Month: May 2013

Some days are for interviewing your heroes



Sometimes dreams really do come true.

I have had a bumper sticker with the famous quote from Mahatma Gandhi, “An eye for an eye makes the whole world blind,” for years in my room. This Christmas I asked for a poster of the iconic photo by Margaret Bourke-White, “Gandhi at His Spinning Wheel.” I spent a Friday night this January watching the three-hour-long biography movie “Gandhi.” I just started the 500-page-long autobiography “Gandhi.” I could go on…

Many of my friends say I am a hippie at heart which I guess explains why a message of non-violence especially resonates with me. So often I am overwhelmed by news of destruction and violence. Gandhi’s message is one I cling to because it is an example where patience, courage and good served as the best and only solution to a great problem.

When I heard Rajmohan Gandhi, one of Mahatma Gandhi’s grandchildren and an incredibly accomplished man in his own right, was coming to speak at Mizzou, I practically begged my news editor to let me write the story. I arrived at the event, which took place in Memorial Union, and interviewed the events organizers and interviewers. I think they could tell how excited I was about the story because eventually they asked if I wanted to meet Rajmohan Gandhi myself. Is that even a question? In the excitement of being introduced to Gandhi’s grandson, I blurted out my name before I could be introduced and rather awkwardly stuck out my hand for a handshake (You better believe I was not leaving there without a handshake).

I had prepared a few questions beforehand, but in my mind there is really no good question to ask one of the most interesting men in the world. Before I could even ask a mediocre question, Rajmohan Gandhi did something I didn’t expect – He asked me about myself. That’s right, before other topics on things like world peace and non-violence, I talked to Rajmohan Gandhi about journalism and Missouri. This was a man as courteous, humble and kind as I could have imagined.

My favorite quote from the entire event came from my conversation with him. I asked him if he had one interest that he valued the most (Check out his list of amazing accomplishments here).

“I am interested in bringing together the deeply divided people of the world. (I am interested in) peace and reconciliation.”

The event itself consisted of two MU professors, Journalism professor Charles Davis and Political Science professor Paul Wallace, interviewing Rajmohan Gandhi on stage.

I wish I had a recording of the entire interview, but here are a few highlights.

On the complex climate of Pakistan:

“The world likes four-second sound bytes and kind of two-word headlines, ‘terrorism,’ ‘extremism,’ ‘religious extremism,’ ‘jihadism.’ But ‘jihadism’ doesn’t explain everything … Pakistan, like so many countries, has so many contradictions.”

On the importance of understanding other cultures:

“The first step is to understand the world, even far away places, strange places, where people have unpronounceable names. So the first step is to study and learn, and the second step is to form a good relationship with one part of the world depending on your interests and inclinations, and then you realize that every place is just as complex as your own place and simple formulae don’t describe a place.”

On his grandfather:

“Whenever I was with my grandfather, the connection was incredibly warm and the affection was absolutely amazing.”

On observing his grandfather’s tolerance for all religions and people:

“I would say to myself, ‘This man is not getting angry with people who are quite angry with him, (unlike) how I would react.’ But he also is not yielding to them. He’s standing firm. So that is what I took away from him, apart from the warmth of the embrace of his hug and his strong pat on the back.”

I can’t think of an experience that could top that day. It was absolutely incredible to meet a living manifestation of kindness. The most lasting thought I took away from the event was the importance of seeing the value each and every person has. If Rajmohan Gandhi can take interest in the life of an insignificant college freshman, I can certainly continue the gesture and find worth in every person I encounter.