January 29, 2008

Remembering a Mahatma....

"Just an old man in a loincloth in distant India: Yet when he died, humanity wept."

January 30th, 1948

It was this day in the year 1948 that Mahatma Gandhi, an icon for ahimsa ( non-violence) was assassinated in the capital of India, New Delhi. The tragedy occurred as the gaunt old man walked to a prayer-meeting and was engulfed by one of history's great ironies - a life-long pacifist and promoter of non-violence struck down by an assassin's bullet.

and here I share with you all a story of an eye witness - Vincent Sheean, an American Reporter.

"I got a taxi and went out to Birla House in time for the prayer-meeting. This time I was alone. I stationed my taxi under a tree opposite the gate of Birla House and walked down the drive to the prayer-ground. It was not yet five o'clock and people were still streaming in on foot, in cars and with tongas. As I came on to the prayer-ground at the end of the garden I ran into Bob Stimson, the Delhi correspondent of the B.B.C. We fell into talk and I told him about the journey to Amritsar and what had taken place there. It was unusual to see any representatives of the press at the prayer-meeting; Bob explained that he had submitted some questions to the Mahatma for the B.B.C. and thought he might as well stay for the prayers since he was on the premises. He looked at his watch and said: 'Well, this is strange. Gandhi's late. He's practically never late.'

We both looked at our watches again. It was 5:12 by my watch when Bob said: 'There he is.' We stood near the corner of the wall, on the side of the garden where he was coming, and watched the evening light fall on his shining dark-brown head. He did not walk under the arbor this evening but across the grass, in the open lawn on the other side of the flower-beds. (There was the arbored walk, and a strip of lawn, and a long strip of flower-bed, and then the open lawn.)

It was one of those shining Delhi evenings, not at all warm but alight with the promise of spring. I felt well and happy and grateful to be here. Bob and I stood idly talking, I do not remember about what, and watching the Mahatma advance toward us over the grass, leaning lightly on two of 'the girls,' with two or three other members of his 'family' (family or followers) behind them. I read afterward that he had sandals on his feet but I did not see them. To me it looked as if he walked barefoot on the grass. It was not a warm evening and he was wrapped in homespun shawls. He passed by us on the other side and turned to ascend the four or five brick steps which led to the terrace or prayer-ground.

Here, as usual, there was a clump of people, some of whom were standing and some of whom had gone on their knees or bent low before him. Bob and I turned to watch - we were perhaps ten feet away from the steps-but the clump of people cut off our view of the Mahatma now; he was so small. Then I heard four small, dull, dark explosions. 'What's that?' I said to Bob in sudden horror. 'I don't know,' he said. I remember that he grew pale in an instant. 'Not the Mahatma!' I said, and then I knew.

Inside my own head there occurred a wavelike disturbance which I can only compare to a storm at sea - wind and wave surging tremendously back and forth. I remember all this distinctly; I do not believe that I lost consciousness even for a moment,
although there may have been an instant or two of half-consciousness. I recoiled upon the brick wall and leaned against it, bent almost in two. I felt the consciousness of the Mahatma leave me then-I know of no other way of expressing this: he left me. ...The storm inside my head continued for some little time-minutes, perhaps; I have no way of reckoning.

...lt was during this time, apparently, that many things happened: a whole external series of events took place in my immediate neighborhood - a few yards away - and I was unaware of them. A doctor was found; the police took charge; the body of the Mahatma was, carried away; the crowd melted, perhaps urged to do so by the police. I saw none of this. The last I saw of the Mahatma he was advancing over the grass in the evening light, approaching the steps. When I finally took my fingers out of my mouth and stood up, dry-eyed, there were police and soldiers and not many people, and there was Bob Stimson. He was rather breathless; he had gone somewhere to telephone to the B.B.C. He came with me down the steps to the lawn, where we walked up and down beside the flower-bed for a while. The room with the glass doors and windows, by the rose garden at the end of the arbor, had a crowd of people around it. Many were weeping. The police were endeavoring to make them leave. Bob could not tell me anything except that the Mahatma had been taken inside that room. On the following day he told me that he had seen him carried away and that the khadi which he wore was heavily stained with blood."

[Reproduced from Vincent Sheean's account as appears in: Sheean, Vincent, Lead, Kindly Light (1949); Ashe, Geoffrey, Gandhi (1968)]

Vincent Sheean was an American reporter and author who had covered trouble spots around the world in the years prior to and during World War II. In 1947, Sheean traveled to India and became a disciple of Gandhi in an attempt to find meaning in the violent and disruptive events he had witnessed during his years of reporting.

Source: Eyewitness to History

UPDATE: Who plotted Mahatma's murder?


  1. Hey great remebering...Thanks for the story..Thanks for sharing

  2. Siri, Thanks for sharing. many times I remember Gandhiji's words - "You should be the change you want to see in the world."
    When I was a kid, I think I didn't understand most of it. but as an adult and as a mother, I think it makes so much sense.

  3. Thanx for the good post but i the year was 1948 and not 1947!!..

  4. Hi Siri,
    I am learning everyday. Your blog is very rich in content. Thanks for the warm comment and encouragement to enroll "taste of India". I just discovered it.I always loved Gandhiji's principles. Great article and keep it up.

  5. A very good post sri.
    Actually were were talking about it yesterday.
    They showed Gandhi Movie yesterday in TV and I let my daughter watch the movie even though it is a school day today.( It lasted till 11:45 pm) And i think it was aslo 48

  6. @ Anonymous, HC : Sorry for the typo guys . Yup, it was the year 1948 not 1947. I updated the post. Thanks for letting me know..:D

  7. bapuji is one of the greats who will always be remembered with awe and love...

    coming ot ur email about WBB...sure girl will be a pleasure to include it :)

  8. Siri, So happy you took the time to remember the Mahatma. I often wish more among us would heed his lessons of non-violence and love for all creatures.


'Thought is the blossom; language the bud; action the fruit behind it' ~ Ralph Waldo Emerson

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