Dear Prof. Finkelstein,
Here’s an edited version (I obviously removed the anecdote :)):
Dearest Prof. Finkelstein,
A very very happy birthday. You are obliged to stay with us until we have peace and justice in the world. Also, please continue giving the lectures and making them public, I hope that you will also cover Marx in the future!
I’ve read your book, What Gandhi Says – some parts of it at least a couple of times. Although, as an Indian I was exposed to the history of our independence struggle since childhood and am pretty sure that I scored well in questions that asked us to describe terms like non-violence, satyagraha, etc., I realize I never understood them in the spirit of Gandhi’s idealist vision. I never realized that Gandhi had a philosophy, a consistent and a beautiful philosophy of resistance that was based on an inherent goodness that is inside all of us. I don’t remember if it was ever stressed in school that non-violence was about courage, and in that sense, our education did nothing to counter the “unspoken prejudice” that non-violence is cowardly. But as you point out repeatedly, Gandhi’s philosophy was about an “awful lot” of courage, a courage to give your life “cheerfully and smilingly” with nothing but goodness in your heart. It was my biggest lesson from the book.
Your book has spurned me to of course explore Gandhi a bit more. I next read an equally small A Very Short Introduction to Gandhi by Bhikhu Parekh, which expands on Gandhi’s ideas and thinking a bit further. Even though Gandhi’s philosophy sounds ridiculous when stretched to its limit (as you often point out in your book), he was truly an original thinker and a genuine human being (although certain criticisms of him made by Ambedkar still stand). In that book, I also found a quote from Einstein:
“A man who has confronted the brutality of Europe with the dignity of a simple human being and thus at all times risen superior.”
I don’t think anyone could have put what Gandhi was about in better words! Thank you for putting me on a path to this quote.
I hope you have beared my letter cheerfully in the spirit of non-violence. Fair warning, more will come in the future.