Sunday, July 25, 2010

India-Bangladesh pilgrimage #8

Today is my last day in India. I skipped the sightseeing this morning to pack and get ready to leave. A.B. Sutton of Sixth Avenue Baptist Church and I took a taxi around 1.30 to join the rest of the group for lunch.

After lunch we toured New Delhi, the city that the British built when they moved their capital from Calcutta to Delhi early in the 20th c. This appears to be the most western city in India. The British built a beautiful capital city of grand buildings and wide avenues.

Our first stop, however, was at the house in which Gandhi lived for the last 4 months of his life. Gandhi envisioned a united India in which Hindus, Muslims, and those of other faiths would live together peacefully, but as in all political movements there were disagreements. The other three leaders of the Indian National Congress - Nehru, Jinnah, and Patel - all aspired to be India's first prime minister. Jinnah, a secular Muslim, and Nehru, a Hindu, made a deal with the British for the partition of India into separate Muslim and Hindu states immediately before independence in 1947. Thus Pakistan and India were created out of what had been a single country.

Partition of the country into separate Muslim and Hindu states sparked terrible violence. In an attempt to stop the violence Gandhi came to Delhi to appeal for calm. He was given a house by Birla, a prominent Indian industrialist. Independence and partition occurred in August 1947. On January 30, 1948, at 5 pm, Gandhi, supported by two grandnieces, walked into the garden of the Birla residence to lead a prayer meeting. As Gandhi raised his joined hands for the traditional India greeting of "Namaste", a young Hindu man rushed forward, knocked one of Gandhi's grandnieces to the ground, and fired 3 bullets into Gandhi's body. About 15 minutes later, the Mahatma was dead. His last words were "Lord Rama."

The house and garden where Gandhi was killed are kept as a museum and shrine. There is no doubt in my mind that Gandhi was a remarkable man who consistently preached and practiced nonviolence. My favorite part of the museum was a cartoon showing Gandhi speaking to Martin Luther King, Jr., saying, "The funny thing about these assassins is that they think they actually killed us."

After seeing the Gandhi museum we drove to the site of the Indian parliament and presidential residence. The president's residence was built by the British viceroy Lord Curzon in the early 20th c. and is enormous and imposing. It may be as much as ten times as big as the White House. In front and on either side of the presidential residence are two administrative buildings that are equally imposing. The current president of India is a woman, Pratibha Devisingh Patil, who is a Hindu. However, her vice president is a Muslim man; India's prime minister is a Sikh man; and the president of the congress is a Christian woman. Amazing India...

The final site was the India Gate. Like Paris' Arche de Triomphe, the India Gate is a war memorial. In 1914 Gandhi made a personal appeal to Indians to fight on behalf of Great Britain in WW1 and almost 1 million Indians volunteered. There were almost as many Indians fighting for Britain as from Britain's 4 "white dominions" (Australia, New Zealand, Canada, and South Africa) combined. The India Gate commemorates 90,000 Indians who died fighting for Britain.

I leave for Amsterdam tonight and then for Atlanta tomorrow. It's been an amazing journey and in a few days I will share some general thoughts about my experience of India.