Jul 2, 2008

Rare Gandhi recording found

WASHINGTON: A rare Mahatma Gandhi speech - only the second time he has been recorded speaking in English – has surfaced in Washington DC, courtesy a journalist who documented it in New Delhi in 1947 and preserved it on four 78 rpm LPs that were all but forgotten for 60 years. The recording has been authenticated and confirmed by Rajmohan Gandhi, the Mahatma's grandson and biographer, who calls it a "great discovery." He says he is familiar with the event which occasioned the speech itself -- a conference of Asian leaders convened by Pandit Nehru on April 2, 1947 -- but was not aware it had been recorded. But it had been -- by journalist Alfred Wagg, who subsequently gave a copy of it to John Cosgrove, a former president of the National Press Club in Washington DC. Cosgrove produced the recordings when Rajmohan Gandhi visited the NPC in April to promote his new biography of the Mahatma, according to the Washington Post, which first reported the discovery. Many people assume that Mahatma Gandhi spoke mostly, or frequently, in English, and that such speeches are common, because of their familiarity with the Richard Attenborough's movie Gandhi, in which actor Ben Kingsley relays the Mahatma's message in English. But Gandhi seldom spoke in English in real life, says Rajmohan Gandhi, preferring instead to address his audiences in Hindi or his native Gujarati, and sometimes even in other Indian languages. Besides, he says, very few Gandhi speeches were recorded - one, because he was an anti-establishment figure during British rule; and two, because recording techniques were still nascent. The only well-documented Gandhi speeches, he says, are the post-independence religious discourses he gave during the remaining months till his death in January 1948, which are well preserved in government archives. The only other recorded Gandhi speech in English dates back to one he made in England in the 1930s. But in this recording, Gandhi is heard addressing Asian leaders in English -- with a trace of a Gujarati accent -- about the horror of nuclear weapons, the wisdom of the east, and subjects close to his heart: untouchability and India's villages. "Christianity became disfigured when it went to the West," he says at one point in the scratchy recording. "I am sorry to have to say that, but that is my feeling . . . the West today is pining for wisdom. The West today is despairing of multiplication of atom bombs, because a multiplication of atom bombs means utter destruction, not merely of the West, but it will be a destruction of the world, as if the prophecy of the Bible is going to be fulfilled, and there is to be a perfect deluge."

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