Arun Gandhi, the fifth grandson of Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi, grew up angry.
Of Indian descent and raised in South Africa, he suffered doubly under apartheid, “attacked by white children for not being white enough and attacked by black children for not being black enough.” Arun’s escalating rage led his parents to move him at age twelve to his grandfather’s ashram in India, where he lived until an assassin ended Mahatma Gandhi’s life two years later.
Arun recalls what he learned during that time in The Gift of Anger And Other Lessons from My Grandfather Mahatma Gandhi. The book released this year relates each lesson as a separate chapter, but as a whole affirms the individual and collective power of community. The angry young man, now in his eighties, has spent more than sixty years in the service of peace and justice. He says the time spent with his beloved “Bapuji” changed the course of his life.
While the world saw Mahatma Gandhi as the leader of a movement to gain Indian independence and advocate for nonviolent, civil disobedience, Arun saw someone else.
“I knew him as a warm, loving grandfather who looked for the best in me and so brought it out,” he writes.
Daily, the boy learned to see all people as one family. Each of the book’s lessons seems to emerge from that simple perception: the importance of humility and of speaking up, the value of solitude, and the power in channeling anger as a force for good, to “separate the just from the unjust.”
But something else emerges from The Gift of Anger, a timeless truth that’s easy to forget in this overloaded, over-wired, overanxious world: We are all in this together. We need each other. And not one of us will survive this life alone.
Time and again, Mahatma Gandhi would turn to the people around him for help and support. Faced with a crisis of his own, Arun found an opportunity to walk once again in his grandfather’s footsteps.
“In joining together, we flourish in ways we never can if we stand alone.”
In the early 1990s, anger over police brutality and racial injustice sparked riots in Los Angeles, California. The rage quickly spread across the country and landed in Memphis, Tennessee where Arun and his wife, Sunanda, in 1991 founded the M.K. Gandhi Institute for Nonviolence at Christian Brothers University.
Fearing an outbreak of violence, people asked Arun to do something that would calm the community. Recalling the time, he writes:
“I wasn’t completely sure what to do. I didn’t have my grandfather’s magnetism or his ability to persuade people. But I knew whenever he couldn’t find an answer, he organized a prayer service and invited people to look for answers with him.”
The day of Arun’s service, more than six hundred people, along with representatives from more than thirty religious organizations came together on a football field to pray for Memphis.
“Peace and hope can blossom when we open ourselves to others,” he writes. “In joining together, we flourish in ways we never can if we stand alone.”
Civil unrest comes in waves these days, each rising higher than the last. Our nation faces increasing threats of war, and we read almost daily about the tragic consequences of racism and inequality. That’s why Arun Gandhi, now an octogenarian, chose this time and space to share his intimate remembrance.
At the ashram, he writes, Bapuji “insisted we look beyond our relatives and accept all of humanity as our family … We each survive only if the world survives.”