Among the greatest people I have ever met was a man named Mahatma Gandhi. Mahatma was not his real name but it is a word of respect. Only a person who is considered holy and good is called Mahatma. Gandhi is a famous person, so famous that people in almost every country around the world have heard of him. They, too, call him Mahatma, because he was a good and a great man.
One time he went to see the Queen of England. You might expect him to dress in his best suit and tie. He was a highly educated Indian and very proud of his country and at that very time he was trying to win freedom for India from the British Empire. So he went to see the Queen wearing Indian clothes - the clothes worn by some of India's great leaders but usually by the common people. Instead of trousers he wore what is called a dhoti. A dhoti is a long piece of white cotton cloth that is wrapped around the waist and up between the legs almost like a diaper, but it hangs down along the legs and almost covers the.. He wore a common shirt made of homespun Indian cloth. Dressed that way the Queen graciously met him and talked with him, because he was such an important person.
What made him so great? India was a colony in the British Empire and was ruled by people from England. He believed that the Indian people would never become self-respecting, nor India a great [++ Page60] nation, until Indiana made their own laws and chose their own rulers. Not everyone in India agreed with him but he worked night and day and soon hundreds and thousands of other people joined him, working for Indian freedom.
That was only part of it. In his religion (he was a Hindu) people were divided into what are called castes. Farmers formed one caste. Those in the army formed another one. The highest caste included religious leaders and also some very favored families. But there were millions of Hindus who did not belong to any caste and were called outcasts or untouchables. The caste people looked down on them and forced them to do the kinds of work that were considered unclean. They were denied the rights and opportunities other people had.
Gandhi said as long as the Indian people treated other Indians that way he could understood why people in England might think all Indian people were inferior to them. He believed that English people used that as an excuse to rule India. Gandhi said that this condition had to be changed before India was ready for freedom from Great Britain.
After careful thought Gandhi broke with the ancient Hindu tradition and began calling these millions of untouchables or outcasts, Harijans. The word means "children of God." And he went among them and tried to help them. That began to change people's attitude toward the Harijans and gave them a chance to prove their worth. This helped make Gandhi a great leader.
We can all learn a little from that, too. Like the people of India we want freedom to do as we please. Gandhi said in order to be free a person has to prove he or she is worth it. Once Harigans were given respect many of them became outstanding businessmen and leaders of their community. When we learn to handle the freedom we have we gain the respect of our parents and others.
Gandhi believed he had to be an example to others. Many of the people had to live in humble dwellings, so to show that such a house was not a disgrace he began to live in a common ordinary village house. It had mud walls and the floor was carefully swept hard earth. Most Indian people do not have much furniture and it is their custom to sit on the floor. So when we went to his home that is what we did. He also took up spinning. Spinning was so simple everyone could do it. He urged people to spin and make their own cloth and clothing. That way they would not have to buy cloth manufactured in Great Britain and they would earn money when they sold the cloth.
You night be saying, "Come on, tell us about your visit to Gandhi." well, it was when one of my professors from Boston University came to India. Dr. Elmer Leslie and his son Jim said they wanted to meet Gandhi. We wrote him and Gandhi graciously [++Page 61] offered to meet us. So Dr. Orville Davis, the Principal of our College, Dr.Leslie and his son Jim, and I drove about 200 miles to Sevagram, the little village where Gandhi lived and he received us in his home.
We sat with him on the floor in his little house. We felt very humble in the presence of such a great man. We asked him many questions about the future of India and as he replied we could see he had great plans for the country. Then we were surprised when he said, "I have a great respect for Christianity. I often read the Sermon on the Mount and have gained much from it. I know of no one who has done more for humanity than Jesus. In fact, there is nothing wrong with Christianity, but the trouble is with you Christians. You do not begin to live up to your own teachings." That made us all the more humble. We were impressed by his honesty and his very gracious words. We stayed with him for about an hour and a half in his home and then we drove back to Jabalpur.
He was a great man and people loved him because he stood for what he believed was right and was willing to die for it. A few years later one of the men of his own religion who disagreed with him went to one of his prayer meetings and while there he took out a gun and shot him. Gandhi is now thought of as the father of his country (India), and is among the greatest men who have lived. I consider him the greatest man who has lived during my lifetime. [By James E. McEldowney, August 1997]
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