Mahatma Gandhi rarely spoke in English. He would address crowds in Hindi, Gujarati and even other Indian languages but never in English. There have been only two instances when he addressed people in English.
A rare recording of his speech in English made 7-8 months before his assassination has been found in Washington DC. This speech was made to a conference of Asian leaders convened by Jawaharlal Nehru.
Journalist Alfred Wagg recorded the speech in New Delhi on April 2, 1947 and produced four 78-rpm LPs that included both Gandhi’s voice as well as Wagg’s own commentary about the man revered as Father of the Indian Nation.
It had been lovingly preserved for 60 years by John Cosgrove, a former president of the National Press Club in the US capital, who discovered the significance of the recording during a chance encounter with Rajmohan Gandhi, Mahatma’s grandson and biographer.
Gandhi sounds very old in this speech as though he has lost most of his teeth. He spoke on same topics that he did over and over throughout his life: the importance of nonviolence, the eradication of the caste system in Hindu society, amity between South Asia’s Hindus and Muslims, and a world united against violence and exploitation.
This speech was made a day after Gandhi had proposed to Lord Louis Mountbatten, the last British Viceroy of India, that Muhammad Ali Jinnah be made the first Prime Minister of united India. It was a surprising suggestion just the way Abraham Lincoln had invited Jefferson Davis, president of the Confederate States of America, to be president of the United States of America in order to avoid the the Civil War. However, a few days after this speech the plan was rejected by the Congress as well as Mountbatten.
“Christianity became disfigured when it went to the West (referring to the violence of the recently completed Second World War and the anti-Semitism that led to the Holocaust). 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…
…What I want you to understand – if you can – that the message of the East, the message of Asia, is not to be learned through European spectacles, through Western spectacles, not by imitating the tension of the West, the gunpowder of the West, the atom bomb of the West. If you want to give a message again to the West, it must be a message of love; it must be a message of truth; there must be a conquest-” Gandhi’s words are cut off at this point by a rousing cheer.
“Please, please, please,” he says. “That will interfere with my speech and that will interfere with your understanding also. I want to capture your hearts, and don’t want to receive your claps. Let your hearts clap in unison with what I am saying, and I think I shall have finished my work.”
“If you really want to see India at its best, you have to find it in the Bhangi cottage, in a humble Bhangi home (referring to one of the lowest and poorest castes). Of such villages, so the English historians teach us, are 700,000. A few cities, here and there; they don’t hold 7 crores [70 million] of people but the 700,000 villages do hold nearly 40 crores [400 million] of people.”
Gandhi’s other speech in English was on religious issues and was recorded on October 17, 1932 at Kingsley Hall in London.
“In my tour last year in Mysore [State], I met many poor villagers, and I found upon inquiry that they did not know who ruled Mysore. They simply said some God ruled it. If the knowledge of these poor people was so limited about their ruler, I, who am infinitely lesser in respect to God than they to their ruler need not be surprised if I do not realize the presence of God, the King of Kings. Nevertheless I do feel as the poor villagers felt about Mysore, that there is orderliness in the universe.”