Mahanth S. Joishy is Editor of usindiamonitor.com
When did Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi transform from being just a regular guy to becoming the Mahatma (“Great Soul”), a transcendental figure of the 20th century? The accumulated experiences of any man’s life are often credited with forming his character, some mysterious combination of nature and nurture. However, I would pinpoint a particular moment in time: the day he was forcibly kicked off the first-class train compartment by police at the Pietermaritzburg train station in South Africa, where Gandhi was traveling for work. The date was June 7, 1893, and Gandhi was violently pushed out when he refused to disembark willingly because he wasn’t white, though he had a duly purchased first-class fare. This incident burned within Gandhi and helped turn him on to the community organizing and rabble-rousing that would initialize the path toward becoming the founding father of the modern Indian nation. Until then, he was a mediocre young lawyer at best and had led an unremarkable life by all accounts, including his own.
Much less discussed is the American connection at that fateful time, which Gandhi has recounted in his seminal autobiography, An Autobiography or the Story of My Experiments with Truth. Gandhi was in serious need of help after a restless night at the cold station once the train had left. He finally caught a different train to Pretoria the next day but was beaten en route by yet another railway guard who did not appreciate an Indian sitting in his compartment. There was nobody there to receive a fatigued Gandhi at the destination. Gandhi was concerned about how to find lodging in a strange new place in a foreign country, a highly prejudiced town that would not admit Indian guests at its inns. And then came a semblance of humanity from an unexpected source. To wit: Read the rest of this entry