At intervals in the world's historysometimes long-spaced intervalsa great personality stands forth. A great soul is perhaps a better definition for I am not referring to dictators, generals or scientists. I mean the great spiritual personalities, for these only have any permanent and evolutionary value.
People often query today
whether we are sinking into one of those periodical Dark Ages which
sometimes last for centuries. Indeed, Winston Churchill in his History
of the English Speaking Peoples makes the surprising statement that
for Britain the dark ages lasted from Roman times until Queen Victoria! We
would seem at the moment not to be making much moral headway, either in
Europe, in Asia or in Africa. When one looks back upon the civilisation of
Egypt which built the Pyramids and the glory that was Greece, it does
indeed seem as though civilisations ebb and flow like the eternal tides. I
liken the Earth Plane to a kind of Cosmic School where outstanding
individuals or an elite push forward, leaving the stragglers to struggle
slowly on. The world is a kind of Public School, and a Third Form
unendingly follows up the progressing Fourth. At wide-spaced intervals
some genius thrusts forward. Thus the human race laboriously wends its
way, with an occasional heartening acceleration as some radiant soul
appears who helps to accelerate our forward movement.
When I look up at the sky
at night there seem to be smaller, lesser lights grouped close to a
brilliant star; and there is a mass of small ones, a kind of stardust, and
of such are we! But among those lesser lights one can pick out one or two
that scintillate. And so with humans; nor need we go so far back in
history but pin-point our attention for instance on Gautama, the Buddha,
whose light still shines forth and affects millions.
Jesus inaugurated an era
which illumines a considerable part of the world. Mohammed's light
radiates no less today, and Krishna is still a shining light. Then there
are lesser stars, but closer to us, such Saints as Francis of Assisi. I
cannot resist mentioning St. Francis in particular, for not only is he my
favourite Saint, but his mantle (torn and tattered in its material sense)
would seem to have devolved upon another great soul of our epoch.
I am writing of course as
a Christian, but my Christianity was to undergo a new impetus the day I
met the Hindu St. Francis; for as such I regard Mahatma Gandhi.
Looking back upon that
'Round Table Conference' epoch, it is as though something very big, very
important had happened in my life, a turning point in fact, for knowing
'the Great Little Mahatma' wrought a change in me. It was as though my
whole nature underwent a metamorphosis. Some such alteration in the ego
must have happened to many who in those far back days in Palestine came in
contact with our Lord. Those early Christians could not know or guess the
great effect of His mission, but they sensed the beauty of His soul. I am
not trying to suggest a similarity or that Gandhi had the mission of a
God, and yet, God-like he was in his love of truth, his passion for
justice, and his pursuit of peace. Gandhi had bigger crowds to sway than
ever had Jesus. It was like unto a miracle when those millions accepted
the doctrine of Resistant Non-violence.
Is Gandhi less a saint
because he drove the British out of India? But Jesus whipped the merchants
out of the Temple with knotted cords.
Having given a whole
chapter to Gandhi in my last book To the Four Winds, I will not
repeat the details of our meeting except to say that while he allowed me
to model his portrait as he sat spinning on the floor, it was with
reverence that I approached him. I had read about him so much and talked
of him with so many Hindus even before his landing in England. Lest I be
mistaken for a sentimental woman, I will quote the opinion of a fellow
sculptor, the American Jo Davidson. Like myself, Jo too was a collector of
celebrities. He had modelled the heads of nearly every President, General,
Prime Minister, poet and author, but "the higher they are the less
they impress me" he said to a gathering of friends, "of them
all, only Gandhi has seemed to me truly great."
Gandhi was an enemy of
the British Empire, he had spent much time in British prisons in India; he
was anathema to Winston Churchill who refused to meet him, and yet, when
he came to London for the Round Table Conference he was received with
respect and cordiality by many important English people.
While I was modelling
him, his secretary slithered down next to him on the floor and interrupted
his spinning to discuss details of a journey. He was invited to Oxford by
Dr. Gilbert Murray. At the same time he was being reminded "Tomorrow
Bapu, don't forget you are invited by the Archbishop of Canterbury to his
Palace at Lambeth
I was present at a
reception at the Carlton Hotel in honour of the Round Table delegates.
There were innumerable politicians, several ex-Viceroys and a galaxy of
Maharajahs. Gandhi did not want to seem unfriendly by abstaining, but
worldly parties were not in his line. As a friendly gesture however, he
put in an appearance, that is to say he ventured as far as the doorway,
and there he stood enframed and hesitating. Almost immediately there was a
general movement of the crowd towards him. The Maharajah of Bikaner,
magnificently tall and imposing, was one of the first who went forward to
greet him. Lady Minto, widow of a Viceroy and an old friend of my
family's, said to me: "I must know himyou must introduce me"
and the two remained for some time absorbed in conversation.
His great friends in
England were, as we all know, the two Miss Lesters who ran a hostel in the
East End of London. Gandhi slept at the hostel during the whole of his
sojourn in London, for, as he explained, he cared to be with the simple
and the poorwhich also reminds one of St. Francis.
At the Mahatma's
suggestion I spent a night at the hostel in order to be present at the
night prayers. It was a raw foggy November night, and our bedrooms, more
like monks' cells, were on the top of the building with access from the
roof terrace. Mirabehn it was who came and woke me up at the hour of two
(if I remember right!). Mirabehn reminded me of the picture by Puvis de
Chavannes of St. Genevieve, with her white linen veil and simple draped
dress. Vividly I retain the picture of that night: the Mahatma so frail
and wrapped in his white khaddar, sitting cross-legged on the thin
mattress which was his bed on the floor. His Hindu secretary completed the
little gathering, and with the door wide open letting in the cold night,
they chanted their beautiful Hindu hymns. I was numbed by sleep and cold,
but the occasion remains vivid and colourful, deeply impressive, never to
At five, I accompanied
him on his early morning walk. We were followed by two detectives whose
duty was to accompany him wherever he went. "Good morning,
gentlemen!" he said half laughingly, "I'm sorry for you this
morning." Indeed one could hardly see further ahead than arm's
length. Gandhi being the same colour as the night, one seemed to be
accompanying a bit of white drapery floating as it were at very high speed
along the borders of a canal. One could hear the water although one could
not see it. He walked so fast that I had difficulty in keeping up with
him, but Mirabehn urged me forward: "This is your best chance of
talking with him..."
It was not politics that
I wanted to discuss. There had been endless political conversations with a
number of visitors while I was modeling him. I wanted to draw him out on
the subject of religion and ethics, and glean from him some precious
advice. I imagined myself back in the Middle Ages, walking the rough road
by the side of St. Francis, and it needs little imagination to conjure up
the sort of conversation that there would have been. I remembered reading
in a life of the Buddha, fragments recorded by his disciples of his
conversation with people he met on the road. There must also have been
many who waylaid Jesus, or accompanied him on his walks, demanding his
opinion and begging for his advice...
Mahatma Gandhi will seem as legendary and as precious in the remote future
as any recorded conversations with Jesus or with the Buddha. "Now's
" urged Mirabehn, and as there was only room for two
abreast on that narrow tow-path, she tactfully dropped behind.
Jesus would, one feels,
have held forth on the subject of Divine Love. Gandhi held forth on the
necessity of eliminating hate. He affirmed that he did not hate the
English, although he was obliged to fight them, for the Indian masses must
be liberated. But the unwavering relentless fight would be non-violent.
semi-religious conversation became purely religious: "Whoever has a
love of truth and sincerity of heart is a religious personit matters
not whether God is worshipped according to Christian rites, Jewish, Mohammedan,
Buddhist or Hinduwhat counts is not the form, what matters is the truth.
We approach God in the way which is most familiar to us. Mine is the Hindu
way, but every religious form is a road leading to the eventual goal. Each
of us in our varied ways is reaching towards God...."
To have been privileged
to know Gandhi, to be called his friend, is something I feel which touches
one's aura with a tinge of gold. At parting he said to me: "I have
grown to love you, I shall never forget you..." and I know that his
love had the quality associated with the words of Christ.... "Love ye
one another"the love that is Divine. To have known Gandhi, to have
been privileged to be close to him, to be called his friend, is something
which marks one for all timeone will be different in a next incarnation
because one has met him in this. May be those of us who have known him are
destined in a next life to work with him for some great cause. I like to
think this is 50, I cherish the dream that he will again be a great man, an
even greater Leader, and that I shall be privileged to be near him.