The closing session of the Inter-Asian Relations Conference held on April 2, 1947 was a great finale to the intense activity which marked the proceedings during the past ten days. Over 20,000 visitors and delegates and observers gave a great ovation to Gandhiji when Mrs. Naidu introduced him as a ‘one of the greatest Asians of the age’. Gandhiji who followed Dr. Sjahriar, the Premier of Indonesia, made the following speech:
I do not think that I should apologize to you for having to speak in a foreign tongue. I wonder if this loud speaker carries my voice to the farthest end of this vast audience. If some of those who are far away are unable to listen to what I may say, it will be the fault of the loud speaker.
I was going to tell you that I do not wish to apologize. I dare not. You cannot understand the provincial language, which is my mother tongue. I do not want to insult you by speaking in my own language (Gujarati). Our national speech is Hindustani. I know that it will be a long time before it can be made into an international speech. For international commerce, undoubtedly, English occupies the first place. I used to hear that French was the language of diplomacy. I was told, when I was young, that if I wanted to go from one end of Europe to the other, I must try to pick up French. I tried to learn French, in order that I may be able to make myself understood. There is a rivalry between the French and the English. Having been taught English, I have naturally to resort to it.
I was wondering, as to what I was to speak to you. I wanted to collect my thoughts, but, let me confess to you that I had no time. Yet I had promised yesterday that I would try to say a few words. While I was coming with Badshah Khan, I asked for a little piece of paper and pencil. I got a pen, instead of a pencil. I tried to scribble a few words. You will be sorry to hear that piece of paper is not by my side, though I remember what I wanted to say.
You, friends, have not seen the real India and you are not meeting in conference in the midst of real India. Delhi, Bombay, Madras, Calcutta, Lahore-all these are big cities and are, therefore, influenced by the West.
I then thought of a story. It was in French and was translated for me by an Anglo-French philosopher. He was an unselfish man. He befriended me without having known me, because he always sided with the minorities. I was not then in my own country. I was not only in a hopeless minority, but in a despised minority, if the Europeans in South Africa will forgive me for saying so. I was a coolie lawyer. At the time, we had no coolie doctors, and we had no coolie lawyers. I was the first in the field. You know, perhaps, what is meant by the word ‘coolie’.
This friend–his mother was a French woman and his father was an Englishmen–said: “I want to translate for you a French story. There were three scientists who went out from France in search of truth. They went to different parts of Asia. One of them found his way to India. He began to search. He went to the so-called cities of those times–naturally this was before British occupation, before even the Mogul period. He saw the so-called high caste people, men and women, till he felt at a loss. Finally, he went to one humble cottage and there he found the truth that he was in search of.”
If you really want to see India villages at its best, you have to find it in the humble bhangi homes of such villages. There are seven lakhs of such villages, and thirty-eighty crores of people inhabit them.
If some of you see the Indian villages, you will not be fascinated by the sight. You will have to scratch below the dung heap. I do not pretend to say that they were places of paradise. Today, they are really dung heaps. They were not like that before. What I say is not from history, but from what I have seen myself. I have traveled from one end of India to the other, and I have seen the miserable specimens of humanity with the lustreless eyes. They are India. In these humble cottages, in the midst of these dung heaps, are to be found humble bhangis, in whom you find the concentrated essence of wisdom.
Again, I have learnt from books–books written by English historians. We read books written in English historians, but we do not write in our own mother tongue, or in the national language Hindustani. We study our history through English books, rather than through originals. That is the cultural conquest which India has undergone.
The first of these wise men was Zoroaster. He belonged to the East. He was followed by Buddha who belonged to the East–India. Who followed Buddha? Jesus, who came from the East. Before Jesus was Moses who belonged to Palestine, though he was born in Egypt. And after Jesus came Mohamed. I omit my reference to Krishna and Rama and other lights. I do not call them lesser lights but they are lees known a single person in the world to match these men of Asia. And then what happened? Christianity became disfigured, when it went to the West. I am sorry to have to say that–I would not talk any further.
I have told you the story, in order to make you understand that what you see in the big cities is not the real India. Certainly, the carnage that is going on before our very eyes is a shameful thing. As I said yesterday, do not carry the memory of that carnage beyond the confines of India. What I want you to understand is the message of Asia. It is not to be learnt through the western spectacles or by imitating the atom bomb. If you want to give a message of truth. I do not want merely to appeal to your head. I want to capture your heart.
In this age of democracy, in this age of awakening of the poorest of the poor, you can redeliver this message with the greatest emphasis. You will complete the conquest of the West, not through vengeance, because you have been exploited, but with real understanding. I am sanguine, if all of you put your hearts together–not merely heads–to understand the secret of the message these wise men of the East have left to us, and us if we really become worthy of that great message, the conquest of the West will be completed. This conquest will be loved by the West itself.
The West is today pinning for wisdom. It is despairing of a multiplication of the atom bombs, because the atom bombs mean utter destruction, not merely of the West, but of the whole world, as if the prophecy of the Bible is going to be fulfilled and there is to be a perfect deluge. It is up to you to tell the world of its wickedness and sin–that is the heritage your teachers and my teachers have taught Asia.
Source: Harijan, 20-4-1947, pp. 116-17