Two nights ago about ten or twelve friends were gathered around a dinner table. About half were Indian. I asked the group what memories have been passed on from their parents or grandparents about having met or encountered Gandhi, or participated in any way in India’s freedom movement. With each passing generation the chances of those stories falling off the collective family history get higher. Here are some of the recollections:
- One friend’s grandfather carried Gandhi on his shoulders across a flooded stream, to get him to a gathering on the other side.
- During religious riots her grandparents sheltered their Muslim neighbours in their house. When rioting Hindus knocked on the door, her grandmother, a small woman of formidable presence, drew herself up to her full force and stood in the doorway. “Nobody’s here. You are welcome to come in and check,” she said. The rioters were uncertain, decided to believe her and went away.
- Another friend’s mother in-law was deeply involved, in Delhi, in settling the refugees who were pouring across the border during Partition. She did not ask for donations of cooking utensils or blankets from friends and family. Instead, she would visit each home, stride into the kitchen and say, “You have four pots. You can make do with two.”
- My grandmother would often talk about her one small encounter with Gandhiji. She was about ten years old. An adult in the family took her to a public gathering that Gandhiji was addressing. She does not remember how she got there and back, or even what was said. All she remembered was a snapshot: being held up to look over the heads of hundreds of Indians, and this small, thin man with glasses and a winsome smile, sitting with his legs bent sideways, talking to the crowds.
So, what are the Gandhi stories from your family?