Meeting Gandhi by William Shirer

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It happened the day before my 27th birthday, on February 22, 1931. Gandhi send word he would see me an hour before his daily prayer meeting and invited me to stay on for prayers if i felt inclined. This was a birthday present i much appreciated.

As our talks began i tried to take in not only what Gandhi was saying but how he looked. I had seen many photographs of him but i was nevertheless somewhat surprised at his actual appearance. His face at first glance did not convey at all the stature of the man, his obvious greatness. It was not one you would have especially noticed in a crowd. It struck me as not ugly, as some had said it, indeed it radiated a certain beauty, but it was not uncommon either. Age, he was sixty one, and fasting, an Indian sun and the strain of years in prison, of long, hard, nervous work, had obviously taken their toll, turned the nose down, widened it at the nostrils, sunk in his mouth just a little so that the lower lip protruded, and teeth were missing, I could see only two.

His hair was closely cropped, giving an effect of baldness. His large ears spread out, rabbit like. His gray eye lit up and sharpened when they peered at you through his steel-rimmed spectacles and then they softened when he lapsed, as he frequently did, into a mood of almost puckish humor. I was almost taken back by the gaiety in them. This was a man inwardly secure, who, despite the burdens he carried, the hardships he had endured, could chuckle at man’s foibles, including his own.

He seemed terribly frail, all skin and bones, though i knew that this appearance was deceptive, for he kept to a frugal but carefully planned diet that kept him fit, and for exercise he walked four or five miles each morning at a pace so brisk, as i would learn later when he invited me to accompany him, that i…could scarcely keep up. Over his skin and bones were a loosely warped dhoti and in the chilliness of a north Indian winter he draped a coarsely spin white shawl over his bony shoulders. His skinny legs were bare, his feet in wooden sandals…

How could so humble a man, i wondered, spinning away with his nimble finders on a crude wheel as he talked, have begun almost single-handedly to rock the foundations of the British Empire, aroused a third of a billion [people to rebellion against foreign rule, and taught them the technique of a new revolutionary method – the non-violent civil disobedience – against which western guns and eastern lathis were proving of not much worth. That was what i had come to India to find out.

So Shirer said “How have you done it” and Ghandi smiled. Gandhi said “By Love and Truth… In the long run no force can prevail against them.”


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