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10 Questions for Arun Gandhi

by: MIGUEL RIOPA,

Arun Gandhi, grandson of late Indian spiritual leader Mahatma Gandhi, has continued the legacy of his grandfather by talking about the importance of nonviolence, peace and unity.

Gandhi, 75 and living in Rochester, N.Y., makes another appearance in the Portland area, 2 to 4:30 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 20, for Marylhurst University's large, interfaith gathering, 'Messages of Peace.'

The Tribune caught up with Gandhi, who lived in South Africa and with his grandfather while growing up, spent years with The Times of India newspaper and the past quarter century in the United States:

Tribune: Why were you in the newspaper business?

Gandhi: I grew up in a journalistic atmosphere; my grandfather had started a weekly paper in South Africa, more of a views paper, just to inform Indians and nonwhite people about the effects of apartheid and nonviolent ways to oppose it. I used to help my dad (Manlil) bring out this weekly.

Tribune: You said early last year that 'Israel and the Jews are the biggest players' in a culture of violence, after which you resigned from the M.K. Gandhi Institute for Nonviolence at the University of Rochester. Regrets?

Gandhi: I think people misunderstood what I was trying to say, I was trying to provoke a discussion. Unless we find a peaceful solution to that (Israeli-Palestinian) problem, the world will get deeper into that violence. Instead of generating a healthy solution, it generated anger, not the effect I desired. I still stand by it.

Tribune: What's one message you remember from your grandfather?

Gandhi: I lived with him two years prior to his assassination (in 1948), ages 12 to 14. Foremost was about understanding anger and to being able to channel that energy to intelligent solutions to problems. He said anger is like electricity, just as useful and powerful if used intelligently, deadly and destructive if used wrongly.

Tribune: Your grandfather chastised you once for throwing away a pencil, saying it was an act of violence against nature and to those who can't afford the luxuries in life. Why was that?

Gandhi: His philosophy goes way beyond violence, into ways we practice violence in everyday life - spiritual, economic, cultural - which don't use physical force. We're constantly exploiting, discriminating and depressing people, and it boils over and explodes into violence. The only way to bring peace in the world is changing attitudes, being more respectful and understanding toward people.

Tribune: What was it like living with Mahatma Gandhi?

Gandhi: Living with him made me realize how great he was. Great in his humility, even with all the adulation. Such a humble and simple person. Approachable even by a little boy like me.

Tribune: What do you remember of his assassination?

Gandhi: It's very vivid. Two months after a wonderful time I had with him, we were in South Africa. My little sister and I were walking home from school and an old gentleman said, 'Run home, your mother needs you.' Mom was sobbing, answering the phones, and between phone calls she told me what happened. I didn't believe somebody could kill somebody as humble and peaceful as grandpa. I vented my anger, said, 'I wish I was there and could strangle that person.' But my parents reminded me of what grandfather taught me. He wouldn't appreciate that. He was more inclined to forgive than seek revenge.

Tribune: You left South Africa at age 24 and wanted to return with your wife?

Gandhi: The South African government wasn't allowing me to bring her back. I was forced to live in India.

Tribune: What's it like living with the Gandhi name, in your grandfather's shadow?

Gandhi: It used to be difficult. As a teenager, people had all kinds of expectations. My mother said, 'If you consider it a burden, it will get heavier as the years go by; if you consider it light, it'll be much easier.'

Tribune: Your grandfather helped India gain independence from England. How has India changed since that time?

Gandhi: Many people look at India as making great strides, becoming an economic power, but they overlook the fact that half the population of 1 billion lives in poverty. The rich are becoming greedy and self-centered and not looking at people being marginalized.

Tribune: Your son, Tushar Gandhi, has continued the family's message of nonviolence and peace in India.

Gandhi: Both my son and daughter (Archana Prasad) are helping. My son tried to get into politics but wasn't very successful. My grandfather didn't want anybody to get into politics; if we did, it wouldn't be because of his legacy and name. He didn't want that to be exploited for political gain … but to serve the people instead. My generation and my father's generation honored that request.