Over many years as an investigative journalist I’ve come across many stories of the great and the good but one that has stuck in my mind. It is about that great political pacifist Mahatma Gandhi who began the movement to gain independence of the Indian Continent from the British Empire. He also sowed the seeds for the Anti Apartheid movement in South Africa.
In the British Army there is a punishable offence against discipline, called ‘Dumb Insolence.’ I believe that it’s included in the rule book purely because the powers that be simply do not know how to deal with it but I just love it. Perfect for an old grumpy such as I and I’ve become an active practitioner.
So with my storyteller’s hat on please allow me to pass on this little gem – When Mahatma Gandhi was studying law at the University College London’ a professor by the name of Peters disliked him intensely and always displayed animosity towards him. And because Gandhi never lowered his head when addressing him as was expected by his students’ there were always arguments and confrontations.
One day Mr Peters was having lunch in the University dining room when Gandhi came along with his tray and sat next to him. The professor said “Mr Gandhi’ you do not understand’ “A pig and a bird do not sit together to eat!” Gandhi looked at him as a parent would to a rude child and calmly replied “You do not need to worry professor, I’ll fly away”. He went and sat at another table.
Peters, red with rage, decided to take revenge on the next test paper but Gandhi responded brilliantly to all questions. Unhappy and frustrated, Professor Peters asked him the following question.
“Mr Gandhi, if you were walking down the street and found a package with a note addressed to ‘the finder’ with instructions that he could choose between the contents. Within were a bag of wisdom and another bag containing a lot of money! Which one would you take? Without hesitation Gandhi responded “The one with the money of course”! The professor smiling sarcastically said “I, in your place would have chosen taken the wisdom”. Gandhi shrugged indifferently and responded “Each one takes what he doesn’t have”.
Mr Peters, by this time was livid, so great was his anger that he wrote on Gandhi’s exam sheet the word – IDIOT – and handed it back to him. Gandhi took the exam sheet and sat down at his desk trying hard to remain calm while he contemplated his next move.
A few minutes later Gandhi stood up, went to the professor and said to him in a dignified but sarcastically polite tone. “Mr Peters, you autographed the sheet, but you did not give me a grade”!
Like many tales of the great and the good I’m sure that this story is apocryphal but I am old enough that I remember Mahatma Mohandas Gandhi during his civil rights performances and stunts to gain attention to his movement. I can remember being shocked and stunned when we got news that he had been shot by an assassin in 1948 at the age of 78, an assassin from his own Hindu community who was displeased at Gandhi’s attempts to appease the Muslims and bring peace between the two religions. After his death, India was partitioned into two dominions, a Hindu majority, India and Muslim, Pakistan. His vision of peace descended into mayhem and violence and even today still simmers between the two dominions. Who knows what would have happened if Gandhi had been given just a few more years. . . . . . . . . . . . Dumb Insolence eventually wears down the Establishment, who will never understand it.