Rare Gandhi recording found in Washington

By Arun Kumar, IANS,

Washington : A rare recording of a historic speech by Mahatma Gandhi, one of the only two of him speaking in English, made just a few months before his assassination has been found in Washington.

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It had been lovingly preserved for 60 years by John Cosgrove, a former president of the National Press Club in the US capital, who discovered the significance of the recording during a chance encounter with Rajmohan Gandhi, Mahatma’s grandson and biographer.

Cosgrove’s copy came from Alfred Wagg, a journalist who recorded the speech in New Delhi and produced four 78-rpm LPs that included both Gandhi’s voice as well as Wagg’s own commentary about the man revered as Father of the Indian Nation, the Washington Post reported Tuesday.

The speech made on April 2, 1947is one of the only two occasions when he was recorded speaking in English, Rajmohan Gandhi told Cosgrove when he came to the National Press Club last April to promote the Mahatma’s new biography. The other speech about religious issues was recorded in the 1930s.

Millions of people around the world think they have heard Mahatma Gandhi speaking in English – although it was actually Gandhi channelled through the voice of actor Ben Kingsley in the famous 1982 movie by Richard Attenborough.

For decades, Gandhi’s second speech has been largely lost to the world. A few years ago, an Italian cellphone company made a commercial using excerpts, and scattered fragments are available on the Internet.

Made with the uneven diction of an elderly man who sounds as though he has lost most of his teeth, Gandhi’s speech had the same themes he visited over and over throughout his life: the importance of non-violence, the eradication of the caste system in Hindu society, amity between South Asia’s Hindus and Muslims, and a world united against violence and exploitation.

Gandhi generally spoke in Hindi, although his native tongue was Gujarati. But this particular speech in English was made to a conference of Asian leaders convened by Jawaharlal Nehru.

It is Gandhi’s sincerity that gives his words in the April 1947 speech their power. Many leaders have been far more articulate, the Post columnist Shankar Vedantam says. “If Gandhi is compelling, it is because we know he is that rare person who actually means what he says.”

With the horrors of the Holocaust and Hiroshima fresh in his mind, Gandhi talked about finding a way to help the West turn away from violence.

“What I want you to understand – if you can – that the message of the East, the message of Asia, is not to be learned through European spectacles, through Western spectacles, not by imitating the tension of the West, the gunpowder of the West, the atom bomb of the West,” Gandhi told his listeners.

“If you want to give a message again to the West, it must be a message of love; it must be a message of truth; there must be a conquest-” Gandhi’s words are cut off at this point by a rousing cheer.

Characteristically, Gandhi stops the applause: “Please, please, please,” he says. “That will interfere with my speech and that will interfere with your understanding also. I want to capture your hearts, and don’t want to receive your claps. Let your hearts clap in unison with what I am saying, and I think I shall have finished my work.”