Wednesday, 22 July 2009

WHEN GHANDI CAME TO EAST LONDON.



Were mentioned in the Guardian comment last week, as contributing to the new Arts and Crafts movement. We were hand spinning cashmere, and we were surprised to discover the Guardian readers commented that that was quite classist. So we went back to reading about our old friend Ghandi, who was also mentioned in Prince Charles's lecture on sustainability last week.  Ghandi loved east London just like we do.

Like a favourite pair of old cotton jeans, East London is ripped and torn and patched and loved and that is why Mahatma Ghandi chose to stay with us in 1939 rather than hanging out with other political leaders in west London.

 Ghandi had not visited London since he was a dashing law student in a suit and tie. This time he arrived, an older man, dressed in a sarong and sandles, with a beautiful goat on a string, for the Round Table Conference-to discuss India's  strained relationship with Britain.

Gandhi was also, as he put it, "doing the real round table work, getting to know the people of England". He had accepted Muriel Lester’s invitation to stay in Kingsley Hall, a community Settlement in Bow, to be "among the same sort of people to whom I have given my life" As morning light appeared, he milked the goat, had his morning prayer, followed by walks around E2, E3; he visited his neighbours in Bow; workmen on the canals; he made friends with the children. "Uncle Gandhi" became a popular figure. He explained to the children why he had chosen to stay in the East End and why he wore a funny bit of cloth.

During the day, Gandhi pleaded for an honourable and equal partnership between Britain and India, held not by force but "by the silken cord of love." He found the odds against him. There was a financial crisis and a change of government in Britain. Britian was pre-occupied with other problems and not too interested in making changes. Ghandi was laying foundations for India's independence, partly formed around his philosophy of the Spinning Wheel.

 Ghandi was concerned with India's and Britian's textile industries. He believed that if every Indian family spun their own fibres and made their own cloth, they would feel a sense of independence, lost by years of selling their textiles to Britian, and  still being out of pocket. Ghandi also visited deprived areas around the Mills of Lancashire.

On October 2, Gandhi’s birthday, the children presented him with ‘two woolly dogs, three pink birthday candles, a tin plate, a blue pencil and some jelly sweets’—gifts which he especially treasured and packed in his little briefcase, ready to take back to India.

Having met all the locals, Charlie Chaplin and the pearly Kings and Queens, Ghandi and his goat waved goodbye and left a legacy of non violence, independence and friendlyness, which can all be read about through the Ghandi foundation at Kingsley Hall in Bow, which is still a proactive community centre.

 

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