Wednesday, July 2, 2008


Gandhi received a copy of Ruskin's Unto This Last from a British friend while working as a lawyer in South Africa. In his Autobiography, Gandhi remembers the twenty-four hour train ride when he first read the book, being so in the grip of Ruskin's ideas that he could not sleep at all: "I determined to change my life in accordance with the ideals of the book."[2] As Gandhi construed it, Ruskin's outlook on political-economic life extended from three central tenets:

" 1. That the good of the individual is contained in the good of all.
2. That a lawyer's work has the same value as the barber's in as much as all have the same right of earning their livelihood from their work.
3. That a life of labour, i.e., the life of the tiller of the soil and the handicraftsman is the life worth living.
The first of these I knew. The second I had dimly realized. The third had never occurred to me. Unto This Last made it clear as daylight for me that the second and third were contained in the first. I arose with the dawn, ready to reduce these principles to practice.

Four years later, in 1908, Gandhi rendered a paraphased translation of Ruskin's book into his native tongue of
Gujarati. He entitled the book Sarvodaya, a compound (sandhi) he invented from two Sanskrit roots: sarva (all) and udaya (uplift) -- "the uplift of all" (or as Gandhi glossed it in his autobiography, "the welfare of all").
Although inspired by Ruskin, the term would for Gandhi come to stand for a political ideal of his own stamp. (Indeed Gandhi was keen to distance himself from Ruskin's more conservative ideas.
[4]) The ideal which Gandhi strove to put into practice in his ashrams was, he hoped, one that he could persuade the whole of India to embrace, becoming a light to the other nations of the world. The Gandhian social ideal encompassed the dignity of labor, an equitable distribution of wealth, communal self-sufficiency and individual freedom.[5]

No comments: