A Distinguished Visitor From The Past

Gandhi's grandson visits Madison


MADISON, Ind. – Gandhi.
For many Americans, the name means nothing more than a great epic movie, starring Ben Kingsley.

Rajmohn Gandhi

Photo by Don Ward

Rajmohan Gandhi makes a point
April 25 during a conversation with
Tarama Ghosh of Hanover, Ind., and
Julia Kling of Champaign, Ill., while
visiting the Madison home of
Leon and Gerry Michl.

But for citizens of India and those who know their history, Gandhi is India – even now, 51 years after his assasination by a radical Hindu protesting Gandhi's tolerance of all creeds and religions.
So when Rajmohan "Raj" Gandhi, a grandson of Mahatma Gandhi, spent a night in Madison on April 26, it was not surprising that he drew a small crowd.
About a half-dozen people gathered at the home of Leon and Gerry Michl to greet the famous guest and listen to his views on a variety of subjects pertaining to his homeland.
Since January, Gandhi and his wife, Usha, have been living in Champaign, Ill., where he has been working as a visiting professor at the University of Illinois. Before returning to India on May 15, the couple wanted to do some sightseeing, so some friends brought them to Madison.
Traveling with University of Illinois history professor Blair Kling and his wife, Julia, the Gandhis arrived late Saturday afternoon in Madison and spent the night at the Michl's River Cottage, just off Second Street. On Sunday morning, they drove through the Hanover College campus.
"We also walked down to your river and dipped our fingers into the water," Gandhi said, smiling. "Rivers are sacred in India, you know."
Later, the Gandhis spent an hour in the Michl's home visiting with their guests – two students and one professor from Hanover College and one journalism professor from Indiana University Southeast. Tamara Ghosh, wife of Guru Ghosh, Hanover College's director of international studies, also attended, but her husband was out of the country.
Gandhi answered several questions, ranging from today's political activity in India's Parliament to his country's recent nuclear bomb testing and increasing military rivalry with Pakistan.
An author, researcher and lecturer, the tall, soft-spoken Gandhi reminisced about his famous grandfather, who was slain when he was only 12 years old. Among his published works, the younger Gandhi has written a biography of Mahatma Gandhi titled, "The Good Boatman." It recounts the personal and political life of India's "Founding Father," who helped free the country from British rule by a unique method of nonviolent reistance.
In addition to his college lectures, Raj Gandhi has made several appaearances on American TV and radio programs to discuss current events in India. As far as his research and lectures, he specializes in conflict resolution and its applications in resolving religious, ethnic and nationalistic violence, such as those occurring in Ireland and the former Yugoslavia.
But perhaps the most compelling stories Raj Gandhi told were those relating to his relationship with his grandfather.
"My most dominant impression of him was the warmth and affection he showed toward me when he was deeply involved in other matters," Raj Gandhi said. "He showed that warmth to everyone, and we family members lived with the understanding that he belonged to everyone. We had no exclusion on his time."
Regarding India's first test explosion of a nuclear device 11 months ago, Gandhi said he has publicly opposed his country's nuclear testing. He said it may have given supporters a short-term feeling of power, but in the longterm it has caused economic hardship for India's citizens.
"Instead of military security, it has actually brought military insecurity to the region," he said.
He did credit both India and Pakistan for joining negotiations with the United States to enter the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty to establish policies for avoiding nuclear accidents.
A former member of India's Parliament, Gandhi said the current struggles by various political parties to take control of Parliament is healthy for democracy, but it has caused political instability since 1947. "This instability is bad for our economy and makes it difficult for conducting international trade," he said.
Gandhi also noted the world's concern for India's environmental problems, its poverty, population growth, public health, low education standards and growing violence.
"We have to learn to resolve differences between competing groups – that's the great challenge we have because we are a country with much diversity," he said.
Mahatma Gandhi was killed on Jan. 30, 1948, in New Delhi while on his way to his daily prayer meeting. He was 78. Since India's independence from British rule in August 1947 and the subsequent division of the country into two nations – India and Pakistan – Gandhi had urged Hindus and Muslims to live in peace.
Gerry Michl said Raj Gandhi was by far the most famous person to ever visit her guest house.
"Isn't this great? I wish he could stay longer," said Michl, who recently finished a college course on religions of the world, including those of India.
Gandhi's visit was arranged through a mutual acquaintance of the Michls and the Kling's – retired University of Illinois professor Frank Gunter and his wife, Carolyn. The Gunters reside in Madison.
"When they called me, I told them the guest house wasn't rented that weekend because of the Madison in Bloom going on at my house, but that if they wanted it, they could certainly have it," Michl said. "They called back right away and said they would take it."
"It was a very interesting experience to meet him; he's obviously very knowledgeable," said Omar Joseph, 18, a Hanover College freshman from New Delhi, India.

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