It's not very often that a guest of honour of international standing politely refuses to accept a business class ticket and flies economy class instead, requesting the sponsors to put the money to better use. Except of course, if you happen to be Mahatma Gandhi's grandson, brought up on an altruistic diet of simple living and high thinking.
Gopalkrishna Gandhi, the youngest grandson of the man who made world history, was recently the guest of honour at the Inter Faith meet at Christ the King Catholic Church, Mt Roskill. He was also the chief guest at the Indian Newslink Business Awards at the Skycity Convention Centre the following evening. The charismatic orator had the hundreds in attendance - including Auckland Mayor Len Brown, acting Prime Minister Bill English and leader of opposition David Shearer -hanging on to every word he had to say.
Goplakrishna Gandhi, a self-effacing poet and philosopher at heart, has had an active public life. He is former governor to West Bengal, India, High Commissioner to South Africa and Sri Lanka, ambassador to Iceland and Norway, Director Nehru Centre, London, secretary to President of India. More recently, Gandhi was offered the post of Vice President India which he politely turned down.
He talks about what it is to inherit the Gandhi legacy by virtue of birth and living up to being the progeny of one of the world's most quoted and respected freedom fighter.
"All of us in the Gandhi family have had great opportunities due to our richness of legacy. We've all had a head start and it's opened doors," he acknowledges but is quick to point out, "The gains are quite often set off by the requirements of trying to measure up. There is just too much to learn and due to the poverty of my response, I have being going through life with an inner sense of right and wrong. Fortunately, no one in the Gandhi family has been pressurised to follow a set code. We've been quite liberal and have learnt as much from Gandhi's adversaries as we did from Gandhi. It's fascinating not to be prescriptive. Gandhi himself was constantly evolving. He was evolving for preparedness of great things to then doing great things. He did it stage by stage systematically, preparing for greatness. Of course, he did commit some errors and made some difficult decisions. However, he was the first to admit it. No one would have known of his faults if had he not been so honest and written about it himself.
"Gandhi placed himself in the dock and was very strident with himself in his self prosecution. Very often he was the accused, the prosecutor and the witness himself," he says of his grandfather.
If there is one thing that defines the intellectual giant, it's Gopalkrishna's inherent sense of humility. "I'm well aware of the fact that no one would be interested in what I have to say had I not been Mahatma Gandhi's grandson," he says modestly. "For example, if ever there was a direct descendant of Buddha, people would be interested in knowing all about him. They would be even more curious had he been a complete failure. People would want to know why he is a failure," he reflects.
"I firmly believe that everyone has parents and grand-parents as valuable as mine. No one can be more fortunate than the other," deliberates the accomplished litterateur. "Every person I've met so far has someone in their family whom they truly admire and look up to."
On his first visit to Auckland, Gandhi is visibly impressed with New Zealand being an ecological wonder. "What strikes me about Auckland is the very conscious effort of both society and state to stay determinedly just and multicultural. It's a great example to the world," he enthuses. "A country like New Zealand has a phenomenal authority to speak on ecological matters. I think the biggest challenge of our times is ecocide (ecological suicide). The world now needs not just a new order of a political leader but a new order of ecocide, coming from a country like New Zealand which has a moral authority to follow an eco philosophy. I believe that whatever faith or country you are born in, you are first an ecological creature and have a responsibility to protect your environment. It's important that we live out our role as an ecological being.
"Though Gandhi never used the word 'ecology', he was one of the most ecologically aware and farsighted man. He believed in conserving resources. He was a revolutionary freedom fighter, a moral exemplar, an eco philosopher and a great statesman," he ends on a Gandhian note.