When Gandhi was born British rule had been established in India. The uprising of 1857, known as the Mutiny, had merely served to consolidate the British adventure into an empire. India had effectively passed under British tutelage, so effectively indeed, that instead of resenting alien rule the generation of educated Indians were eager to submit to the "Civilizing mission" of their foreign masters. Political subjection had been reinforced by intellectual and moral servility. It seemed that the British empire in India was safe for centuries.
When Gandhi died it was India, a free nation that mourned his loss. The disinherited had recovered their heritage and the "dumb millions" had found their voice. The disarmed had won a great battle and had in the process evolved a moral force such as to compel the attention, and to some degree, the admiration, of the world. The story of this miracle is also the story of Gandhi's life, for he, more than any other was the architect of this miracle. Ever since his grateful countrymen call him the Father of the Nation.
And yet it would be an exaggeration to say that Gandhi alone wrought this miracle. No single individual, however great and wonderful, can be the sole engineer of a historical process. A succession of remarkable predecessors and elder contemporaries had quarried and broken the stones which helped Gandhi to pave the way for India's independence. They had set in motion various trends in the intellectual, social and moral consciousness of the people which the genius Gandhi mobilized and directed in a grand march. Raja Rammohan Roy, Ramkrishna Paramhamsa and his great disciple, Swami Vivekananda, Swami Dayananda Saraswati, Dadabhai Navroji, Badruddin Tyabji, Syed Ahmed Khan, Ranade, Gokhale, Tilak, Aurobindo Ghosh and Rabindranath Tagore, to name only a few. Each one of them, had in his own, field created a consciousness of India's destiny and helped to generate a spirit of sacrifice which, in Gandhi's hands, became the instruments of a vast political-cum-moral upheaval. Had Gandhi been born hundred years earlier he could hardly have achieved what he did. Nevertheless, it is true, that, but for Gandhi, India's political destiny would have been vastly different and her moral stature vastly inferior.
But though Gandhi lived, suffered and died in India for Indians, it is not in relation to India's destiny alone that his life has significance. Future generations will not only remember him as a patriot, politician and nation-builder but much more. He was essentially a moral force, whose appeal is to the conscience of man and therefore universal. He was the servant and friend of man as man and not as belonging to this or that nation, religion or race. If he worked for Indians only, it was because he was born among them and because their humiliation and suffering supplied the necessary incentives to his moral sensibility. The lesson of his life therefore is for all to read. He founded no church and though he lived by faith he left behind no dogma for the faithful to quarrel over. He gave no attributes to God save Truth and prescribed no path for attaining it save honest and relentless search through means that injure no living thing. Who dare therefore claim Gandhi for his own except by claiming him for all?
Another lesson of his life which should be of universal interest is that he was not born a genius and did not exhibit in early life any extraordinary faculty that is not shared by the common run of men. He was no inspired bard like Rabindranath Tagore, he had no mystic visions like Ramakrishna Paramhansa, he was no child prodigy like Shankara or Vivekananda. He was just an ordinary child like most of us. If there was anything extraordinary about him as a child, it was his shyness, a handicap from which he suffered for a long time. No doubt, something very extraordinary must have been latent in his spirit which later developed into an iron will and combined with a moral sensibility made him what he became, but there was little evidence of it in his childhood. We may therefore derive courage and inspiration from the knowledge that if he made himself what he was, there is no visible reason why we should not be able to do the same.
His genius, so to speak, was an infinite capacity for taking pains in fulfillment of a restless moral urge. His life was one continuous striving, an unremitting sadhana, a relentless search for truth, not abstract or metaphysical truth, but such truth as can be realized in human relations. He climbed step by step, each step no bigger than a man's, till when we saw him at the height he seemed more than a man. "Generations to come, it may be, will scarce believe", wrote Einstein, "that such a one as this, ever in flesh and blood walked upon this earth." If at the end he seemed like no other man, it is good to remember that when he began he was like any other man.
Such is the great lesson of his life. Fortunately, he has himself recorded for us the main incidents of his life till 1921 and described with scrupulous veracity the evolution of his moral and intellectual consciousness. Had he not done so, there would have been in India no dearth of devout chroniclers who would have invented divine portents at his birth and invested him with a halo from his childhood.