Gandhi and Ruskin postcard.png
Oct 02 2019

Honouring the 150th anniversary of Gandhi's birth

October 2nd 2019

2 October 2019

Mahatma Gandhi (1869-1948)

Mohandas K Gandhi, regarded by Indians as ‘the Father of the Nation’, was
born in Porbandar, Gujerat a hundred and fifty years ago today: 2 October

For followers of John Ruskin this makes for a nice coincidence, 2019
being the year of Ruskin’s bicentenary. There is an official website for the
Gandhi sesquicentenary, set up by the Indian government:

Gandhi first read Ruskin in 1904 when he was working as a lawyer for the
Indian community in South Africa. In his autobiography he tells the story of an
overnight journey on a train. A friend had given him a copy of Ruskin’s Unto
this Last and he read it on the train. When the morning came, he tells us, he
was a changed man.

He later wrote of Ruskin’s Unto this Last that it ‘brought about an
instantaneous and practical transformation in my life .... I translated it later into
Gujarati, entitling it Sarvodaya (The Welfare of All). I believe that I discovered
some of my deepest convictions reflected in this great book of Ruskin, and
that is why it so captured me and made me transform my life. A poet is one
who can call forth the good latent in the human breast. Poets do not influence
all alike, for everyone is not evolved in equal measure. The teaching of Unto
This Last I understood to be: 1. That the good of the individual is contained in
the good of all. 2. That a lawyer's work has the same value as the barber's
inasmuch as all have the same right of earning their livelihood from their work.
3 That a life of labour, i.e., the life of the tiller of the soil and the
handicraftsman is the life worth living.
The first of these I knew. The second I
had dimly realized. The third had never occurred to me. Unto This Last made
it as clear as daylight for me that the second and the third were contained in
the first. I arose with the dawn, ready to reduce these principles to practice.’
M.K. Gandhi, An Autobiography or The Story of my Experiments with Truth
(1927-1929), trans. Mahadev Desai, part IV, ch. XVIII.

Sarvodaya is really an adaptation of Unto this Last for an Indian context.
There is a ‘retrotranslation’ of it in English, Unto this Last: A Paraphrase,
translated by Valji Govindji Desai. It can be found here, and a few
copies are also available from Peter Miller of the Guild of St George:

In 1949, just after Gandhi’s assassination, George Orwell wrote this of him:
‘regarded simply as a politician and, compared with the other leading political
figures of our time, how clean a smell he has managed to leave behind!

Clive Wilmer