On the 145th birth anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi, October 2nd, a look at his visit to London in 1931 to attend the Second Round Table Conference, aided by archival footage recently thrown open to the public by the British Pathe Archive, and newspaper clippings from the National Library of Australia, and a look at the art it spawned.
Gandhi’s arrival in London was documented in this 3 and a half minute video titled ‘Gandhi is – Here’ from the Pathe archive, and a few newspaper clippings from the National Library of Australia.
A transcript of the text in the above newspaper clipping.
‘Gandhi, the Indian leader, has arrived in London to attend the Indian Round Table Conference. He wore a loin cloth and a self made shawl despite the chilly morning. “I’m a poor mendicant,” he said. “My earthly possessions consist of six spinning wheels, a can of goats milk, six homespun loincloths, and my reputation which is not worth much.” Gandhi was besieged by over two hundred journalists and photographers. He said he would dearly love to meet his enemies, Winston Churchill and Lord Rothermere. Asked if he would be ashamed to appear before, the King in loincloth he chuckled. “The British wear plus fours. I prefer to wear minus fours.”
“I would wait, if necessary, for ages rather than seek to attain India’s freedom through bloodshed,” said Gandhi in a broadcast talk to America. “The world is sick unto death of bloodspilling and is seeking a way out and perhaps it will be the privilege of the ancient races of India to show the hungerng world the way out.” Gandhi spoke half an hour in faultless English.’
Here is another newspaper clipping of an article which provides an opinion on the great man’s visit to London and his wish to meet Winston Churchill.
Gandhi was in London for 12 weeks at the Kingsley Hall In East London. This place was run by Miss Muriel Lester, who had met Gandhi previously at his ashram. In this video from the Pathe Archive, we see Miss Lester giving us a simple tour of the rooms Gandhi would inhabit during his stay.
Miss Lester later wrote a book called ‘Entertaining Gandhi’, recollecting those times. The book also describes a lot of visits Gandhi made to famous people, and one of the most popular one was his visit to Charlie Chaplin. Chaplin was in London to promote his movie ‘City Lights’ at the same time. Here is an excerpt from Miss Lester’s book regarding the visit.
“One of my clearest mental pictures is of Mr Gandhi sitting with a telegram in his hand looking distinctly puzzled. Grouped round him were secretaries awaiting his answer. As I came in, the silence was being broken by a disapproving voice saying ‘But he’s only a buffoon, there is no point in going to meet him.’ The telegram was being handed over for the necessary refusal when I saw the name.”
“‘But don’t you know that name, Bapu?’ I inquired, immensely intrigued. ‘No’ he answered, taking back the flimsy form and looking at me for the enlightenment that his secretaries could not give.”
“Charlie Chaplin! He’s the world’s hero. You simply must meet him. His art is rooted in the life of working people, he understands the poor as well as you do, he honours them always in his pictures.”
“So the following week, on 22 September, 1931, at Dr Katial’s house in Beckton Road, Canning Town the local people were given the double thrill of welcoming both men.” Hundreds of people crowded around the house to catch a glimpse of the famous visitors, some even clambered over garden fences to look through the windows of the house”
A 74 second video from the Pathe Archive called ‘Charlie meets Gandhi’ shows us the reception the East end Londeners, or East-enders, as the video calls them, give Gandhi and Charlie Chaplin when they meet in East London in 1931. We could see Chaplin, grey haired, waving at the crowd from a window, and later the Mahatma himself.
And here is a newspaper article on their meeting.
A transcript of the above article.
‘Mahatma Gandhi and Charlie Chaplin, the film artist, met at the house of a doctor in East London today, and discussed at length the use of machinery in India, to which Gandhi is opposed. Chaplin argued that machinery was the heritage of mankind, and that it made work easier and the world brighter.
The conversation was suspended during the evening call to prayer. Chaplin squatted beside Gandhi while HIndu prayers were chanted. In the meantime 2000 persons assembled and insisted upon Chaplin making a speech.’
This meeting between the Great Soul and the Immortal Tramp and the discussion that followed between the two men could very well be the birthplace of Chaplin’s classic ‘Modern Times’, a satire on the machine world we inhabit today, and he did back then.
This meeting between Gandhi and Chaplin was also converted into a play, and was played at the Kingsley Hall in London, at the place where Gandhi stayed in London, in 2012.
Here is a list of my sources for this post:
1. Charlie Chaplin and Mr. Gandhi – http://www.newhamstory.com/node/806
2. The British Pathe Archive search results for Gandhi. There are still some other gems out there. So do check them out. – http://www.britishpathe.com/search/query/gandhi
3. The National Library of Australia – http://trove.nla.gov.au/newspaper/result?q=gandhi+in+london
4. The Guardian’s review of the play – http://www.guardian-series.co.uk/leisure/theatre/9877994.When_Chaplin_met_Gandhi__The_two_most_famous_men_of_their_era_once_met_in_an_east_London_community_hall___playwright_Jim_Kenworth_imagines_what_they_talked_about/
And here is some further reading –