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SELECTED LETTERS > GANDHI -SAROJINI NAIDU CORRESPONDENCE Appendix I > Foreword to a collection of Gandhiji's speeches, 1917

 

Foreword to a Collection of Gandhiji's Speeches, 1917

"It is only India that knows how to honour greatness in rags" said a friend to me one day as we watched Mahatma Gandhi cleaving his way through the surging enthusiasm of a vast assembly at Lucknow last year.

For, surely the sudden appearance of Saint Francis of Assisi in his tattered robe in the fashionable purlieus of London or Milan, Paris or Petrograd today were scarcely more disconcerting or incongruous than the presence of this strange man with his bare feet and coarse garments, his tranquil eyes, and calm, kind smile that disclaims even while it acknowledges a homage that emperors cannot buy.

But India, though she shift and enlarge her circumference age after age keeps true to her spiritual centre and retains her spiritual vision undimmed and eager to acclaim her saints. Let us not follow the conventional mode of the world and wait for a man to be dead to canonise him; but rather let our critical judgment confirm the unerring instinct of the people that recognises in Mahatma Gandhi a lineal descendant of those great sons of compassion who became the servants of humanity - Gautama Buddha, Chaitanya, Ramanuja, Ramakrishna.

He lacks, may be, the breadth and height and ecstasy of their mystical attainment: but he is not less than theirs in his intensity of love, his sincerity of service and a lofty simplicity of life which is the austere flower of renunciation and self-sacrifice.

There are those who impatient and afraid of his exalted idealism would fain ignore him as fanatic, a mere fanciful dreamer of inconvenient and impossible dreams.

And yet, who can deny that this gentle and lowly apostle of passive resistance has more than a militant energy and courage and knows as Gokhale said how to "mould heroes out of common clay?"

Who can deny that this inexorable idealist who would reduce all life to an impersonal formula is the most vital personal force in the national movement and the prophet of Indian self-realisation?

He has mastered the secret of real greatness and learnt that true Yoga is wisdom in action and that love is the fulfilling of the law.

SAROJINI NAIDU

Hyderabad,
Deccan
November 22, 1917