My last semester of college (university), I thought I needed three classes to graduate, and decided that I would make that third class a survey of Indian philosophy. It turned out, I only needed two classes to graduate, so I didn’t take it. This process of realization took about five minutes. And thus is the extent of my experience with formal education of India.
I am truly the epitome of the product of the Western educational tradition. I was blessed to go to great schools from childhood through college. But, even more so than the average contemporary American, my intellectual upbringing is about as deeply rooted in Western tradition as possible. You see, I was a classics major. I started taking Latin when I was 13. I’m 28 now. So for more than half of my life I’ve known the language at the genesis of Western intellectualism, and I constantly bemoan that since the 1950s the classics have faded out of American education and culture.
When I got into college, my passion for the classics brought me towards a passion for ancient history and philosophy. I vigorously studied the Roman Republic, learned (and then forgot) ancient Greek, and fell in love with Plato to an extent that my friends and family find weird. Having learned the roots of the Western world’s tree of knowledge, I set about to climb that tree. I studied the philosophy and political theory of the Enlightenment, constantly tracing these thoughts back to their classical origins. I was, and still am, constantly fascinated by this ancient world that molded the one I live in today in America- the world that my Forefathers looked to for inspiration in founding the nation I love. I am fascinated by this connection to the point that I started a podcast, Politics Then and Now, to talk specifically about it. I bring all this up for two reasons: one, to help you see the simultaneously wide yet myopic perspective my education has left me with. And two, to note that my education was exceedingly similar to that of the British men with whom Gandhi had to deal.
Despite no formal education about India, sentimentally, I have always felt a sort of kinship with the Indian people. As they too fought with distinction and bravery in the same wars and for the same ideals that define America. First, in the World Wars, specifically in the second World War, 2.5 million Indians answered the call of duty for the defense of a justice they did not yet know in their own nation, 87, 000 of whom died in the cause of that effort. They gave nobly what Lincoln called “the last full measure of devotion,” while their supposed ally in this endeavor watched idly as 3 million Indians died of starvation at the feet of an apathetic and ungrateful Britain. This leads to the second source of kinship I feel as an American towards the people of India. They too are a nation born out of shrugging off the yoke of British Imperialism. And, as proudly educated I am of how my American Forefathers acquired my liberty, I am woefully uneducated in how the Forefathers of India acquired theirs.
However, the internet is an amazing thing- in both good and bad ways. But, this is one of the good ways. I started an Instagram page for that podcast, and it grew pretty fast. But, I noticed something odd about its growth. About 1/3rd of my followers were in India. I still don’t really get why, but it’s turned out well. After getting to know Harriet, our head blogger, who is from England (awkward) through the account, she and I got to work on putting in place my vision of Aristocles Media. And, along the way, I got to know Divakar and Aditya through Instagram, and they both agreed to do some content for the website. And, through talking with Aditya, he told me of his reverence for a man I knew only as a sort of myth, Mahatma Gandhi. And so, here I am, starting to read his autobiography. The first book I’ve ever read that wasn’t focused on the West. So, I hope you join me in this journey, as an American reads the autobiography of Mahatma Gandhi.
4 thoughts on “An American’s Journey Through the Life of Gandhi: The Prologue”
So cool, I look forward to hearing how your journey with Gandhi goes- I was lucky enough to fall in love with him in college- I wasn’t smart enough to study classics! I’m no longer in love, but more “ in like,” with the man, but still love his ideas.
I’m looking forward to it!
Nice to know you’re open to and venturing into Eastern ideas. I wonder if you’ve run across theories of cross-fertilization between Greeks and those with ideas from the East? Fascinating topic, and I’m definitely of the ‘many-paths-up-the-same-mountain school of truth-finding. Perhaps the similarities among many Greek ideas and many mystics are just proof of the essential similarity at the core of human being, and perhaps actual contact between East and West helped to further similar, true ideas?
All I ever really learned was how Greek texts went East after Rome christianized and were preserved by Muslim scholars. I know I owe them a big thanks, but that’s about it unfortunately