Belfast Telegraph

Don't be nourished by hate is message from Gandhi's granddaughter at Heaney HomePlace

Tara Gandhi Bhattacharjee, granddaughter of Mahatma Gandhi, speaks at the Seamus Heaney HomePlace, Bellaghy during the Jaipur Literature Festival
Tara Gandhi Bhattacharjee, granddaughter of Mahatma Gandhi, speaks at the Seamus Heaney HomePlace, Bellaghy during the Jaipur Literature Festival
Pacifist: Mahatma Gandhi

By William Graham

Mahatma Gandhi's granddaughter Tara had a special message for the people of Northern Ireland yesterday of non-violence and friendship.

Mrs Gandhi was in Co Londonderry for the Jaipur Literature Festival to celebrate literature and the rich diversity in thought that it inspires.

The venue was the Seamus Heaney HomePlace exhibition and theatre space in Bellaghy.

In an exclusive interview with the Belfast Telegraph, Mrs Ghandi was asked about Northern Ireland's peace process and if she had a message for our politicians.

The granddaughter of India's founding father - the great pacifist and revolutionary Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi - did not offer a message to our politicians, but instead to the people.

She said: "I have a message for the people here - a message of non-violence and friendship.

"In fact during my visit to Northern Ireland this is the message I myself have received from the people here.

"I have come to Ireland to learn.

"I heard of Ireland from reading Oscar Wilde and I really wish I had met Seamus Heaney.

"I tell young people about the mind and not to be nourished on hate."

Tara Gandhi said it was an honour to be in the late Nobel laureate's home place and it was like a pilgrimage to the "soil of south Derry which nourished Seamus Heaney".

In an obvious reference to her grandfather and the spinning wheel and thread he used to make his own clothes while in prison in the 1930s, Tara said: "This for me is a journey of the thread of the spinning wheel. The strength.

"The linen, I understand, has a special place here in Ireland and in the Heaney landscape and poetry... the threads."

As a young girl, Tara recalled often visiting her grandfather and her grandmother.

There was always an open door for visitors and guests and there were no security guards."

She recalled his wise words and "the perfume of his skin".

She also mentioned visiting them in jail on her school holidays and said that even in prison Gandhi had laughter and humour.

But when she was 14-years-old the telephone rang and she heard that Ghandhi had been assassinated. She rushed to the building he was killed in, hammered on the door, and screamed: "Let me in ... I am his granddaughter."

Inside she saw Gandhi lying on the ground and his bloodstained clothes.

She touched his feet.

Today, 84-year-old Tara is vice-chairperson of the Gandhi Smriti museum, as well as an activist who works extensively with rural women and children, and campaigns on the environment, particularly water conservation.

Earlier this week, Mrs Ghandi had mentioned Ireland's most famous poets Yeats and Heaney, but also the poems of the republican hunger striker Bobby Sands.

Ghandi went on several hunger strikes during his campaign for Indian independence.

Tara said: "I have come here to learn. Bobby Sands interested me because he followed the fasting.

"There are two words ... insisting on truth and what you perceive as truth (which is wrong).

"There is fearlessness that inspires fear and fearlessness that inspires love.

"So maybe Bobby Sands did not go that deep into the philosophy of fasting.

"But what he did at that time was his truth."

There are many historic links between the Ireland and India, going back to a time when both countries were struggling for independence.

Tara's maternal grandfather was Rajagopalachari, who took over from Lord Louis Mountbatten, the last Viceroy of India and became the first Governor-General of an ind ependent India.

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