David Kirby – Gandhi

photo credit: Lainmoon


David Kirby

You cry easily, sure, but nothing prepares you
for the place where Gandhi died, the bungalow,
now a museum, where you visit his prayer room
and bedroom and look at the case that holds
his glasses and walking stick before
taking the sidewalk where raised footsteps lead you to the garden

where his assassin waited. “I know the path,”
said Gandhi. “It is straight and narrow. It is like
the edge of the sword. I rejoice to walk on it.”
And if you’re the only one on that path, that’s okay:
his friend the poet Tagore says,
“If there is none to heed your call, walk alone, walk alone.”

I love Gandhi. Who doesn’t? Well, not Hitler:
in a letter to him, Gandhi assures the German
leader that he doesn’t think him “the monster
described by your opponents,” even
though he’s responsible for “the humiliation
of Czechoslovakia, the rape of Poland,

and the swallowing of Denmark.” Hitler
was probably happy to be reminded that he
had committed those atrocities the way any bully
likes being told that he is brutal, strong, scary,
ruthless. At any rate,
Hitler never replied, so let’s say, if he was not

antagonistic toward Gandhi, he was, at best, indifferent.
For that matter, Gandhi was pretty
indifferent to himself: he liked
to quote the 16th-century poet Tulsidas,
who said that religion is rooted
in mercy, whereas egotism is embedded in the love

of the body, which we should use as a temple
of God and not a vehicle for indulgences.
Further, “there must be a god to worship,”
says Gandhi, “but I have never arrogated
myself any such claim,”
and therefore “there can be no devotee of mine.” But

the best thing Gandhi said, ever, is “I have
nothing new to teach the world. Truth
and non-violence are as old as the hills.”
He was no Buddhist, but there are statues
of the Buddha everywhere in India
showing him touching the fingers of one hand

to the other, and while some say the Buddha
is counting out the Six Perfections – generosity,
ethics, patience, and so on – I like instead
the idea that he’s untying the knot of darkness
and is saying, “Look, no more
darkness! The truth has always been there; you just

couldn’t see it, and now you can.” No wonder
the people near him hung on Gandhi’s every
word and called him “Bapu,” which is
the Gujarati word for “Papa.” In the garden,
Hindi nationalist Nathuram Godse
shoots Gandhi three times in the chest with a Beretta

9mm automatic for his liberal attitudes toward
Muslims, pow, pow, pow, and in the chaos
that ensues, nobody knows what to do:
distraught, Prime Minister Nehru says,
“Let’s go and ask Bapu what
arrangements must be made,” and everyone bursts into

tears. And you will weep, too, when you reach
that spot in the garden late in the day,
in a cloak of shadow now, a brush of light
falling over you, and a voice saying to you
there can be good in this world,
that none of the rest of it matters – there can be good.