By Arun Gandhi
Half-Naked: No More Clothes Than Them
People often wonder why Mahatma Gandhi or Grandfather Gandhi was mostly “half-naked” as the British Prime Minister, Winston Churchill, once described him. He chose this garb because he found that a large number of people in India were so poor that they could not afford to wear any more clothes than was necessary to hide their nakedness. Grandfather was emotionally devastated to see their plight and decided that if he was going to be their leader he should not wear any more clothes than them.
Ashrams: Live Simply, So Others Can Simply Live
When he became frugal in his attire he, naturally, adopted poverty in life as well. He established ashrams, which is an Indian term for a community living together as one big family. Those who chose to join him had to live simply, so that others could simply live. They were allowed to wear more clothes than he did but the homes were made of mud and bamboo, like the huts of the poor, and the food was simple. The community worked in the fields to produce their own food. It was not just an outward show of sympathy with the poor but a genuine emotional bond which made him a beloved leader of the poor and the rich.
Sevagram: A Service Village
I lived with him in the community called Sevagram — a combination of two Indian words — Seva meaning service and gram meaning village. So the community were serving themselves and the neighboring poor. All the structures were made of bamboo and mud and thatched roofs with mud floors. There was minimum furniture — just beds made of bamboo frame and a web of rope. For everything else we sat on the floor. The reason why we could not sleep on the floor was because the area was famous for the deadly cobra snakes and no one wanted to encourage them to come snuggle at night!
The homes in Sevagram had no toilets or bathrooms. There was a separate block of toilets and bathrooms at the edge of the property because there were no modern water closets as we have now. There were buckets — one to collect the urine and the other for fecal matter. No one wanted the smell to pervade their homes so they were far away which made it difficult for people who had to go at night.
There was no electricity so we had to use oil lanterns. The result was that people retired early at night and got up very early in the morning. Gandhi adopted this life-style not because he was a crank but because he felt that a good leader must identify himself or herself with the poorest among them. This is why he became the most beloved leader of the 20th century!