Hey kids – today’s blog post is for – you! And if you like it, feel free to forward to other kids. It’s about a superhero, so hopefully you’ll like it – especially when you find out that this is a true story!
I’ve noticed some things about superheroes. Sometimes they are from another planet, and this is what gives them their special superpowers. I’ve also noticed that there is a scenario which we sometimes read about or see in superhero stories. You know – the scene where the country is under threat – perhaps from a monster that is attacking the western side of the country. And then another similar monster, this one perhaps even stronger than the first one, starts attacking in the east. The president of the country has to decide where to send the security forces to, and where to send the superhero to. He ends up sending members of the army and police to the lesser of the threats, and the superhero to the more dangerous one, and the security forces end up struggling with the monster that they are fighting, while the superhero defeats the monster that he or she is fighting.
Now kids – believe it or not – the scene that you just read about…this actually occurred in real life! Yes, there is a true historical incident similar to this scenario – and in this story, which actually occurred in history, there is a real-life superhero!
Before I get to the part about the monsters, the superhero, and this person’s superpowers, I’d like to first let you know about where and when this occurred. This was during the summer of 1947 – yes, a while back, but still in somewhat recent history. And this occurred in India. At that time India was ruled by the British and the person from England who ran the country was known as the ‘viceroy’. The viceroy at that time was Lord Mountbatten.
India was to become a free country on August 15th, 1947, but – as part of the agreement for freedom – the country was to be split into two – India and Pakistan. Pakistan itself later split into Pakistan and Bangladesh. The creation of modern day Pakistan involved splitting a state called ‘Punjab’, and the creation of modern day Bangladesh involved the splitting of a state called ‘Bengal’. And, unfortunately, during the time leading up to independence, there started to be something called ‘communal riots’ and ‘communal fighting’. The word ‘communal’ means ‘related to a community’, and communal riots are when two communities fight with each other. In this case, the fighting was based on religion.
Now back to our superhero story. Let’s start with the monsters. These monsters were called…HATE. This monster initially appeared in Punjab. Communities that had lived side by side for thousands of years started fighting with each other due to this monster called HATE. From the smallest villages to the largest cities, HATE caused a madness to take over the land, and there was fighting and destruction everywhere. HATE even managed to appear in the smallest incidents – there is a documented case where one farm animal wandered from his farm to his neighbor’s farm…and this led to rioting where 19 people died.
Yes, the monster of HATE had taken over the hearts of many. Lord Mountbatten knew that if Punjab was not brought under control, then there would be thousands, perhaps millions of deaths and refugees. He needed to decide what to do. He decided to send all of his available security forces to Punjab – 55,000 police personnel. Yes, 55,000! The Punjab was very big – in modern terms the former undivided Punjab would have a population of 160 million, making it the sixth largest country in the world if one doesn’t include India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh, in this comparison (only China, the United States of America, Indonesia, Brazil, and Nigeria, would be bigger). But in a normal situation, this extra influx of 55,000 security personnel would have helped calm the situation.
But this was not a normal situation. And HATE was not a normal monster. Kids – remember this part – HATE, when fought with HATE…grows stronger! This kept happening in Punjab, and unfortunately these additional security forces were not able to contain HATE. In the end, over a million people were killed in the tragic violence, and history’s largest mass migration of people occurred – 12.5 million refugees.
Kids – I know your thinking, “OK – this is somewhat interesting – but what about the real-life superhero story?!” Please be patient – I’m almost there.
Now let’s switch to Bengal. Even though Bengal was also being partitioned, the situation was still fairly calm there. Bengal was even bigger than Punjab – in modern terms the former undivided Bengal would have a population of 241 million – making this the third largest country in the world. Yes, you read this right – third! I’m excluding India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh in this comparison – only China and the United States of America would be bigger. Thus, if another HATE monster showed up here, it would be disastrous.
And this is what happened. A second HATE monster appeared that summer in Calcutta, the capital of Bengal. It had appeared a year earlier in this city (a separate story which I won’t get into right now), but at the start of the summer of 1947, overall the situation appeared manageable in Calcutta. However, as the summer progressed, and as it neared the end of July, there were signs that the second HATE monster was arriving in Calcutta.
Lord Mountbatten knew that he needed to keep the calm in Calcutta at all costs. But he had already sent all of his available forces to Punjab. What to do now?
Now kids – we’re finally getting to our superhero and his superpowers. He was not young, strong, and muscular, as one often sees superheroes in comics and movies. His age…77 years old. His height…five feet four inches (1.63 meters). His weight…100 pounds (45 kilograms). His full name was Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi, commonly known as Mahatma (which means “Great Soul”) Gandhi.
Mountbatten decided to call the superhero I have been referring to and to ask him to go to Calcutta. Gandhi had other plans for India’s day of independence on August 15th, and thus could not go. However, after they discussed, Gandhi agreed to go to Calcutta.
OK – you kids might be wondering about the superpower part. I’ll explain this. Just like Superman’s superpowers were due to his being born on a different planet, Gandhi also came from a different planet. But unlike Krypton, Gandhi’s ‘planet’ was a virtual planet – a planet of the mind…and of the heart. A planet of those who had transcended our petty differences, ascended to the heights of concern for one’s fellow human beings, and obtained spiritual enlightenment. And it was a planet we could all reach, but few manage to do so.
And his superpowers? There was only one – the power of LOVE. He believed in fighting HATE with LOVE. He has been doing this throughout his life, and was about to do this again.
Back to Bengal. August 13th. Gandhi’s car pulls up in the center of the city where he will be staying. A crowd gathers. An angry crowded. Yelling and screaming at him. HATRED in their hearts. There are mobs in Calcutta all ready to kill each other, and there is HATRED everywhere. The crowd greets his car…someone throws a bottle which hits his car…others are throwing stones…
He does not return HATE with HATE. His door slowly opens. He slowly steps out, and raises one of his hands indicating peace. He starts walking towards the angry crowd…alone.
“You wish to do me ill,” he states, “and so I am coming to you.” He continues walking. He is using his power of LOVE to fight HATRED.
The crowd freezes…stunned. Someone yells, “They have attacked our families, slaughtered our communities…is it your family they cut to pieces?” HATRED in his angry voice.
Gandhi responded with LOVE, “Yes…it was my family; because your family is my family. Violence will not solve any problems.”
Someone else yells, “We want an eye for an eye!”. More HATRED.
Gandhi shows more of his superpower of LOVE when he responds, “An eye for an eye makes the whole world blind.” He continues walking and reaches the house where he will be staying.
Word spreads quickly about his presence there. His message of LOVE spreads quickly. Just like HATE grew on itself…LOVE also showed the power to grow on itself. The next day on August 14th he held his regular evening prayer session. Ten thousand people showed up. He was starting to have an impact. He pleaded with the people of Calcutta, “If Calcutta can return to reason and brotherhood, then, perhaps, all India may be saved. Otherwise, if the flames of communal strife envelop the whole country, how can our newborn freedom survive?”
Kids – you can read the details on your own about how he fought HATE with LOVE in Calcutta at this time. I’ll just summarize the end result. On midnight of August 14th, when India received independence, Lahore, the capital of Punjab, the city called the “Paris of the East”, was in flames. So much so, that the new Prime Minister Nehru, would later recall to his sister about his famous independence speech that he gave, “I was hardly aware of what I was saying. The words came welling up, but my mind could only conceive the awful picture of Lahore in flames.”
And what about Calcutta? What miracle had occurred there in the two days since Gandhi’s arrival? His message of LOVE had spread like wildfire, and groups from different communities, who had been ready to kill each other, marched together for peace, gangs threw down their weapons at his feet and begged for his forgiveness, those ready to kill others from different communities now took solemn pledges to protect the other community, and people from all communities shook hands, exchanged sweets, and celebrated joyously together. His superpower had worked, and this single man accomplished what an army of 55,000 could not.
Today, October 2nd, is celebrated as the birth anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi. This is just one of the many, many miraculous incidents in his life where he demonstrated the power of LOVE over HATE. This story seems hard to believe, but it is true – and there are many more like this. So many so, that Albert Einstein once said, “Generations to come, it may well be, will scarce believe that such a man as this one ever in flesh and blood walked upon this Earth.” I’d suggest that you kids read a biography on Mahatma Gandhi to learn more about this amazing person.
I would normally end here, but I wanted to share another thought with you kids. You may wonder if there are others from that planet I mentioned. Yes, there have not been too many, but there have been others from that planet who have also walked amongst us. They always do what Gandhi said about his own life – to live out the following thought: “My life is my message”. And this planet is a planet we can all aspire to and any of us can reach…and these individuals inspire us to try to reach this level of enlightenment.
And, since you kids like certain types of music, I wanted to end with a rock song about another person from this same planet, but whose lyrics also apply to Gandhi. This song is about Dr. Martin Luther King, Junior, who also fought HATE with LOVE. He responded to HATE with both words and actions of LOVE, and was able to change the hearts and minds of a nation. Just sit back and listen to the soulful and inspiring vocals of Bono, the energetic guitar of the Edge, Adam Clayton’s thunderous bass, and Larry Mullen Junior’s perfect percussion, as U2 sings, “Pride – In the Name of Love”. While written for Dr. King, these lyrics can apply also to Mahatma Gandhi and all other similar ‘great souls’ – let’s all aspire to learn from them, and to emulate them to improve our own lives and the lives of others.