Mahatma Gandhi’s grandson is co-teaching a one-credit course this semester at Salisbury University.
Dr. Arun Gandhi and Dr. Brian Polkinghorn, professor of conflict analysis and dispute resolution, are giving a lecture course called “Nonviolence or Nonexistence: Options for the 21st Century.” For over a decade, the Bosserman Center for Conflict Resolution has worked with Dr. Gandhi.
Arun Gandhi’s grandfather, Mahatma Gandhi, was an Indian activist and leader of the Indian independence movement against British rule. He believed in Hinduism and promoted asceticism and nonviolent civil disobedience.
Mahatma Gandhi was assassinated by right-wing Hindu nationalist Nathuram Godse, who shot him in the chest three times in 1948.
SU’s new course is based on Arun Gandhi’s latest book, “The Gift of Anger: And Other Lessons from My Grandfather Mahatma Gandhi.”
Polkinghorn called it a compilation of lessons that he had learned from his grandfather and a way of finding ways to interact with each other more humanely.
“In each chapter, I would say, there’s probably a hundred lessons in there,” Polkinghorn said. “We’re gonna unpack that book with Dr. Gandhi.”
Polkinghorn said he has been working with Dr. Gandhi for almost 20 years. He worked with him in parts of Asia, Central America, the Caribbean and across the U.S.
“He’s full of wisdom; you can have the most mundane conversation and out comes the most profound stuff,” Polkinghorn said. “Of the thousands of universities and colleges, this is the one place where he lends his name.”
“He’s kind of like the lead practitioner and spiritual guide to the [Bosserman] Center, and he’s taught here more than any other college or university in the country, actually the world.”
Polkinghorn shared that the famous quote, “Be the change you wish to see in the world,” was not actually spoken by Mahatma Gandhi, but by his grandson, Arun. He has given it much thought over the years.
“Maybe that’s a good thing, to aim over the horizon, you know?” Polkinghorn said. “Every time you do something, think, ‘Am I fulfilling my obligation to myself to be the change I wish to see in the world?’”
Gandhi and Polkinghorn traveled across India during the Gandhi Legacy Tour. Polkinghorn did not realize the full extent of the Arun Gandhi’s fame until he saw billboards, posters and mugs all over India.
Polkinghorn said he saw a Gandhi mausoleum that was even bigger than the SU campus. While they were taking pictures, Arun Gandhi was dressed in all white, which Polkinghorn noted was symbolic of his grandfather, and when they left, they were followed by hundreds of people.
“I realized this guy’s like Indian royalty,” Polkinghorn said. “This is how Arun’s ego is so in check…He never says anything, until he gets in a situation where everybody knows him as this royalty.”
“It’s profound how much the Gandhi family is revered by more than a billion people, It’s amazing.”
Many people tend to get anxious when interacting with someone who holds fame or prestige. Polkinghorn shared that with Arun Gandhi and that should not be the case.
“If you sat down with Arun, you would never get the idea that you were in the presence of somebody who was egotistical…but you do get the idea right away that you’re in the presence of somebody who’s really special,” Polkinghorn said.
Polkinghorn said Gandhi would be embarrassed if someone thought of him as a celebrity, but there have been some instances where he has been pushed into the limelight.
“It would go against his entire nature and being,” Polkinghorn said. “His whole thing is about people and relationships…He’s accessible and personable and listens to everybody’s story.”
Polkinghorn hopes that students who take the course are inspired by Gandhi’s words of wisdom and realize what a special and unique opportunity it is to be in his presence.
“I want students who take it to know that this will be a highlight of their academic career, and it’s something that they’ll take with them and they’ll remember for the remainder of their life,” Polkinghorn said. “There’s seven people in the world still alive that had that personal interaction with him, so it’s about a one in a billion chance you’re gonna run into one of them.”
Dr. Gandhi and Dr. Polkinghorn’s course meets a handful of Wednesdays at 5:30 p.m.
By MELISSA REESE
Featured photo: The cover of Arun Ghandi’s book, “The Gift of Anger:And Other Lessons from My Grandfather Mahatma Gandhi" (Simon and Schuster image).