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First published in the United States of America by Gallery Books,

an imprint of Simon & Schuster 2017

First published in Great Britain by Michael Joseph 2017

Copyright © Arun Gandhi, 2017

The moral right of the author has been asserted

Cover image: © Arun Gandhi

Restored by Alan Dingman

Interior design by Jamie Putorti

ISBN: 978-1-405-93108-3

I dedicate this book to my four great grandchildren, Elizabeth (Ellie), Michael (Micah), Jonathan (Jonu), and Maya, and all the just-born and not-yet-born children of the world who must become the change if this world is to be saved from disaster.


Preface: Lessons from My Grandfather

Lesson One: Use Anger for Good

Lesson Two: Don’t Be Afraid to Speak Up

Lesson Three: Appreciate Solitude

Lesson Four: Know Your Own Worth

Lesson Five: Lies Are Clutter

Lesson Six: Waste Is Violence

Lesson Seven: Practice Nonviolent Parenting

Lesson Eight: Humility Is Strength

Lesson Nine: The Five Pillars of Nonviolence

Lesson Ten: You Will Be Tested

Lesson Eleven: Lessons for Today

Epilogue: The Greatest Joy


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Lessons from My Grandfather

We were going to visit Grandfather. To me, he was not the great Mahatma Gandhi whom the world revered but just “Bapuji,” the kindly grandfather my parents talked about often. Coming to visit him in India from our home in South Africa required a long journey. We had just endured a sixteen-hour trip on a crowded train from Mumbai, packed into a third-class compartment that reeked of cigarettes and sweat and the smoke from the steam engine. We were all tired as the train chugged into the Wardha station and it felt good to escape the coal dust and step onto the platform and gulp fresh air.

It was barely nine in the morning, but the early sun was blazing hot. The station was just a platform with a single room for the stationmaster, but my dad found a porter in a long red shirt and loincloth to help us with our bags and lead us to where the horse buggies (called tongas in India) were waiting. Dad lifted Ela, my six-year-old sister, onto the buggy and asked me to get in next to her. He and Mom would walk behind.

“Then I’ll walk too,” I said.

“It’s a long distance—probably eight miles,” Dad pointed out.

“That is not a problem for me,” I insisted. I was twelve years old and wanted to appear tough.

It didn’t take long to regret my decision. The sun kept getting hotter, and the road was paved for only about a mile from the station. Before long I was tired and sweat-soaked and covered with dust and grime, but I knew that I couldn’t climb into the buggy now. At home the rule was that if you said something, you had to back it up with action. It didn’t matter if my ego was stronger than my legs—I had to keep going.

Finally we approached Bapuji’s ashram, called Sevagram. After all our travels, we had reached a remote spot, in the poorest of the poor heartland of India. I had heard so much about the beauty and love Grandfather brought to the world that I might have expected blossoming flowers and flowing waterfalls. Instead the place appeared flat, dry, dusty, and unremarkable, with some mud huts around an open common space. Had I come so far for this barren, unimpressive spot? I thought there might be at least a welcome party to greet us, but nobody seemed to pay any attention to our arrival. “Where is everybody?” I asked my mom.

We went to a simple hut where I took a bath and scrubbed my face. I had met Bapuji once before, when I was five years old, but I didn’t remember the visit, and I was slightly nervous now for our second meeting. My parents had told us to be on good behavior when greeting Grandfather because he was an important man. Even in South Africa I heard people speaking reverentially about him, and I imagined that somewhere on the grounds of the ashram was the mansion where Bapuji lived, surrounded by a swarm of attendants.

Instead I was shocked when we walked to another simple hut and stepped across a mud-floor veranda into a room no more than ten by fourteen feet. There was Bapuji, squatting in a corner of the floor on a thin cotton mattress.

Later I would learn that visiting heads of state squatted on mats next to him to talk and consult with the great Gandhi. But now Bapuji gave us his beautiful, toothless smile and beckoned us forward.

Following our parents’ lead, my sister and I went to bow at his feet in traditional Indian obeisance. He would have none of that, quickly pulling us to him to give us affectionate hugs. He kissed us on both cheeks, and Ela squealed with surprise and delight.

“How was your journey?” Bapuji asked.

I was so overawed that I stuttered, “Bapuji, I walked all the way from the station.”

He laughed and I saw a twinkle in his eye. “Is that so? I am so proud of you,” he said, and planted more kisses on my cheeks.

I could immediately feel his unconditional love, and that to me was all the blessing I needed.

But there were many more blessings to come.

My parents and Ela stayed just a few days at the ashram before heading off to visit my mother’s large family in other parts of India. But I was to live and travel with Bapuji for the next two years, as I grew from a naïve child of twelve to a wiser young man of fourteen. In that time I learned from him lessons that forever changed the direction of my life.

Bapuji often had a spinning wheel at his side, and I like to think of his life as a golden thread of stories and lessons that continue to weave in and out through the generations, making a stronger fabric for all our lives. Many people now know my grandfather only from the movies, or they remember that he started the nonviolence movements that eventually came to the United States and helped bring about civil rights. But I knew him as a warm, loving grandfather who looked for the best in me—and so brought it out. He inspired me and so many others to be better than we ever imagined we could be. He cared about political justice not from some grand theoretical view but because he was moved by the plight of each individual. He thought each of us deserved to live the best life we possibly could.

We all need Bapuji’s lessons now, more than ever. My grandfather would be sad at the depth of anger in the world today. But he would not despair.


All humanity is one family.


“All humanity is one family,” he told me time and again. He faced dangers and hatred in his time, but his practical philosophy of nonviolence helped liberate India and was the model for the advancement of rights around the world.

Now, again, we have to stop fighting each other to effectively address the real dangers we face. Mass shootings and lethal bombings have become part of our daily reality in America. We have seen policemen and peaceful protesters killed in cold blood. Children are murdered in schools and in our streets, and social media has become a forum for hate and prejudice. Politicians incite violence and anger rather than seek common ground.

My grandfather’s example of nonviolence was never meant to be passivity or weakness. In fact he saw nonviolence as a way to make yourself morally and ethically stronger and more able to move toward the goal of bringing harmony to society. When he was just getting under way with his nonviolence campaigns, he asked people to help him find a name for his new movement, and one of his cousins suggested the Sanskrit word sadagraha, which means “firmness in a good cause.” Bapuji liked the word but decided to modify it slightly to satyagraha, or “firmness for truth.” Later, people sometimes translated it as “soul force,” which powerfully reminds us that real strength comes from having the right values as we seek social transformation.

What I see us all needing right now is a return to my grandfather’s satyagraha, or soul force. He created a movement that led to huge political upheaval and brought self-rule to hundreds of millions of Indians. But most important, Bapuji tried to show that we can achieve our goals through love and truth and that the greatest advances occur when we give up our distrust and look for strength in positivity and courage.

My grandfather did not believe in labels or divisions between people, and though he was deeply spiritual, he objected to religion when it divided rather than connected people. On the ashram we awoke at 4:30 every morning to get ready for 5 a.m. prayers. Bapuji had read the texts of all religions, and the universalist prayers he offered were taken from all of them. He believed that every religion has a bit of truth—and that trouble occurs when we think that one bit is the whole and only truth.

Bapuji spoke out against British rule in favor of self-determination for all people, and for that this man who wanted only to spread love and peace spent nearly six years in Indian jails. His ideas of peace and unity were so threatening to many that he, his wife, and his best friend and confidant, Mahadev Desai, were all imprisoned. Desai had a heart attack and died in jail in 1942, and Grandfather’s beloved wife, Kasturbai, finally failed on February 22, 1944, with her head resting in his lap. Three months after her death, Grandfather emerged from prison, the sole survivor. The following year he took me in and made it his mission to teach me how to have a better life.

The two years that I lived with Bapuji were an important time for both of us. While I was with him, his work for an independent India reached fruition, but the violence and partition that came with it were not part of his dream. As he made changes on the world stage, I learned to make changes in myself, overcoming my own, often unwieldy emotions and discovering how to fulfill my potential and see the world through new eyes. I got to witness history at the same time that Bapuji offered me simple, practical lessons in reaching my personal goals. It was an intensive course in his philosophy “Be the change you wish to see in the world.”


Be the change you wish to see in the world.


We need that change right now, as we reach intolerable levels of violence and hatred in the world. People are desperate for change but feel helpless. A drastic economic imbalance means more than 15 million children in America and hundreds of millions around the world often don’t have enough to eat, while those who live with abundance feel they have a license to waste. When right-wing fascists recently defaced a statue of my grandfather in a town square in northern India, they promised, “You will witness a trail of terror.” We must transform our own lives if we want to end this madness.

My grandfather feared this very moment in our history. A reporter asked him just one week before he was murdered, “What do you think will happen with your philosophy after you die?” He replied with great sadness, “The people will follow me in life, worship me in death, but not make my cause their cause.” We must once again make his cause ours. His daily wisdom can help us solve the problems we still face today. We have never needed my grandfather more than at this very moment.

Bapuji used transcendent truths and practical guidance to change the course of history. Now it is time for us all to use them.

The lessons I learned from Bapuji transformed my life, and I hope they will help you find greater peace and meaning in yours.