On this day, Gandhi, more commonly known as “Mahatma” (meaning “Great Soul”), was born in North West India. Tragically, his birthday in 1947, the year my grandparents were sent to India to hand over British power, was to be Gandhi’s last. He was assassinated only a few months later.
My grandparents and my mother were privileged enough to spend many hours in the company of the great man, nominated five times for the Nobel Peace Prize. For the servants at Viceroy House my mother always says, Gandhi’s entry was like God and royalty walking in to the building as one and they would fall to the ground in supplication.
My grandparents made so many friends in their short time in India. Some, like Gandhi, would change the world, others, not so famous or influential, were nevertheless very important to them.
During the last few minutes of the 14th August, 1947, my grandfather was waiting for midnight to strike – for India to become a self-ruling nation. And with the strike of that clock he too would hand over his power as the last Viceroy of India.
His secretary pointed out that, as Viceroy, he held huge and enormous power, but soon he would have none. Perhaps he should not let that power slip away without making some use of it? And then my grandfather remembered that his dear friend the Nawab of Palanpur had longed for his Australian wife to be made a “Highness” – for her to be recognised as a Princess. The Colonial Office had always refused because she was Australian – even though she was enormously popular in the state and continued to do important work there. So just before the clock struck midnight, my grandfather, with a twinkle in his eye, just did it, he granted her the title of Princess.
Today, maybe we should try to take a leaf out of Gandhi’s book and use whatever power we have for the greater good – even if we only have one hour free to do so and that gesture, in the scheme of things, is ever so small.