So two days a week I walk past the statue of Mohandas Gandhi in Tavistock Square. He stares squarely but sanguinely at me as I bustle into another day of trying to do my little bit for the Barnardo’s mission - part based in an office that towers 9 floors above his cross legged serenity.
Something about the Mahatma (Great Soul) always leaves me feeling inadequate and inspired in equal measure.
I read the Louis Fischer biography when I was a fresher at University in Sussex, surrounded for the first time by the great and the good of middle England having abandoned inner city social milieu post college. An initially lonely time, Gandhi’s biog spoke to me in an unpredictable way.
Yes he was amazing for all the reasons we know. He persuaded the most powerful of nations through patience, truth and non violent gumption. Diminutive in the grandeur of Whitehall donning a loin cloth and sandals, he responded to Churchill’s greeting of ‘what do you make of British Civilisation’ with the quiet retort ‘I think it would be a good idea’.
But that isn’t what inspired me to be honest. There have been many great men and women of every background that have done that. No, what got me about Gandhi was that he was a failed aspirant of the London set, constantly reinventing himself to fit in and succeeding only in becoming an off key caricature of Englishness doomed to fail in his mission to assimilate.
And it was this great failure of his own vanity that triggered his personal, pivotal role in one of the most effective successful and (uniquely) profoundly civilised acts of defiance in history.
It was Gandhi’s ‘oh to hell with fitting in’ awakening, his channelling of personal effort and his conquering (well almost) of his own human weakness that left a lasting impression. A sense that no matter what we look like or how ingrained others initial prejudices are, personal conduct and standing on principle has the power to transform in unimaginable ways.
So my inspiration in ‘black’ history month is Gandhi. The awkward little man with the great soul. Look up the biog if you get a chance.