Egger’s book of the month: Exploring Gandhi’s philosophies

One writer's take on the Louis Fischer book "Gandhi"

Matthew Egger, copy editor

Reading Gandhi by Louis Fischer this summer was a last minute, almost accidental decision. I was scrambling to pack for a hiking trip in the Alps when I realized that I still needed to find a book to bring along. I browsed my shelf without any luck and looked in my brother’s room. I saw a book that piqued my interest, Gandhi. I paged through it and threw it into my backpack without much thought. I had known little to nothing about Gandhi prior to reading his biography, so to say that reading it was enlightening is a gross understatement.

Perhaps the greatest part of Gandhi is that it combines his life story and philosophies with India’s quest for independence.  The work chronicles Gandhi’s development as a statesman beginning with his childhood in India, education in England, practice of law in South Africa, and return to India to fight for the country’s independence from the British Empire.

Reading Gandhi, one is able to learn of the extremely ascetic life he led. Gandhi followed a very strict diet consisting primarily of fruit and nuts, frequently walked 20 miles from his farm to the nearest town and back, abstained from all drugs, and practice celibacy from age 38 until his death 40 years later. He urged people to forego the pursuit of rich lifestyles in favor of a simple life. For example, “Life begins after the needs of the body have been met, yet how many people ruin life for the sake of rich living. The soul, alas, needs a temporary abode, but a clean mud hut will do as well as a palace.” As I was hiking, attempting to live a simple life myself, reading Gandhi helped me gain invaluable perspective on the practice.

During India’s fight for independence, Gandhi became famous for his use of satyagraha, a passive form of political resistance. He frequently embarked upon fasts as a form of protest. One of his most famous fasts took place over a period of 21 days, when Gandhi protested the discrimination of the Harijans, the lowest caste in Hindu society. Another example of the use of satyagraha in India’s independence movement is the Salt March, which took place in 1930. Participants left on a 240-mile march to the sea, arriving 10 days later. The aim of the march was to protest the British salt monopoly, which was established directly by the British government through its prohibition of local salt production.

While the fight for Indian independence was widely supported throughout the country, it was very divided along the Hindu-Muslim religious divide. Gandhi frequently clashed with Muhammad Ali Jinnah, another Indian statesman who also opposed British rule, but hoped for the partition of India into three states: Pakistan, India, and Bangladesh. Contrarily, Gandhi urged for the birth of a unified state because of his desire for the solidarity of all people, no matter their backgrounds.

Obviously, a Gandhi biography must end on a sad note, with the assassination of the universally loved statesman. However, Gandhi felt no fear towards the inevitability of his eventual perishing, once saying “Man lives freely only by his readiness to die.”