AROUND THE WORLD
ATHEIST CENTRE, VIJAYAWADA
An Atheist Around the World
|Books by Gora |
We Become Atheists
An Atheist with Gandhi
The Need of Atheism
Atheism: Questions & Answers
People and Progress
A Note on Atheism
'World Atheist Conference' Souvenir
'Atheism and Social Change' Souvenir
An Atheist Around the World
Homage to Gora
Patamata VIJAYAWADA -- 520 005
An Atheist Around the World
By GORA (1902-1975)
Copyright: ATHEIST CENTRE
First Edition: July 26, 1987
Price: Rs. 10-00
Two U.S. Dollars
ATHEIST CENTRE Vijayawada -- 520 006 India
Printed at: Insaan Printers, Benz Circle, Vijayawada -- 520 006.
|Part II (1974 Tour)|
Gora, a well known atheist and social revolutionary, went round the world in 1970 and again in 1974. He was the first atheist leader who travelled all the five continents for the cause of atheism and social change.
Endowed with rich experience of sixty years of life, Gora went round the world meeting atheist, rationalist, humanist, secularist, freethinker and social change organisations and activists in different countries. His
glimpses of the world tours reflect his maturity of thought, keen observation and his courage of conviction. Transcending the boundaries of race, caste, religion and other sectarian considerations, he viewed the problems in a global perspective. He was firmly rooted in the Indian soil and he was a product of the nationalist movement. He was greatly influenced by Mahatma Gandhi His discussions with Gandhi on atheism were published in a book An Atheist with Gandhi by the Navajivan Publishing House, Ahmedabad. He was equally attracted towards socialism and Karl Marx. Yet, he gave highest importance to the development of individual personality. He was a staunch champion of democracy, equality and liberty.
Gora's life was a saga of courage and conviction. Though he was born and brought up in an orthodox family, he had grown beyond caste and religion and led a life of an atheist. His atheism was not negative, but positive. He championed atheism as a positive way of life. He thought in terms of atheism as a philosophy and lifestyle of the post-religious society. He was an ardent champion of social change. Through his actions he tried to bridge the gulf between precept and practice.
Gora's World tours give us a glimpse of his ideas and reflections on various problems.
Gora was completely dependent upon public support and cooperation in all his endeavours. He had no private property and devoted all his life for the cause of humanity and social change. His world tours became a reality with the financial contributions of hundreds of friends and well wishers in India and abroad.
Gora first wrote his impressions of world tours in The Atheist, a monthly which he edited since 1969 till his death on July 26. 1975.
We are happy to bring out An Atheist Around the World on the occasion of Gora's twelfth death anniversary, July 26, 1987.
I arrived in Rome from India on the morning of July 2, 1970 in the first lap of my European tour. When I came out of the customs office I was greeted warmly by three gentlemen. One of them was an old man of 80, Mr. Ennio Mattias and the others. Mr. Franco and Mr. Aldo were aged between 30 and 35 years. They are close associates of Mr. Mattias and are atheists. Mr. Mattias did not know English, whereas the other two young men knew it. These two young men toured U.S.A. and often visit London. Ennio Mattias and his wife were banished from Italy by Mussolini for their anti-Fascist activities. For twenty years they were in France. After the Second World War they returned to their native country.
They took me round the city and showed me places of historical interest. I was shown the ruins of the Colosseum where the Gladiatorial fights took place, and also the ruined palaces of the Roman Emperors.
But I am more interested in seeing people and knowing their mind. So we visited slums and spent about a day there. There are crowded houses and open drains; children play in streets; mothers curse their children. With all this they are thousand and one times better than our slums. The houses have furniture of sofas, electric stoves, radios and cutlery, equal to that of the upper-middle class of India. Some labourers have cars also. At several places I sat in their houses, took coffee and chatted with them, with Aldo and Franco as interpreters. The people are conventionally Catholics, with rosary and cross in their house. But church-going is losing popularity, So there is a movement to persuade people to go the Church.
In course of visits I had a look at the Vatican. When we went there. several American girls with mini-skirts were refused entry. Some of them covered their legs with extra cloth for entry. It was all fun.
Statue of Bruno
I stood by the Statue of Giordano Bruno, the sixteenth-century martyr for free-thought, and was thrilled. It is in a busy part of Rome, in a square. The statue was erected by the Bruno Centenary Celebrations Committee on June 9, 1899.
Mr. Mattias very much wishes to see that atheism grows into a strong world movement.
After spending two days in Rome, on the morning of July 4, I flew into Frankfurt, West Germany. To my pleasant surprise I was received there by the representatives of three different organizations. Dr. Sarma Marla is in charge of Sociology Department of Heidelberg University. He hails from Andhra Pradesh and has been at the University for the last ten years. He undertook a project of survey entitled "The Image of Gandhi in the post-Independent India" on behalf of the University in the Gandhi Centenary year. In that connection he spent three months at the Atheistic Centre with his colleague Dr. Gerhard Houke. Dr. Warner Hilder represented an ashram at Bellenhaussen run on Gandhian lines by Rolph Hinder and his associates. They are non-violent activists and translated and published Gandhian Literature in German. Dr. Hinder and his friends visited Atheistic Centre also when they were in India during 1968-69. A representative of the Frankfurt Humanist Association was also there to meet me. I was overwhelmed by their hospitality as all of them invited me to their houses.
I went straight to Heidelberg with Dr. Sarma-Marla. On July 5th, I visited friends from Frankfurt Humanist Association. On 6th I visited the Ashram at Bellenhaussen. There were 15 inmates practising the Gandhian way of life. They are just building it up.
On 7th July I returned to Heidelberg from Sinkenhaussen for the talk to the research students of Sociology Department of Heidelberg University. The subject was "Riots in India". The time was 8 p.m. Earlier at 2 p.m., Dr. Sarma Marla drove me to a village where Dr. Houke lived. Dr. Houke accompanied Dr. Marla to India in connection with the research on the impact of Gandhi on the post-independent India.
The village is known for vineyards and the road leading to the village is called "Vineyard Road" as extensive vineyards lie on both sides of the road. Dr. Houke explained to us that each village specialised in a variety of vine so that there is little competition among the villagers to market their grapes. The customers went to the particular village for the kind of grapes they wanted.
Unlike the vineyards round about Hyderabad or Kodaikanal, I found the vines grown on vertical fences. The fences are about six feet high and practically as long as the field itself with path-ways at intervals. The distance between the rows of fences is not more than three yards. The spacing between the vines on the same fence is two to three yards. On account of the vertical fences, more vines can be grown in an acre of land than when the vines are spread out on flat fence, pandira, as in India. Also the pruning is easy on a vertical fence. I cannot dilate on the relative advantages of flat and vertical fences as I am unacquainted with the cultivation of vines. Nevertheless the difference between the flat and the vertical fences of vineyards is marked. I have not visited South Italy and South France which are also reputed for vineyards. A comparative study of the two kinds of fences may be profitable for vine-growers.
I am drawing the attention to the difference between flat and vertical supports for vines as I noticed the difference in a similar way in growing bean creepers in India. It is customary in the plains of India to spread bean plants on flat supports. But I found bean plants grown twining round long vertical bamboo poles in the hill areas of East Godavary District. Ladders are necessary for picking bean fruits when the plants are made to twine on long vertical poles as in the case of plucking leaves from betle vines which are always grown an vertical supports. But more bean plants can be grown in a plot on vertical supports than on flat support. Of course, vertical poles are exposed to the risk of being blown down by wind, especially when they are laden with the heavy twining of the beans. Yet the claim is made that due to better exposure of leaves to the sun, bean plants on vertical supports seem to yield heavier than when they are spread on flat supports. The relative advantages are to be studied by experience of both types instead of following the ruts of conventional methods.
Meeting at Heidelberg University
After dinner with Dr. Houke at his village home, we drove to the Heidelberg University for the meeting with Prof. Muhlman retired from the Directorship of the Sociology Department after his visit to India. He keeps a room in the University and occasionally visits the University to give the research students the benefit of his ripe experience. When he learnt that I was to address the research scholars, to the great surprise of all of us, he took the trouble of coming to the University to listen to my talk. He kindly introduced me to the gathering, recalling his visit to Atheistic Centre in Vijayawada. Though Dr. Muhlman could not stay throughout the meeting due to his age and health, I considered it a privilege that he should have come for the meeting even for a short while. Dr. Muhlman is a great friend of India and an admirer of Gandhi.
I spoke for half an hour leaving the rest of the time for discussion. I told at first that there was nothing derogatory about "riot". It was but the violent expression of a grievance. The agitation for political Independence in India under the leadership of Mahatma Gandhi was described as riots by the British imperialists. The riots in West Bengal, Ahmedabad or Telangana are also to be viewed in this light. Though I wished the grievances of the riots were clearly economic in nature, they are engineered at present by professional politicians with party interests. The demands are communal rights as in Ahmedabad, border disputes between States as in Belgaum, separate Statehood as in Telangana and Punjab, and anti-Hindi as in Tamil Nadu. Dr. Houke toured India, so he helped me with pointing out to the places I referred to on a big wall map I concluded that partyless democracy with emphasis upon right to work would lessen the need for the riots. During question time I had occasion to explain the meaning of decentralised administration, namely the panchayat system, what it is and what it ought to be. The discussion revealed that the students favoured a Marxian solution to the problems. They were inclined to the riots parts of the class-struggle.
It is usual at such meetings that after an hour in the meeting hall, the speaker and the students and the teachers shift to some nearby restaurant and continue the discussion informally in the shape of conversation, biting cakes and sipping beer. So I was led into a restaurant. In the place of beer, I took mineral waters (soda water). The discussion in the restaurant continues to four or five hours, and everyone expresses himself freely by short questions and brief remarks. The teachers (professors) and the speaker feel equal with the students in the discussion and everything is informal without loss to the depth of discussion and decorum. It is a very useful method of instruction, and the numbers should be limited to ten or twelve. I gained a feeling that in that discussion that I could clear certain misunderstandings about Gandhism which I could not have done by questions and answers in a formal meeting. Close discussion affords the advantage of knowing the questioner's point of view. We feel equals and we try to know each other. The students take down notes also during the discussion. This method can be tried in Indian educational institutions not only to raise the standard of understanding and knowledge in the students but to improve the relations between the students and the teachers. I am thankful to Dr. Sarma-Marla for introducing to me the ways of University life in West Germany. I am also obliged to him for the present of a portable typewriter of the smallest size to facilitate correspondence during travels.
The next day I flew to Hannover in the northern part of Germany. Dr. Bronder who is the Chairman of the German Humanist Society met me at the air port. Though I took food at his house. I was put up in a hotel. I am a stranger to the German language. A maid who was attending to the suite of rooms in which I was put up, locked at my 'strange' dress and asked something which I could not understand. Then she made a gesture with her hand, evidently inquiring the name of the country from which I came. I answered "India". A smile broke on her face and at once she exclaimed with widened eyes, "Indira!" I was at a loss to appreciate what she said. I did not know whether she heard "India" as "Indira". No. She was more informed than an average college student in India, for she pointed out the finger to herself and said, "Tito". Obviously she came from Yugoslavia. To relate "India" with Indira Gandhi and Yugoslavia with "Marshal Tito" indicated the level of general knowledge of common people in Europe. When Dr. Bronder came to pick me up I verified and learnt that the maid came from Yugoslavia.
Dr. Bronder showed me that part of Hannover City which was destroyed during the Second World War. Unless anyone is told that that part of the city was destroyed during the war, he cannot recognise it was a war ravage, for the whole area has been rebuilt on the modern style, within these twenty-five years. Lavanam who visited Hiroshima in Japan told me that Hiroshima was also completely rebuilt after the ravage by the first atom bomb. Only a spot which is indicated by a memorial monument indicated in Hiroshima the place where the bomb fell. Otherwise the whole city looks normal. When we compare this resilience of Germans and Japanese who have built up after the devastation of war, with the apathy of Indians towards a little out-house which remains fallen for years after it was blown down by a cyclone, not because the owner lacks the means to put it up but that he lacks the interest to set it right, we notice the basic difference in the outlooks of ancient oriental civilizations and the modern western ones. The indifference towards things here and now which is born of "spirituality" is the bane of India's progress.
When we sat at the table to eat, Dr. and Mrs. Bronder related to me at my request their experiences of the Nazi war. Mrs. Bronder worked as a nurse in the hospital in the Russian-occupied Germany. The insecurity to food and life which constantly hovers over the people during war time is a memory which they neither wish to recall nor wish it for anybody.
One afternoon I stayed at Dr. Bronder's place instead of returning to the hotel. While Dr. and Mrs. Bronder attended to other engagements, I sat leisurely in the back garden, partly in rest and partly reading a book. I could then observe a mason at work repairing a patch in the wall. He never left the rubble scattered on the floor. Whenever a considerable quantity of rubble collected during the work, he neatly swept it into a bucket-like receptacle, carried it to the farther end of the garden and deposited it into a pit. Round about three hours that I sat there, I noticed him twice shifting the rubble neatly in this manner. At one time Dr. Bronder went to the spot where the mason was at work and issued him some instructions . At the end of the talk the mason nodded his head and wished each other by shaking hands. The mason's hands were clean as he worked with the trowel. The sense of neatness is visible every time in every work. It is part of the life of the European. When envelopes are open to pull out the letters, the bit of the envelope which is cut is carefully put in the envelope for transference to the next waste-paper basket, if one is not immediately present at hand. This is in contrast to the Indian way of strewing bits of paper wherever we sit and throwing plantain peels or ground-nut husks wherever we eat. We sit in litters and think of god!
According to the itinerary which was drawn up for me by Trade Wings, the solicitous travel agents at Madras, I flew to Sweden on the 10th of July. I travelled in the Air India planes up to Frankfurt in Germany. From Frankfurt to Hannover and Hannover to Hamburg I flew in Lufthansa service. Further flight to Sweden was done by Scandinavian Air Service. The food served on the flights mostly consists of meat dishes and alcoholic drinks. But vegetable dishes can be had with special request. I was calling for vegetable dishes which consisted of bread, butter, salad. ice-cream. potato chips and boiled peas and coffee. On the Scandinavian plane, the hostesses were unable to follow my accent of English. So I spoke little to them and was prepared to pick up the vegetable parts of the usual tray of meat dishes for lunch. But to my surprise, I was not served the lunch along with the other passengers. A little later, however, a hostess brought a special plate for me containing vegetable dishes. I appreciated her sagacity and only with a smile I thanked her. Evidently from my dress she recognised that I was of the vegetarian tastes and made up a tray for me. She inquiringly uttered the two words, India-Gandhi. She identified me with the countrymen of Mahatma Gandhi. Whether one want s it or not, when he goes far out, he singles himself out as the representative of the place or society from which he come. Importance is thrust upon him and so his behaviour assumes added responsibility. This consciousness cautions him of conduct worthy of the place and people whom he 'represents.' He becomes an unappointed ambassador! A traveller cannot afford to be light-hearted. He bears the burden of representativeship, whether he desires it or not. When the air hostess of Scandinavian Air Lines mentioned the name of Gandhi, a thrill passed over my body and for a long time. I reflected upon the wide influence that Mahatma Gandhi cast over the nooks and corners of the world. By the age of the hostess, barely 25 years, she was but a child in distant Sweden or Norway when Gandhi worked and lived in India. Yet her identification of me and of my dress with India and with Gandhi and with a vegetarian diet, and her care to serve me vegetarian food, impressed me very much and increased the burden of responsibility of Gandhian ideology which I gratefully took upon myself.
My hosts in Sweden were Mr. & Mrs. Merker. Their son Bjorn Merker stayed at the Atheist Centre for six months in 1965. Since that time, his parents have taken kindly to the Atheist Centre. I knew them only through letter correspondence. So a visit to Sweden was specially included in my itinerary for creating an occasion for me to meet the Merker family.
To save time, Mr. and Mrs. Merker drove down to Copenhagen in Denmark to meet me earlier than at the Swedish air port of Malmo. As Mrs. Ulla Merker wrote me earlier in Germany, I disembarked the plane at Copenhagen itself. Mr. and Mrs. Merker met me at the Danish airport and drove me in their car to Halsingborg in Sweden. Copenhagen is the capital of Denmark. Denmark is separated from Sweden by a sea. But at Halsingborg, which is almost at the south-western tip of Sweden, the sea is only two miles wide between Denmark and Sweden. This is crossed by a ferry-steamer. The steamer is so big that it can take fifty motor-cars, a train with two or three coaches and a thousand passengers. At the wharfs in Denmark and Sweden there are their respective customs check-posts, because both are separate countries. The cars also pay a certain fee for crossing on the ferry.
The trains in Europe are not at all crowded. In Germany and Holland, I learnt that on an average every five persons have a car. Attempts are being made to supply a car to every three persons by 1972. So for distances of four to five hundred miles people use their own cars. Longer distances are travelled by aeroplanes which have aerodromes at many towns, just as bus-stands in India. So journey by railway train is going out of fashion. Except for goods traffic, trains for passenger traffic are not popular. Many railway lines are being closed in Europe. Just as the horse-drawn jutka cart is losing popularity in Andhra Pradesh when buses and cycle-rickshas have come on to the roads. The few trains that run in Europe, except some long distance express trains, have three or four compartments and even those are sparsely occupied. So the train on the ferry by which Merkers' car crossed the sea had only two compartments I was told that that train ran from Copenhagen, which is the capital of Denmark, to Stockholm, which is the capital of Sweden, crossing the sea by ferry at Halsingborg.
The Family of Helmut
The motor-drive from Copenhagen to Halsingborg, including the crossing by the steamer ferry, took three hours. We went straight to Merkers' home in Halsingborg which is fairly an important city in Sweden.
Because their son, Bjorn, stayed in India at the Atheist Centre for six months five years ago, Mr. and Mrs. Merker became very familiar to me in a short time, though it was the first time for me to meet them.
Mr. Merker's name is Helmut. He is a German. He took his doctorate in Germany in Botany and taught Botany in a college. Under Hitler's regime, he was drafted into the army and he lost his right leg in the war. Mrs. Merker's name is Ulla. She is a Swede. She worked in Germany as a nurse. The different countries in Europe are like the different states in India. People freely go from one country to another for jobs and for trade. The visa regulations are not rigorous for travel within European countries for Europeans. Of course, now there is a barrier between eastern Europe and western Europe. Some countries, like Denmark, Sweden and Norway, do not require visas for entry into them. Ulla and Helmut met in Germany, passed through the period of the Second World War, and married in Germany. Bjorn and another son, Arnulf, were born in Germany. They related to me the horrors of war and the terrible insecurity of life and living during the period of war and after war too. The sufferings of both the military and of the civilian populations which Merkers related to me at my request were similar to those which Bronders told me when I was their guest at Hannover in Germany.
As Helmut was disabled during the war, the Merkers with their two sons migrated to Sweden which is Ulla's country. Helmut did not know Swedish. So he worked as a farm-labourer while Ulla got trained as a teacher and got into a job as a teacher. Imagine how a former professor of Botany in Germany worked as a farm-labourer in Sweden to earn living! As Ulla knows Swedish which is her mother tongue and German , Besides French, she serves as a teacher of German and French for Swedish schools. When Ulla settled down as a teacher, she helped Helmut, to get into a job. But he could not get a job as he did not know sufficient Swedish. Further, his doctorate degree in Germany was not recognised in Sweden. So Helmut learnt literary Swedish and studied for a degree in Botany at a Swedish University. Ulla worked as a leacher and maintained her husband throughout his period of study at the Swedish University. She had to bring up her two little sons too. It was a period of strain and stress for the Merker family.
As Helmut was already a doctor of a German University, he quickly passed through the studies of doctorate in Botany in the Swedish University of Lund. After obtaining his second doctorate in Botany, he served for some time as a teacher at the Lund University and now he is the director of the Natural Science section of the Public Museum at Halsingborg.
When Helmut completed his studies and secured a job in Lund University, Ulla continued her studies, obtained a higher qualification in teaching and now she is the head of the department in a college. Ulla and Helmut vividly recollect their hardships in life and have developed a heart to go out to help anyone in distress. So Ulla commands wide respect and influence in Halsingborg. Though Dr. Helmut is unable to move about freely on account of the loss of a leg in the war, he has taken to an artificial leg, drives his car and has developed the Natural History section of the museum in a unique way. As I am also a student of Botany, I could understand the special significance of his work. He has studied the flora of Sweden in great detail in relation to the ecological relations of plants, that is, every plant as it grows in company with other plants. For instance the plants in a grassland are different from the plants in a forest. Now, in the Natural History Museum, he has set plots of three or four acres of land in which he is growing plants in their natural relations. The grassland plot presents the varieties of the plants in the grassland growing in the exact proportion in which they grow in a natural grassland. Helmut recognises every plant in the plot by its name and tells the proportion of its variety in the plot. Similarly he is growing the trees of the forests, the plots of the hill-slopes in their exact relations in different plots. This is a unique study and a method which is rarely attempted. It seems he started the work when he was in Germany. He has a degree in Geology also. So for each plot, he prepares the soil necessary for the plants. A grassland plot has the soil of grasslands. The next plot, which has forest plants, has rocks as in a forest. About half a square mile of the campus of the Natural History Museum is occupied by plots of plants of the different ecological relations.
In the Natural History Museum there are plants of botanical interest also. But he humorously remarked that he would not take me to that part of the museum, for I may pull out some of the ornamental plants there! The term museum means not a building with rooms exhibiting statues, handicrafts and other articles; but it is a vast campus in which plants are grown with botanical interest as explained.
Problem of Pollution
Helmut's interest in the study of plants with reference to their natural surroundings coupled with the experiences of the horrors of war, has led him to another investigation in which some scientists of Europe and America are feeling deeply concerned today. It is air and water pollution due to industrialisation. Even in India, there is difference in the air of villages and of towns. In the towns due to the crowding of houses and the drainage of the large quantity of water that is used, there are more mosquitoes than in villages. It is worse in cities like Calcutta. The smoke from the chimneys of factories contaminates the air. The tall buildings on either side reduce streets into ruts from which air cannot escape easily. So there is stagnation of smoke-laden air in the streets of Calcutta and people feel uncomfortable to live in the houses. They escape into parks in the evening. The feeling of the contamination of air is felt most in a cinema theatre in the matinee show when the doors are closed to keep the light out. Due to the breathing of the people in the cinema theatre there is a rise in the content of carbon dioxide in the air of the cinema theatre, and children and some adults develop head-ache and vomit after attending a cinema show. In such small measures we can notice the effects of urbanisation and industrialisation in India. We can understand how grave is the problem in Europe and America where the industrialisation and the building of vast cities have proceeded on a much larger scale than in India. Though the factories in the west are run on electricity and are smokeless, the fumes from several kinds of industries are contaminating the air frighteningly. Also the wash-out water and the by-product liquids which are thrown into rivers and seas are contaminating the water so much that many sea animals and especially fishes are dying out. The waters of rivers and of the near by shore is getting so much polluted that bathing and even rowing is feared and warned against by medical men.
Among the war weaponry of the U.S.A. is a gas called the Nerve Gas. Like the atomic weapons, the Nerve Gas is stored in hermetically sealed cement cans. But, of late, the cans are unable to held the gas. So the government of the U.S.A. proposes to sink the gas into the sea. The islanders near the proposed site of the sea are protesting against the disposal of the gas in their proximity. A big discussion is going on in the papers regarding the disposal of the Nerve Gas.
Thus the industrial civilization is not an unmixed benefit. The humanitarian scientists are deeply concerned in the study of the development of industries in relation to the well being of humanity. Dr. Helmut, who is interested in the study of plants in relation to their environment, is applying the methods of his study to the study of human welfare in relation to the development of industries. He is calculating the proportion of contamination of air and water by each industry and its direct effect on plant and animal life on the one hand, and its indirect effect upon human life on the other. It is indeed an instance where the application of science limits the growth and controls the direction of science.
In order to be happy and peaceful, man has got to adjust himself with fellow-men on one side and with natural elements like air and water on the other side. Maladjustment is leading to war and conflict in social relations and to contamination and disease in relation to natural surroundings. The Gandhian method of decentralization and simple living has much to contribute towards restoring harmony in man's relations with fellow-men and with nature.
Ulla is a very good organiser. She anticipates needs and prepares to do the right thing at the right time. A room in their home was kept free for me. She told me that that was Bjorn's room. He is now in U.S.A., so his room was given to me. It was sentimental, too, inasmuch as it was the room of the one who was at the Atheist Centre for six months. At that time it was a dream to me to visit his parents in Sweden. But friends in Andhra have collected the travelling charges and helped me realise the dream.
On arrival at Halsingborg, Ulla programmed the items one after another, bath, refreshments, press conference, public meeting and rest. The last alone was disturbed, since, half a dozen visitors at the public meeting followed me after the meeting and wanted to talk with me at leisure. They evinced so much interest in Atheism and programmes of Direct Action that Ulla could not possibly ask them to leave. Except for this disturbance of one hour of rest, an infliction which I willingly accepted, all the items of the programme were punctually fulfilled.
The pressmen and the photographers arrived punctually at Merker's home soon after I finished bath and refreshments. It was 5 p.m. Ulla had read through the booklet, GORA -- An Atheist, which G.S. Rao and Lavanam had prepared in order to introduce me to the places of my visit. Copies of the booklet were sent in advance to the places of my visit. After her perusal of the booklet, Ulla passed it on to the press correspondents for acquainting themselves with tile person they were talking to. Some correspondents did not know English, so she had the gist of the booklet translated into Swedish, mimeographed and circulated to the correspondents the previous day. The arrangements were tiptop.
The correspondents met me in the drawing room of Merker's home. As the pressmen were already acquainted with my history and interests through the information supplied to them by Ulla, we straight away got into a familiar conversation. Those who did not know English were helped with translation now and then. The press was interested in knowing the details of Direct Action, like the march to Delhi in 1961-62, the protest against the pomp of ministers and, particularly the replacement of flower plants with vegetables. They admired the role played by the women volunteers in the satyagrahas. Even though Sweden has no food scarcity, they appreciated the programme of replacing the ornamental plants with food plants as long as anyone is starving anywhere in tile world. One correspondent felt concerned with the problem of food scarcity in India and inquired how Sweden could export food to India. He also wanted to know why India should have food scarcity at all when there are people to work and rivers to irrigate. He was surprised that we are allowing the waters of our rivers to flow into the sea while Bihar suffered from drought. I found that they possessed a fund of knowledge about India though they never visited India. They needed information on the ways of ministers in order to understand the programme against pomp.
I told them that universal adult franchise has tremendously educated the people. Fatalism and power politics are the stumbling blocks in the way of rapid progress. We want others to help us to help ourselves rather than help us out of pity or charity.
The next day the papers published the news of the press conference prominently in more than three columns. The only part of the news I could understand was my picture!
The public meeting commenced exactly at 7 p.m. in the Library Hall. Mr. Helmut introduced me to the audience in Swedish and for twenty minutes I spoke about Gandhi and his message to the world. The gist of talk was translated into Swedish by one who seemed a very active and enthusiastic worker there. Then I answered the following questions from the audience: Is Gandhism opposed to the use of any machinery altogether? Has Gandhism chances of Survival? How can European countries with advanced economy help the under-developed countries? Do you like the spiritualism of the East or the technology of the West? In the West, churches are losing popularity; why then do you talk of atheism? My answers kept the meeting till 9:30 p.m. The audience stayed on. They were about eighty. Because it was time for the hall to be closed, the meeting was stopped with a request that those who desired greater explanation could meet me at Merkers' home. I was given a donation of one hundred crones at the meeting. The students of Ulla's school collected for me another donation of one hundred crones.
The next day Merkers drove me in their car for over thirty miles outside Halsingborg. The villages are but groups of thirty to forty houses wide, set apart in rows on either side of a motorable road. They work on the farms. Villages have facilities of telephone and postal mail. Almsteach farm house has a car and a tractor. The disparity between the rich and the poor is very little. There are well kept forests and mountain lakes here and there. The country is not densely populated.
On the 12th of July, the Merkers drove me to Malmo air port which is about sixty miles from Halsingborg. At the air port absentmindedly I left my bag at the counter and walked into the lounge and was talking with Ulla and Helmut. A half hour later I searched for my bag in order to pick up a paper from there. As I did not find the bag, I walked back the way we entered into the lounge looking for the bag, thinking that I had dropped it somewhere. The bag was exactly at the same place where I placed it when I checked my ticket at the counter. In the meanwhile, hundreds of passengers must have passed by the counter. But the bag remained there undisturbed
At every air port, announcements are made over the mike informing passengers of the planes and the details concerning them. The information is no doubt of the routine kind. But it is essential for those who board the plane there for the first time. Yet on account of the routine nature of the information, the announcers speak so fast and mechanically that they satisfy the formality of announcement with little benefit to the passengers. Many times I had to go to the information counter to get the exact instruction. Several new passengers to the port, like me, had the same difficulty. The announcers on the railway platforms in India commit the same mistake and put the passengers to similar difficulty. The announcers should realise that though the information is routine for them, it is valuable to the new passengers. Helmut was very severe in his criticism of such irresponsible discharge of duty. He told me that all announcements sounded "ma ma mma" to him irrespective of the language. It is a sense of public service that corrects the mistake.
With change of plane at Gothenburg, I arrived at Oslo from Sweden. As the plane was flying low for landing, I could see the Fjords for which the coast of Norway is famous. Fjord is a narrow inlet of the land for a distance of two or three miles. Some Fjords are wider and longer. Commonly they are short, narrow and deep. There are more Fjords on the west cost that on the east, and Oslo is on the eastern side. Nevertheless we get idea of the Fjords.
Fjords developed due to the rockiness of the coast. The waves washed away the soft soil and left the rocky coast. Fjords lock nice for travellers but they make communications difficult. To construct bridges across the frequent and many Fjords is not an easy matter. So many small motor boats ply in the Fjords.
Dr. Christian Horn was my host at Oslo. He is the president of the Norwegian Humanist Association. He was the Chairman of the Reception committee when the third World Conference of the Humanist and Ethical Union was held at Oslo in 1962. As I am attending the fifth World Conference at Boston., U.S.A., it was a privilege for me to be his guest and to exchange views with him at leisure. Also, Dr. Horn is the professor of Botany at the Oslo University. He is aged 70 and is retiring next year with a view to devoting his whole time for Humanist work. Mrs. Horn also is a graduate of Botany and taught the subject.
Dr. Horn and his daughter came to the air port at Oslo with their car to meet me. They live in a suburb of Oslo. The house is of the common type, built of wooden planks. It has three floors, the ground floor is used for store and lumber, the middle one for dining and a drawing room, and the top for living. Horn's family is so kind, hospitable and service minded that I felt at home in their company. At Oslo, I wanted to meet Dr. John Galtung and Dr. Arne Naess. Both of them are professors at the University in Sociology and Philosophy.
Galtung is the Director of the Institute for Peace Research at Oslo. I met him twice in India when he visited the country. Arne Naess wrote the book, Gandhi and the Nuclear Age, and in that book he devoted a whole chapter for "Gandhi and Militant Atheism" in which he very favourably reviewed my book, An Atheist with Gandhi. Both of them were out of Oslo when I visited the place. However they left letters for me. I have found that July and August are holidays for institutions in Europe and America, and many persons leave their homes and go out on tours. They are warm months and people of cold climates enjoy the warmth in a holiday. Except on a pressing appointment, it is unsuitable to meet friends in July and August in Europe and America.
Norway and Sweden are hilly countries with dense forests. The thorny bushes which abound in forests of tropics like India are significantly rare in forests in the cold countries. Also the trees are tall and not spreading as mango or tamarind trees. The forest department keeps the forests trim and neat. As the principal means of transport is motor car, many roads cut across the forests. The timber is used mostly for building houses and for pulp for making paper. Norway and Sweden are famous for paper mills. As the forest wood is used largely for paper manufacture, Dr. Helmut Merker jocularly described the Swedish forests as "Paper Forests". That reminded me of the remark of J.C. Kumarappa, the Gandhian economist, that the coconut trees of Kerala bore "Hamam Soaps". As the coconut oil of Kerala is largely used for the manufacture of Hamam Soaps instead of utilising as food, Kumarappa's remark was significant. He was critical of utilisation of edible oils for the manufacture of soap. When there is food scarcity in India, the use of edible oils for soap manufacture is as callous of the needs of the hungry millions as growing ornamental gardens where vegetables could be grown.
As several friends and members of the Humanist Association were out on a holiday, Horn could not arrange for a public meeting. But we had a close discussion with a choice gathering and an interview with the editor of a widely circulated Daily, Dagbladet. At both the places the discussion was occupied with meaning of atheism and its use to solve the problems of the modern age. The discussion was very rewarding to me as I was talking to literary critics with a Western mind. The news appeared in the next day's paper, Dagbladet, in which, again, I recognised only my picture!
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The headquarters of the International Humanist and Ethical Union is situated in Holland. So five days, from the 14th to the 18th of July, 1970, were set apart for Holland for preliminary discussions with the office-bearers, before I went to Boston. My host was Mr. M.G. Rood, the president of the Dutch Humanist Association and member of the permanent panel of the International Union. He is a prosperous lawyer and public figure at Amsterdam. Mrs. Rood is busy with programmes of women's welfare and is now on the Committee for the Legalisation of Abortion.
Though I was changing from country to country every two or three days, I did not feel strange after a week of the tour in Europe. The food and habits of countries are alike, except for the difference in language. It was like going from South India to North India. Also, Mrs. Rood is familiar with the Indian ways. She visited her brother in Indonesia. She took particular care to prepare vegetarian dishes for me.
The offices of the Humanist Associations are at Utrecht, which is forty miles south of Amsterdam. In the west where every fifth man has a cat on an average, the problem is not the distance of places, but the place to park the car. Like the storeyed buildings for people to live in cities, storeyed terraces are constructed here and there to park the cars. Distances of a couple of hundred miles are easily covered by car-travel while longer distances are journeyed by air or express buses. Consequently, travel by railway trains is going out of use.
At Utrecht I met Mr. Pasman, the Secretary of the Dutch Humanist Association and Mr. Brakel, who is the Secretary of the International Humanist and Ethical Union. Talks with them acquainted me with the background of the Humanist Movement in the west. Before the Second World War, scattered groups of Humanists worked all over Europe. They opposed the domination of the Church and their principal programme was to perform marriages civilly without religious sacrament. The period of the Second World War, which vastly endangered the life and freedom of individuals, roused the humanists to develop a new dimension. So in 1952, Humanists met at Amsterdam under the Chairmanship of the eminent scientist and humanist, Julian Huxley, and formed The International Humanist and Ethical Union (IHEU).
The Congress at Amsterdam in 1952 has two outstanding achievements to its credit. First, it coordinated the scattered humanistic activities into a world-wide Union. Second, it created a platform for championing the cause of civil rights and the dignity of human personality. Subsequently the IHEU Congress was held every four years at London, Oslo and Paris. The fifth Congress is at Boston, USA.
At first the activities of IHEU were concerned with ethical principles. Now a feeling is growing that unless the IHEU takes interest in national and international politics also, the violation of human rights and indignities to human personality, as in the case of apartheid, racial and religious discriminations, torture, murder and domination, as in South Africa, Brazil, Greece, Ulster, India, Vietnam, and Czechoslovakia, cannot be prevented. Thus the IHEU has been growing within these two decades from strength to strength and widening its scope of activities and spheres of influence .
I desired to see the "dykes" which is the
unique feature of Holland. So Mr. Pasman showed me a four-hundred mile round in his car which covered some dykes, and also took me into the villages of Holland in the middle and western side.
Holland is a small country with Germany on the east and sea on the north and west. Almost all its land is cultivated and there is little scope for improvement. So for the last two centuries the Dutch (as the people of Holland are called) have begun to encroach upon the sea in the west. They construct embankments of earth connecting islets and enclosing bays. The water within the confines is dried up or drained by pumps into the surrounding sea. Each embankment is called a dyke. A dyke resembles the bund of the Godavary or Krishna river. It is twenty to thirty feet high, and wide enough to allow four cars to pass on its top at some places. The dykes are at first built in bits, but gradually they are connected into lengths of miles and miles. The reclaimed land is made into a meadow and is then fertile enough for cultivating carrots and cabbages and food crops.
The raising of dykes is rendered possible because the sea is shallow, silted and non-rocky, unlike in Norway. The earth and sand from the sea is dredged and heaped to raise the dykes. Dredgers and bulldozers work busily wherever dykes are in construction. The "-dam" at the end of the names of the places like Amsterdam and Rotterdam, which are big cities today, suggest that a century or two ago they were places reclaimed by "dams" or dykes. As the western part of Holland was reclaimed from the sea, it is not only flat but it is below the sea level also at most of the places. So pumps are constantly work in those areas throwing out into the sea the sub-soil water which is constantly rising. In 1955 a calamity befell a part of Holland when a dyke broke and the sea water rushed on to the land and drowned men and homes. So the government is strengthening the dykes with width and height.
One dyke enables the people to proceed farther into the sea by putting up another dyke a little ahead. Thus the Dutch are encroaching on the sea, pushing their land forward. They take just pride in the proverb, "God gave Holland wild sea, the Dutchmen turned it into fertile land."
Spiritualism -- a Bane
When we compare the achievements of the Dutch people in their small land and scanty population with what we are doing with our resources of flowing rivers, extensive land, and vast population we should stop to think on the reason for our misery. Obviously, "spiritualism" is the bane of India. "Spiritualism" can be described and justified in a hundred ways. But what is it in practice? Spiritual outlook has made Indians fatalistic and other-worldly. We think of heaven and starve now. We have become a set of lotus-eaters, with the result that the big countries of the east became the slaves of the small countries of the west. Holland ruled over Indonesia and England ruled over India.
They had a series of cultural revolutions which have made them rational and realistic. They marched from primitive paganism into modern civilization. They construct dykes against the waves of the sea. Had Buddhism continued in India, it would have paved the way for further cultural revolutions. We would have been equal to the west in the comforts of life. But the dry intellect of Shankara revived the animistic Aryan lore in the attempt to fight the corrupt parts of Buddhist life. He set the hands of the clock back and we returned to paganism and continue animal sacrifice, religious ritual and outmoded casteism. Instead of planning for the future, we take pride in the past.
Our sloth and spiritualism has tempted the realistic west into imperialism. Slaves turn brothers into tyrants. Our spiritualism has done double harm. We have become slaves and miserable; we made our brothers imperialistic and arrogant. When Gandhi tried to cure the two-fold evil, we killed him as anti-Indian! Our culture is untouchability, our pleasure is other-worldliness. When the Dutch are fighting the sea and building the dykes, we are fighting for gods and breaking our heads. When Churches are emptying and Christians are taking to social work, we are building new temples and retiring into meditation. Only atheism can remedy this canker of spiritualism of the east and the imperialism of the west and make both equal brothers in common weal.
In the west, the family tie is not strong. From the age of sixteen sons and daughters learn to leave the home and to earn their own living. Realistic outlook and imperialistic practices have accumulated so much wealth and opportunity in the west that hardly anyone is unemployed. Besides, the under-employed and the unemployed are paid and protected through social welfare subsidies by the government. The old people also get the old-age grants So the family in the west is no longer an economic obligation. The bond of the family tie is only filial affection and conjugal love. When the sentiments are disturbed the family breaks with no economic loss to any side.
As family is both a sentimental tie and an economic security in India; the Indian family is strong. Parents take care of the young children and the children take care of the parents in their old age. When the aspect of economic security is taken up by the government, the family ties lose a bond.
The social security measures in the west are not an unmixed good. It removes insecurity. At the same time it breaks the family and deprives the parents of filial affection in that old age. Of course, consistent with the measures of social security, the western governments have provided for homes of the aged people in which the old persons can stay. They receive food, care and medical attention. But that is not all in life. They want filial love also. This became clear when I visited a house for the aged at the Hague. The House provides very comfortable facilities for every inmate. It is a seven storeyed building, modern and furnished. I addressed the inmates who were about three hundred, gathered in a well decorated and furnished lounge. The age group was above seventy. I was asked to tell them about Mahatma Gandhi. Some of them met Gandhi when they visited India. During the question time, I was asked about the joint family system in India and many of them expressed a desire that I should tell their children to accommodate their old parents in their own homes instead of leaving them in an Aged Home. Own home, however uncomfortable, is better than this Home for the Aged people, however comfortable. I could appreciate the sentiment of those old people. In this respect, the Indian joint family serves a superb human need. But the Indian family encourages dependence. The problem for civilization, therefore, is how to have social security without imperialism, and family affection without parasitism. The Gandhian plan of decentralised polity with basic units of administration promises to serve the purpose.
In Holland I had the privilege of meeting Mrs. Betricia Boeke. Mrs. Boeke is the widow of Mr. Kees Boeke who was a great educationalist, a Quaker and a peace worker. He foresaw the danger of party politics. So he opposed political parties in democracy and advocated socialization of politics which he called "Sociocracy". Mrs. Boeke, more than 80 now, a follower of her late husband, expressed her support for the programmes of Partylessness end Pomplessness. The concern and sympathy she has shown and the support she expressed gives encouragement and strength to us.
The interview by the editor of Vriz Netherland at Amsterdam was another source of encouragement. This influential Dutch paper gave good publicity to the atheist way of life.
From Holland, I went to Paris. Just at that time fire broke out in the forests in southern France and the friends who were to be my hosts left for the south. They are public workers and so they were naturally more concerned with a national disaster than with entertaining a guest. Nevertheless arrangements were made for me to stay with Mr. Leval.
Mr. Leval is past eighty years, but healthy, hefty and cheerful. He took part in the Spanish revolution and fought against Franco. He has many reminiscences of the peasants revolt and wanted to know about Gandhian methods from me. But he knows only French, Spanish and German, and not English. We had no common language between us. So he brought a bulky dictionary which contained two sections, one from French to English and the other from English to French. He pointed out to English words in the first part when he spoke to me and I was to point out to the French words in the second part in answering him. It was more amusing than communicative. Yet after a series of exchanges like this he seemed to understand me and hilariously thumped on the table with a loud outburst of "Bon." In French "bon" meant "Good."
When I told that I was a vegetarian, Mr. Laval and his old wife thought that I would not take beef and pork but would eat chicken, fish and eggs. This was the misconception in the west about vegetarianism. They think that beef and ham only are meat and the rest are vegetables. Though the dictionary I made it known that I ate bread, jam, butter, peas, potatoes, cabbage, tomatoes etc. Sometimes I went into the kitchen, lifted up the vegetable and said through signs that I ate that one.
Sportively, Leval made me understand that he was strong because he ate beef and pork and that I was weak because I ate vegetables just as sheep eat only grass. He enjoyed the joke at my expense. But I retorted. Bulls and elephants are strong, though vegetarians. At once he shock my hands with his usual "bon." He is a revolutionary who keeps his hope and cheer in spite of reverses.
Being a political man, Leval could easily grasp the basic principles even though I could point out only catch words in the dictionary. In the evening, when a friend who knew both English and French visited us, he told me through translation, that he supported partylessness, because what is important in democracy is not who gets elected, but what he does on being elected. I admired his keen insight into principles. Not the label, but the work is important, he told me.
As lack of a common language is a real difficulty, however kind-hearted Leval was, I was shifted to Brugidon's in the evening. I was sorry I could not gain as much from that great revolutionary as desired, owing to lack of common language of communication. I had the same disadvantage with Ennio Mathias in Rome. Mathias and Leval did not know many languages but worked the revolution. Scholars know many languages, but remain moderate.
Mr. & Mrs. Brugidon and their children have travelled widely and know French, English, German and Spanish. They propose to visit India and have admiration for the Gandhian way of life.
In the evening I visited the secretary of the Adult Education Board. We needed translation and Brugidon's daughter was helping us with the necessary interpretation. Presently another gentleman visited the secretary. He too needed translation into English. This girl helped him also. At the end he offered her money for the work of translation. She did not accept, but I saw in the west services are reduced to money equations. This importance which is given to money sustains capitalistic values.
My next halt was in England for a week from the 22nd to the 28th of July. A press correspondent in London asked me why I, an atheist, was staying with a Canon, an order of the clergy. I talk and work with anyone and more so with one who is like-minded. What is the like-mindedness between me and Canon John L. Collins who was my host at London?
Rev. Collins is a Canon of St. Paul's Cathedral in London. He understands the need of change in Christianity from "fundamentalistic faith" to "ethical conduct". Every religion is a mixture of superstitious beliefs and moral principles. Those who emphasise upon the basic beliefs, though they are superstitious, are "fundamentalists". Those who lay stress upon ethical conduct are liberals. Fundamentalists are fanatical. They cause communal clashes. Liberals of all religions can agree, as moral principles are alike in all religions. Canon Collins is a liberal. To the liberal Christians, the way of Christ's life is more important than the miracles that have been described in the Bible. To bring this difference to the forefront, Canon Collins and a band of progressive Christians have sponsored a movement called "Christian Action". It "is a fellowship of individuals working to translate the teachings of Christ into practical action in local, national and international affairs in social, political and economic spheres. It uses non-violent methods to achieve fundamental changes, at home and abroad, in the distribution of wealth, the exercise of power and conditions of life. It brings together in community those not constricted by an archaic heritage or narrow denominationalism to expose the social myths by which the injustices of society are perpetrated. It encourages political involvement but owes allegiance to no political party or religious denomination. Its constitution is such that it can act quickly in crisis". I consider that this statement of the objectives of "Christian Action" is such that any progressive-minded person can subscribe to it, by replacing, if he desires, the name of Christ with the name of Buddha, Mohammad, Krishna. Shiva, Marx, Gandhi or any name of his admiration. For my part I signed the membership as an atheist, with the understanding that I would sign any other membership with similar objectives.
Rev. Collins is about sixty. In his own life he testified to Christian action by opposing apartheid and protesting against nuclear weapons. He suffered imprisonment in that connection. Rev. and Mrs. Collins participated at Delhi in the International Seminar on the Relevance of Gandhi to modern times.
A hint at this background of Collins satisfied the correspondent.
Visit to Coventry and Paynesville
During the week in England, I visited Coventry town and Paynesville village, each a hundred miles from London.
Coventry is the place of Gillian Dammers who spent five months et the Atheistic Centre, Vijayawada, and who wrote for The Atheist.
Gillian's father. Rev. Horace, is the Canon of the Cathedral at Coventry. Canon Horace explained to me two events with which the Cathedral is associated.
First, the old cathedral was destroyed by a German bomb during the second world war. The present Cathedral is built on modern lines beside the ruins of the old cathedral. During the construction, a workman picked up two nails from the ruins and put them up in the form of a Cross to express his reverence to the Holy Cross. So the new cathedral has come to be known as the "Church of Nails".
Second is the humanistic response of the youth of Germany. Because their fathers destroyed the old Cathedral, youth associations in the present Germany collected donations and rebuilt a part of the old Cathedral. The part is small. But the magnanimity of the gesture is immense.
While I was shown round the Cathedral by Rev. Horace, I was surprised to find two young men from Andhra Pradesh, Mr. Rao and Mr. Sastri. They have been in London for over six years as engineers and have come to Coventry for a visit. At London I met them twice again.
From Coventry I went to Paynesville. It is a village which is the holiday resort of Mr. Papworth. He is the editor of Resurgence and attended the Seminar at Delhi, like Canon Collins.
Europe has no villages and slums of the type we have in India. An English village is a group of scattered houses, ten or fifteen miles away from the nearest town. In towns the houses are in rows in streets and are crowded. The village houses are scattered. They enjoy better light and free air. The houses do not have storeys as in towns. They have wider compounds for vegetable and flower gardens. The houses in the villages also have telephones and heating arrangements. Some people choose to live in villages and go to the town in a car. Those who live in towns also go to villages during the weekends. The only special feature of the village is the agricultural and cattle farm.
Mr. Papworth and I walked along the roads and visited a farm. The neatness of the cattle shed is a striking quality. Neatness results when the dirt is either converted into a different form or when it is shifted permanently to a different place. When garbage is burnt, its form changes; when it is put into the rubbish pit it is transferred permanently. It may change its form in course of time by becoming compost. In India we are careful about the chore of sweeping the floor every morning. Instead of destroying the garbage, we put it to the side of the neighbour. He too does the same to our side. The result is we exchange garbage, but we do not achieve neatness. We do not put our waste-paper baskets or litter barrels to proper use. In the English farm, the garbage is carried every time and put into the compost pit. In the west, tools and gadgets are improvised to perform work neatly, easily and quickly.
The second day I accompanied Mr. Papworth to the church at the nearest town, Glouster. That Cathedral is six centuries old. Unlike the modern cathedral at Coventry. the cathedral at Glouster has tall and massive pillars, Gothic arches and ornamental architecture. In India, Madurai and Rameswaram also have temples with exquisite architecture, which is some centuries old. But the beauty of the structures is defaced by throwing plantain peels and greasy oil on them.
On returning to London, I visited Tavistock Park in which is erected Gandhi's statue. It is in the sitting posture as in the prayer meeting. Tavistock Park is near the Senate Hall of London University.
The erection of Gandhi's statue in London is an outstanding achievement of the non-violent method of social change. Gandhi was the arch-rebel against the British rule in India. Today we find the "rebel's"' statue in the capital of Britain. Another achievement was the continuation of the last viceroy of British rule as the first Governor-General in Independent India. The two events indicate the remarkableness of the non-violent method. It hates none; it has no enemies. Non-violence develops a new dimension which is common to both the contending parries in a conflict. The "opponents" turn into comrades in a common cause. Gandhi hated British imperialism, but not the Britisher. In the end, Indians and Britishers cooperated in evolving a democratic order that is dear to both.
The driver of our car was in India for a year in 1946. He developed respect for Gandhi and so took special interest in finding out the place where Gandhi stayed in London when he went there for the second Round Table Conference in 1931. The place is Kingsley Hall, Powis Road, Bow, London E-3. The surviving member of Gandhi's hosts is Mrs. Valentine, 23 Shallingford House, Devons Road, Bow, London E-3.
Kingsley Hall is a three storeyed house, which is modest in comparison with houses in London. The place is a labour colony even today. But the City Improvement Trust has rebuilt the houses in that locality into modern multi-storeyed apartments. In 1931, Mrs. Valentine told us, it was a real slum. Kingsley Hall remains in the same condition today. Gandhi stayed in a room which is twelve by fifteen feet. He slept on mattress on the floor. Mrs. Valentine recollects him spinning at the wheel during all spare hours.
Kingsley Hall is in a neglected condition now except for the attention bestowed by Mrs. Valentine who is 65 now. Attempts are afoot to secure Kingsley Hall as a national monument.
From Kingsley Hall we drove to High Gate Cemetery, where Karl Marx was buried. By the time we arrived at the cemetery, it was past five in the evening and the gates were closed. The driver also had not seen the grave and was sorry we missed the opportunity. It was a mistake on our part. I could not go there again as I left London the next day.
Two more places which I visited in London were Notting Hill and Black House. Notting Hill is London's slum where many "Blacks", refugees from Kenya, and poor white labourers live. The "Social Security" which is present all over the west places all the poor above want. Every tenement which I visited there had a Television set, a Dunlop bed, dining table and cushioned chairs. They may look a luxury from the Indian point of view, but they are necessities in a cold country. Further the imperialism of western countries has provided all their peoples with amenities of common life. In non-socialist countries the poor suffer from the feeling of inferiority amidst inequalities rather than from the pangs of hunger and destitution. There are no slums in Europe as those we have in India. On the other hand, Asia and Africa are slums of Europe. Rationalism made Europe rich and spiritualism reduced Asia into a slum.
I talked with Mr. George Clark, who is an active worker of Notting Hill. I was surprised when, without knowing my ideas, he told me that it was immaterial for the poor man whether Labour Party was in power or the Conservatives gained power. The poor man wants a good government. All parties are power groups who alike exploit common people. I encouraged him to set up "People's candidates" as against all party candidates at the next election.
Canon Collins introduced me to the Black House at London. Its director is Mr. Michael X, a talented and powerful personality. He was a votary of non-violence and a follower of Martin Luther King. But later he reacted violently to the patronising attitude of the whites and started the Black House on the lines of the Black Power Movement of Malcolm X of U.S.A. Being aware of the mind of Harijans in India, I could appreciate Mr. Michael's present attitude. It is similar to Dr. Ambedkar's method. But experience reveals that no group can develop in isolation in the modern world. So instead of advocating splitting in reaction, an aggrieved group should aggressively break the privileges of self-styled superiors and march to merge all people into a common humanity. A split cannot prevent further splitting. Also it bars the co-operation of well-intentioned non-blacks. I did not hope to convince Michael X at once, but I intended to make him aware of another platform which worked for the same objective with a different policy. Secrecy and sectarianism prove anti-social in the long run.
"Dig For Victory"
In London I witnessed a play which was enacted by a group of students. The theme was the martyrdom of Martin Luther King. Throughout the play the conflict between the violent and nonviolent methods of solving social conflicts was vividly portrayed. There were significant references to Gandhi and his sayings.
As the author and some of the actors were in prison in connection with the civil rights movement. The words and the actions were imbued with the depth of feeling and devotion to a cause, the cause of non-violence.
The author of the play asked for my frank opinion on the play. I told him, "As a piece of art it is excellent; as a means of education in non-violence it is a failure." Why? It suffered the same disadvantages as any artistic production. Art sidetracks people's attention from involvement in a cause to the enjoyment of expression. I do not wonder if the actors who received the applause now and then will be prone to developing their histrionic talents hereafter more than devote themselves to fight for civil liberties.
I addressed a gathering at the Rationalist Press Association and met press correspondents. The mention of the programme of replacing flower plants with vegetables attracted special attention everywhere. A correspondent told me that during the time of the second world war, there was a campaign in England with the "Dig for Victory." It exhorted the people to dig and cultivate food plants to feed the people for the fight to win the war. In response to the appeal, several ornamental gardens in London and elsewhere in England were replaced by vegetable plots. When that was the case in England, the correspondent wondered, why the Satyagrahis were arrested for attempts to grow more food in Hyderabad. He promised to secure for me a copy of the pamphlet, "Dig for Victory."
Of all the countries, I found Holland to be very fond of ornamental flowers. Road margins are decorated with flower beds and flower pots are hung from the railings of bridges. Flowers peep out of the windows of buildings, and flower-vases have become a part of the furniture. Yet no one in Holland failed to see the principle contained in replacing ornamental plants with edibles. At one place a young couple rushed to the window of their drawing room to pull out the ornamental plants as they felt guilty to enjoy flowers as long as anyone is starving anywhere in the world.
The stay for a week in England was a rewarding experience for me. The dialogue with Michael X at the Black house, the discussions with Canon Collins on "Christian Action", the visit to Notting Hill, a look at Gandhi's statue in London, the gesture of German Youth at Coventry and the information about "Dig for Victory" widened my outlook and encouraged me to intensify the programmes in India. The facility of communication through a common language helped me to see things more closely in England than in the earlier countries of my visit. The same facility I shall have hereafter in Ireland, America and Australia.