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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Thursday, February 21, 2002

Grandson carries Gandhi's message to Hawai'i

 •  Arun Gandhi reaches beyond Hindu religious traditions

By Mary Kaye Ritz
Religion & Ethics Writer

Arun Gandhi, who learned at the knee of famous grandfather, Mohandas K. Gandhi, has a message for Hawai'i.

Arun Gandhi watched history unfold at the ashram of his grandfather. This picture is part of the "Hope and Heroes: Portraits of Integrity" series.

Photo from Barry Shainbaum's book "Hope and Heroes: Portraits of Integrity."

His message: Violence isn't the answer to Sept. 11.

Inundated daily with requests to lecture and hundreds of e-mails about his writings, including his latest article, "Nonviolence and Terrorism," which has been reprinted all over the world, Gandhi today is even more fervently trying to spread the lessons of nonviolence instilled upon him by his grandfather.

"While that event (of Sept. 11) is terrible and we don't want to wish it on anybody, we can't respond to this in anger," he said from his office at the M.K. Gandhi Institute for Nonviolence, which he founded with his wife in Memphis, Tenn. "Sept. 11 should be a wake-up call for all of us."

He prefers responding to hate with something other than more hate. Tolerance and nonviolence will break the cycle, he said.

Communities must join together to see how hate took root in the first place, then address those issues together, he said.

Arun Gandhi, who will be making his second trip to Hawai'i (the first was a two-island pleasure trip several years ago with his wife, Sunanda), knows the root of anger. He knows it in his very bones.

Arun Gandhi lecture
 •  7-9 p.m. March 9, Unity Church sanctuary
 •  $20
 •  479-5179 or 735-4436 ext. 303
 •  Part of a community-sponsored Season For Peace and Nonviolence (SeasonForPeace.com), through April 4
 •  Also: Reception with Gandhi, 4-6 p.m., with pupus; $35; $50 for both lecture and reception
Born in South Africa as the fifth grandson of India's martyred spiritual leader, he was beaten up by kids, themselves victims of apartheid, for, alternately, being too light and too dark.

His parents, Sushila and Manilal (Mohandas' second son), hoped that time with his grandfather would help the 12-year-old Arun learn to control his rage. They took him to India to live with his grandfather the mahatma ("great soul") in 1946.

Sleeping on the veranda in his grandfather's ashram, he watched as history unfolded: The 18 months he spent with his grandfather were the most tumultuous in India's struggle to free itself from British rule.

His parents, who made their home in South Africa, spreading Gandhi's message there, came periodically to visit, but young Arun spent most of his time in his grandfather's care. His Indian cousins would come for visits, but he was the only grandchild to spend a long stretch of time with the elder Gandhi.

When Arun Gandhi looks back on those months, he understands with the head and heart of an older, wiser man how special were the seeds planted by his grandfather, whom he remembers as loving and kind but also very strict.

"Grandfather was a stickler for discipline," he recalled. "Everybody got up for 5 a.m. prayers. The whole day, from early morning to when we went to bed, every hour was demarcated, including play time. If somebody asked you what you would do (at a specific time of the day), you would know.

"When he told me, it sounded very harsh, but then I saw that he didn't ask us to do something he wouldn't do himself. If he's doing it, then we could do it, too."

He has talked about the pencil of his youth — a pencil that he threw away because it was nearly too short to use. He asked his grandfather for a new one and the mahatma sent him out with a flashlight, searching for two hours to find the discarded one. When Arun brought it back, the elder Gandhi sat him down to make sure he learned two lessons: that discarding an item with some use left in it was criminal, and that over-consumption is violence against humanity.

The time with his grandfather changed him considerably, but gradually, Arun Gandhi says.

"All the things he taught me, not all made sense," Gandhi said.

"I didn't have the maturity, but they stuck in back of my mind. As I grew up and started to reflect on his life and his message, I began to understand what an important message he gave me. As an adult, I had to accept it and make it a part of my life."

These are lessons he has tried to teach to his own children, and especially his four grandchildren, with whom he spends as much time as possible. The two older ones are university students in the United States; the younger ones are pre-teens in India.

Gandhi finds rearing children a challenge. "Today, we are constantly teaching our children to be selfish and self-centered," he said. "They have to reach the top, achieve their ambitions by any means possible. They don't consider anybody else to get to the top. When we give them a selfish foundation, that's where the problems begin.

"I've been trying to teach my children respect and understanding, especially by living it."

As his parents tried to teach by "loving discipline," so does he.

"We can't teach when they see us doing something else altogether," he said. "They learn mostly from what they see us doing. We've got to live what we want our children to learn."

Correction: The photo of Arun Gandhi came from Barry Shainbaum's book "Hope and Heroes: Portraits of Integrity." It was misidentified because of an editor's error.