What would it be like to see Gandhi come alive right in front of your eyes?
This evening, I was privileged to watch on stage the acclaimed production of Sammy! – A word that broke an Empire“ – a superb tribute to the life of Gandhi.
Sammy – derived from the Hindi word Swami – was an insult thrown at Indians in South Africa around the time Gandhi was there in the later part of the 19th century.
What South Africans did not realize was that swami really stands for – “Master” or “Teacher”. It refers to someone learned, esteemed or even holy. “Sammy Gandhi” heard the shouts in the streets of Durban. Quietly smiling to himself, he resolutely determined to turn this abuse into an adequate description.
The play is a moving and inspirational homage to the life and message of Mahatma Gandhi, a man whose influence changed politics irrevocably. Very cleverly, the play charts Gandhi’s transformation from a timid barrister to a worldly statesman. Gandhi started off not even being able to speak in court and yet in his lifetime he became a master orator whose words moved millions and broke the British Empire. His life changes when thrown out of a first class train carriage in South Afric reserved for whites only.
We get to learn of his inner demons through his self talk and altar ego. We also get to see the rarely portrayed side of an angry and domineering young Gandhi as he cajoles and bullies his wife Kasturba into his way of thinking.
Below are some of the key quotes and teachings from Gandhi, that I remember from the play:-
• Prejudice begets prejudice – Gandhi said this when convincing his fellow Indian professionals in South Africa to also include the Indian labourers in their fight for justice.
• There is one law – the inner law, also known as your conscious. Gandhi explains that the law of any nation ultimately has to bow to our spirit and our conscious. The spirit is enough.
• We can turn personal ethics into political weapons. This is when Gandhi adopts brings aligns his personal values and political aims.
• Whenever one door closes, a thousand others open up. This is when Gandhi was perplexed and puzzled as to the next way forward after having been continuously denied by the British.
• Equality is enshrined in the heart.
• Religion is carrying out the right action as per your conscious.
• There is virtue in non-violence.
• Love thy neighbour
• Adopt firmness in truth
• Injustice is best opposed by those who are worst affected by it. This is when Gandhi decided on his famous salt march protest to help the poor of India fight the unjust and punitive salt tax.
• “How can you kill a man who is voluntarily dead!?” Gandhi joked with the South African officer, having won concessions after his non violent protests.
• “I am just a channel for good”, Gandhi says as he hands over his gift of handmade sandals he himself made whilst in prison.
• “A wee brown Mickey Mouse of a man” – description of Gandhi when one of his ultimately devoted friends meets him for the first time.
• “Carry out service – not for the fruits of it, but for the sake of the action”, Gandhi’s quote from the Bhagwad Gita
• A true anarchist is someone who ignores his own conscious!
• “First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win”
• Ahimsa means non-violence and self control.
• Participation in war does not equate to ahimsa.
• I am what I am – I must therefore face my inner voice, Gandhi during another period of introspection and self doubt.
• The truth will set thy free!
• Speak out truthfully without fear or favour
• “Caught in the web of love spun by the mystic Gandhi”, comment fromone of his devoted followers.
• The will of the people is greater than the might of the government.
• An eye for an eye will make the whole world blind.
• Remove untouchability – just like that!
• The untouchables were children of god – just like everyone else. Hence he called them Harijans which literally means children of god.
• We seek not freedom won on the brunt of violence. What we seek is freedom from violence.
• Freedom – but at what price?! Gandhi is saddened and ultimately broken as the British succeed in their policy of divide and rule, and the partition of India is sanctioned against Gandhi’s wish and advice.
• If no one will walk with you, walk alone. Gandhi feels isolated and alone as millions are killed and displaced during the partition of India.
• Ethics must enter politics.
• Terrorism is answered with more terrorism.
• Even if we have weapons we must stick to non-violence.
• There is nothing better on the horizon than non-violence.
• Death is as much a part of life, as life is part of death – upon the passing away of his wife and ardent supporter Kasturba.
• Gandhi made prison the most exclusive school in the world – during his frequent periods of imprisonment, he learnt new skills and used the time for writing, reading and self awareness building. He also advocated the same for his fellow prisoners.
• Gandhi made diamonds out of his dirt – through his self awareness and inner dialogue he faced his demons and conquered them.
• Gandhi compared his salt march protest to the Boston tea party in the USA – both changed the course of history and ultimately brought freedom to millions.
• When asked if he was under dressed for a meeting with the King, Gandhi replied that the King had enough on for both of them.
• Courage comes from doing what you believe in.
The play ended with Gandhi being assassinated by an aggrieved Hindu. Jawarhalal Nehru explains how the light had gone out of everyone’s lives and yet Gandhi’s light will continue to shine forever.
(On a side-note, I have never understood why Gandhi did NOT stand up for the human rights nor fight for the freedom of the indigenous black African people in South Africa – after all they were even more oppressed than the Indians. If anyone has an answer to this, please add your comments below).