I have read a lot about Mahatma Gandhi and many positive and some even negative comments. When one reads so much positive thing, there is a natural tendency for correction and we try to find out the flaws. For even the greatest men have some flaws. Some have focussed on the neglect of his family (Gandhi virudh Gandhi etc), some blame him for partition, some his idealistic pacificim and his seeming dislike for new technology.
But I recently read George Orwell's essay on Gandhi. It is a great write up on the legacy of Gandhi and Orwell has avoided any glorification or defilation of the man. I think it's an essay which every Gandhian should read and Gandhi himself would have been the first to recommend it.
Orwell declares at the begining that he doesnt like Gandhi in an aesthetic sense and this part I cant understand. What does he mean by aesthetic sense? Does he not like Gandhi's appearance? I dont think so as such a thinker would certainly not be superficial. The thing that I can guess is that he didnt like Gandhi's utilitarian view. For gandhi, beauty was secondary. Wether it was in his writings or people or method. He was interested only in the final impact.
But I think that is a minor point. The major point where Orwell attacks Gandhi is that he thinks that Gandhi was an anti-human and reactionary. He says that Gandhi was closer to a saint and being saint means that you are no longer a man. As a saint, you lose selfishness and you treat everyone equally. For you there is no favored relationship. You might sacrifice your friend for a stranger if you think that he deserves it more.
But I dont think that Gandhi was anti-human. He certainly did not treat his family well and was prepared to let them endure hardship for the benefit of a larger cause. But he did not ask others to do like that. I think that he had resigned himself to his personality which did not allow him to take care of his family or friends if it meant hurting the cause. But he certainly didnt demand that from his followers. Infact, he was a strange teacher who said dont do as I say and dont do as I do unless you are convinced of it. He led by example but he never wanted others to follow it to the letter unless they could.
I think he must have been feeling guilty about the neglect of his family but he must have accepted that he didnt have a choice.
Orwell states that being human and loving someone more than others takes lot of bravery. He says that "If one could follow it to its psychological roots, one would, I believe, find that the main motive for "non-attachment" is a desire to escape from the pain of living, and above all from love, which, sexual or non-sexual, is hard work." And that is an important observation. For he is very true, in that, we cannot assume that a person who is non-attached is always superior to a person who is firmly attached to the world. If the non-attached person just does that to escape from his responsibility.
But I think Gandhi was not an escapist. He was inexorably driven to sainthood and it was his destiny. He could not have been anything other than a saint. Ofcourse, it was hard work to become one but he wouldn't have been anything else.
I would end in the words of Albert Einstein.
Generations to come, it may be, will scarce believe that such a one as this ever in flesh and blood walked on this earth