and it was then that she told me of the existence of the letters contained in this book. Do you know she said, with some hesitation, as though wondering whether she could really trust me, Bapu was fond of me; he used to treat me as a daughter; for several years he wrote to me frequently. I still possess his letters; they are precious to me. Naturally I was greatly interested to meet one who had thus been honoured with so intimate a friendship with Gandhiji. It was wonderful, she continued, how he could spare the time to write so often to me, an ordinary woman, while he had the burden of the country on his shoulders. I often think of this and marvel. I cannot understand why he was so kind and good to me. Then, as we approached her doorstep she asked me, Would you like to read the letters? I assured her that I should deem it an honour indeed to have the privilege of reading them, and she promised to have them ready for me in a day or two. When I called on her a few days later, she handed me the bundle of letters, obviously far too many to read there and then. Most generously she assured me that she was willing for me to take these precious letters away with me to read at leisure. How proud I felt to have a bundle of Gandhijis letters in my pocket!
It was no easy matter to read them, I found; some of them were barely legible, for the ink had faded with the lapse of time ; others needed very delicate handling, for the paper, mostly hand-made, had grown fragile in the extreme; not a few were scribbled in pencil at wayside stations while Gandhiji waited for a train, late at night, or at some unearthly morning hour when ordinary people were still in bed. Others were still easy enough to read, and a few even were typewritten. I was thrilled and moved by them all.
On the third day I called at Mrs. Menons house and deposited the bundle on her table. Well, what do you think of them? she queried. You have indeed a treasure in them, I replied. But now you should not keep them all to yourself; you should share them with others. In this country, and perhaps even more in the West, there are very many who would be greatly helped by knowing them.
An incident in my own experience had led me to this conclusion. At the Inauguration Ceremony of the Constituent Assembly of Mysore, the Chief Minister asked me to speak briefly on Gandhijis contribution to the attainment of freedom by India. The request took me by surprise ; there was no time for elaborate preparation, and therefore I gave utterance to what was uppermost in my mind at the time - my heartfelt gratitude to Gandhiji for the wonderful part he had played in making me and my fellow countrymen free, and in achieving this in a way which had no parallel in history. An Englishman who heard me speak, sought me out later, and to my surprise said, You have given us a new aspect of Gandhijis life. I never knew that he was a spiritually-minded man. We all knew, of course, that he was a clever politician, an advocate of the spinning wheel, of cottage industries and of Harijan uplift, but we never heard of his spiritual greatness and of his complete dependence on God for inspiration and power. I now see that he was more than a statesman he must have been a saint of a very high order. A saint he was indeed, I replied. It was because of his saintliness, his entire dependence on God, that he was able to achieve his aims, and to achieve them by the nonviolent ways in which he so heartily believed. I could see that the respect of this Westerner for Gandhiji was deepened and his heart touched when he came to understand something of the spiritual basis of Gandhijis life and work.
Gandhiji did not fit into any theological system, but God was a stupendous reality to him; he relied on God to the uttermost, and therefore was able to become the channel through which Gods power flowed and his purpose was accomplished.
These one hundred and twenty-nine letters, written by Gandhiji to a European lady, and dealing with personal, domestic, national and international problems, give us insight into the spiritual aspect of his life. Having adopted her as his daughter, he finds time to write these affectionate letters to her, letters in which his own wonderful personality is revealed, scintillating with humour, goodwill and generosity, and in which above all, it is abundantly clear that faith in God was the foundation on which he built his own life work, the one unshakeable foundation for the lives of all men and of all nations. We do not know Gods hidden ways, he writes at a time when his daughter was facing great trials and difficulties; if only we submit to Him, He makes us do many things, even unconsciously to ourselves. It will be such a joy to me if you will never find yourself in the valley of despair, for to be there even for one moment means lack of faith in a living God. And again, Remember that God takes the burden of all our cares on His broad shoulders, if we will but let Him. This is as true as it is true that I am writing to you. Only His way is not our way, His shoulders are not like ours. But there is all the beauty. These two passages seem to me to sum up Gandhijis deep faith and reveal the secret of his triumphant life.
During the later years of Gandhijis life, prayer assumed for him ever-increasing significance. The unsympathetic attitude of the British Government towards Indian aspirations for political independence, the inertia of the masses, the lack of sustained faith in his non-violent methods on the part of many of his friends and supporters, often drove him almost to the verge of despair. He would, in such times of dire need turn to God for help and direction. Group prayer, also, the reading of verses from the sacred books, the singing of Bhajans, became a regular feature of the life of his Ashram. I can never forget what a thrilling experience it was to join in the evening prayers at the Ashram at Wardha in 1942. It seemed as though a heavenly vision was granted to him while he prayed, and his fervour communicated itself to the other worshippers.
The recognition, among us Indians, of Gandhijis intense spiritual power earned for him the title of Mahatma. Though this was repugnant to him, he endured it, for he knew that we, as a nation, are prone to hero-worship. No doubt we have had other Mahatmas in this ancient land of ours, but so far as we know, Gandhiji is the only Mahatma who has attempted to purify national and international politics. Knowing human nature as he did, he realised that merely human resources are inadequate to bear the strain of modern political lift, seething as it often is with suspicion, ill-will, fear and envy. He threw him self at the feet of God and drew from Him the power and wisdom to fulfil his mission.
Gandhiji believed in the Fatherhood of God and the brotherhood of man, and therefore had unshakeable faith in the power of Satyagraha and non-violence. This faith evoked a sympathetic response in the hearts of men of good-will the world over. When the freedom of India was won by non-violent means, it was recognised throughout the world as a unique victory both for Gandhiji personally and for the methods of Satyagraha". Christendom had always worshipped Jesus Christ as the Prince of Peace, but it had discarded his principle of Love as unworkable in the affairs of this world. Now Gandhiji had taken up the challenge of Christs message of Peace, and in his own way proved to an incredulous world that the principle of non-violence could be put into triumphant practice in the field of political relations.
When Gandhiji died, India went into mourning, and the whole world shared Indias sorrow. Gandhi, the apostle of love and truth met his death at the hands of an assassin as he entered the place of worship, but God had spared him long enough to witness to all men that love is more potent than hate and that truth outlasts falsehood.
The letters in this book, written mostly in the years 1917 to 1932, give us fresh insight into the motives and aspirations of Bapu, while he was yet in his own way experimenting with truth and nonviolence, and was himself being transformed by his faith in the God of Truth and Peace into a Mahatma.
I am grateful to Shrimati Esther Menon for the honour she has done me by asking me to write the Foreword to these letters. I commend them to all who care for truth and peace, and more especially to the many in Western countries to whom they will be a reminder of the Great Nazarene whom they profess to love, adore and follow.
Madras, January, 1952 D. S. Ramachandra Rao
Many of these letters written by Gandhiji, and now given to the world by their recipient, Esther Menon, speak for themselves, but it will increase both their interest and their value to readers if a certain amount of background knowledge is here given.
In 1916, a young Dane, Esther Faering, came to South India as a member of the staff of the Danish Missionary Society. Not long after her arrival, and while still studying Tamil and improving her already excellent English, she came to live with me in Madras, and thus began a friendship which has ripened with the years, and which has now led her to honour me with the task of introducing these letters to what we hope will be a wide and international circle.
It was intended that Esther Faering, who had high educational qualifications, should undertake educational work for girls under the auspices of the Danish Mission. As part of her preparation for this work, the Mission authorities wisely and generously enabled her and Miss Anne Marie Petersen, an older member of the Mission staff, to visit a number of outstanding educational institutions in India, both Christian and non-Christian, where particularly interesting experiments were being tried, or particularly successful methods were in use. These were the days when Gandhiji, recently returned from South Africa to devote the rest of his life to his native land, had established his Ashram at Sabarmati near Ahmedabad, and begun to gather round him a group of men and womenprepared to help work out his ideals of truth anti love in the life of a community. It was inevitable that Miss Petersen and Esther Faering, whose hopes for their future educational work so closely resembled Gandhijis, and who, furthermore, were already dissatisfied with the foreignness of the education in vogue in India, should put Sabarmati on the list of institutions which they must visit during their tour.
The first letter in this collection is a postcard from Gandhiji in reply to Esther Faerings letter of thanks written immediately after their visit to Sabarmati. The few days spent at the Ashram were enough to convince both Esther and Anne Marie Petersen that the school which they were to conduct in South India must be a national school, on the pattern of that at Sabarmati, with its emphasis on simplicity of life, on the dignity of all labour, on the need for every member to take a fair share in the work of the community, and on Indian culture, rather than one conforming to the conventional and denationalised lines of most Government and Christian Mission schools at that time.
During these few days at Sabarmati there was also born a mutual affection which quickly grew into the deep and beautiful father-daughters relationship between Gandhiji and Esther Faering revealed in these letters. In later years he wrote, Of course Esther has been more to me than a begotten daughter, for she is it by choice and right of love.
People who were in India during the years 1917 onwards to at least 1935, know that it was a somewhat dangerous thing for any foreigner to be known as an intimate friend of Gandhiji. More especially during the first World War and in the years immediately following, the British Government in India was nervous of his growing influence, and afraid of revolution in the country. Nationals of all non-British countries resident in India were closely watched, lest they should be agents of the German Government, or foster the Indian nationalist movement; anyone interested even in labour unions was deeply suspected; and all missionary societies except those whose headquarters were in Britain had to give a solemn assurance of loyalty to the British Government and a promise of strict non-interference in Indian politics on behalf of all their missionaries. The breach of such a promise by any one member of their mission staff might easily have led to the expulsion from India of the whole mission.
It was therefore a matter of real embarrassment to the Danish Mission authorities in South India and in Denmark that one of their young missionaries should have become personally attached to Mr. Gandhi, and for a time Esther Faering was forbidden to revisit Sabarmati, or even to correspond with Gandhiji. Several of the letters in this book refer to this conflict between her and her Mission, and are a revelation of Gandhijis wisdom and patience, his power of appreciating other peoples point of view, and his faith in the ultimate triumph of sanity and right. To this girl who by nature was inclined to precipitate action his often repeated counsel is to wait and be patient, to be loyal and submissive to her Missionary society, to the utmost limits of conscience, and to seek always the good guidance of God.
The letters in this little book will hardly be fully appreciated except by those who already know, or will now acquaint themselves with, the life of Gandhiji, and can therefore realise something of its amazing fulness. The establishment and constant guidance of the community life at the Sabarmati Ashram; the months of patient investigation of the conditions of life and work among the indigo labourers; the years of devoted toil for the removal of the curse of untouchability and the granting of political, social and religious liberty to the outcaste millions in India; crusade after crusade against one or another social evils; constant propaganda for the spinning wheel; mountains of correspondence; streams of visitors; above all the long, painful, unremitting toil for the political and economic independence of his country, involving periods in jail, times of participation in the councils of the British rulers, fasts undertaken as the only way of completely sharing in the sufferings of the oppressed or in order to render himself a purer, finer instrument in the hand of God - the list of the activities of this truly amazing man could be indefinitely prolonged. And yet, in a life so crowded with multitudinous business of national and international importance, Gandhiji never forgot the value of the individual. Of this fact the letters in this book are a convincing and moving proof. They are proof too, if proof be needed, of the fine sensitiveness and generosity of his spirit; there is no attempt to influence the child to whom he writes, against the foreign rulers of India, no self-glorification or self-pity, no bitterness or rancour. On the other hand there is, as Dr. Ramachandra Rao has pointed out in his Foreword, a revelation of the motive springs of the whole of Bapujis life and work, his complete devotion to Truth and Love, his utter surrender to the Will of God.
Alice M. Barnes
Note: It will be noticed that many of the editors explanatory footnotes are mainly for the benefit of foreigners to whom Indian conditions and personalities are not well known. Readers who find them superfluous are asked to bear this in mind.