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A few days after Gandhi died, his secretary, Pyarelal, wrote a detailed account of the assassination, including the following: "At the first shot, the foot that was in motion, when he was hit, came down. He still stood on his legs when the second shot rang out, and then collapsed. The last words he uttered were 'Rama Rama'."1 As everyone knows, a rather different exclamation, "Hey, Ram!", is normally attributed to Gandhi.2 In the 1960s his niece, Manu, who was near him, recalled his last words as "Hey Ram, Hey Ram".3 According to one of the conspirators who was nearby in the crowd, Gandhi produced only an inarticulate guttural rasp.4 If each of four witnesses to something gives a version contradicting all the other three, the most reasonable conclusion is that it was not readily perceptible. And indeed, Gandhi was frail and old and a bullet had entered his chest. At least some of the witnesses seem to have heard what they expected or wanted to hear. The "guttural rasp" version, for example, might well be dismissed as hostile. However, the fact that two of the other three accounts imply that Gandhi said more than just "Hey Ram" once - which a devout Hindu might be assumed in principle to say - suggests that this version is also incorrect. ("Rama, Rama" would beautifully express surrender to Rama's will; but the same words spoken quickly as "Ram, Ram" could express mere surprise. "Hey Ram, Hey Ram" would most likely express an un-Gandhian sense of helplessness.) In this light it may be of interest that nine months earlier, Gandhi, in one of his talks after a prayer meeting, suggested unequivocally that his last words, if he were assassinated, would be "Rama, Rahim": "Even if I am killed, I will not give up repeating the names of Rama and Rahim, which mean to me the same God. With these names on my lips, I will die cheerfully."5 The name "Rahim" is derived from an ancient Hebrew word for "womb", of which the plural form means "mercy" or "compassion".6 (Thus one point of invoking Rahim would be to express forgiveness to the assassin.) In Islam this was transformed from an alleged attribute of to a synonym for "Allah"; and Muslims pray daily to Rahim. There is an instructive logical conundrum in Gandhi's remark. If the two names "Rama" and "Rahim" mean the same god, then either one alone will invoke that god, so why use both? In this light we can see that saying "Rahim" would, according to Gandhi's way of thinking, only add a certain resonance to, but not detract from, his devotion to Rama. Was it just a passing remark? That is suggested by the fact that no indication has been published of Gandhi's having made the same assertion on other occasions. And I can see two other substantial arguments against the likelihood that he died saying, or trying to say, "Rama, Rahim". On the one hand, it would have been such a radical innovation that we might doubt he could really have intended to do it. On the other hand, his personal devotion to Rama, going back to childhood days when he first learned
results will prove". anyone's actions are more likely to be intuitive than calculated.18) 2 . for a long time he had considered prohibition or at least self-imposed restriction against marrying outside one's own varna to be "essential for a rapid evolution of the soul". he said that it exists among humans "in visible or invisible form". There is no harm as long as you are not fanatical. and in 1934 he urged a group of tribals in Bihar to "learn to repeat the blessed name of Rama with such sweetness and such devotion that the birds will pause in their singing to listen to you".15 and.7 He did not dwell in such a way upon the name "Rahim".. that "we should take this discipline from wherever it may be found". In regard to intermarriage.. he told some Christian missionaries that whereas the name "God" made no particular appeal to him. for instance. whereas he had previously envisaged "nothing but disaster" following any attempt to advocate Hindu-Muslim marriages so long as the relations between the two religions remain strained. for instance."Ramanama". but my faith runs so very much faster than my reason that I can challenge the whole world and say. was deeper than to Rahim. to innovate more radically than he had ever done before. you will carry this old man into your camp. he said: "Dissect the frog if that is the only way to explain the heartbeat. a year later: "I know you are not a fanatic. was.8 but by 1946 he took a very different view: "If I had my way I would persuade all caste-Hindu girls coming under my influence to select Harijan husbands. when those relations were more strained than ever before. (2) his apparent attitude toward the assassination and. and (3) a tendency to take on a broader religious identity and. there is some circumstantial evidence suggesting that Gandhi might have kept his "Rama."14 But in 1945 he privately told an outspoken atheist (of good character. Let us consider these in turn. Spiritual sea-changes late in life Gandhi's thinking evolved to a remarkable extent during the last 15-20 years of his life. The force of this latter point may be augmented by the common-sense argument that at a moment of suddenly impending death. We are seekers after truth. Whether you are in the right or I am in the right."16 (Here I should stress that Gandhi deeply loved religion according to his definition of it as "the quality of one's soul". particularly in his very last years. he had "come to the conclusion that inter-religious marriage was a welcome event whenever it took place" and he welcomed the institution of civil marriage "as a muchneeded reform to clear the way for inter-religious marriages".. Rahim" idea in mind and have acted upon it. However. toward what might be (and to some extent was) achieved by it. the human kind could well have done without it". "when I think of Him as Rama..12 But when he had to decide in 1945 whether to allow at Sevagram the vivisection of a frog in order merely to demonstrate in a nurses' class the phenomenon of heartbeat.. to be somewhat Muslim as well as Hindu. It looks as if. The evidence can be put under three headings (though some of it actually belongs under two of them at once): (1) a growing willingness.17 and that it should not mean sectarianism but a belief in ordered moral government of the universe. He thrills me".11 He had long abhorred vivisection and declared that "if the circulation-of-blood theory could not have been discovered without vivisection. in particular. and ever shall be'."13 He used to say things like: "An atheist might floor me in a debate. 'God is. and a dedicated social-worker): "I can neither say my theism is right nor your atheism wrong. in particular.10 nonetheless by 1947. that through it "we are able to know our duties as human beings [and] our true relationship with other living things"."9 And.. In 1931...
of a creeping paralysis of my faculties.and I met his bullet without a groan and breathed my last taking God's name. as when he wrote to a friend. however.. it seems reasonable to suppose that he would give careful thought to the matter of what his last words should be.. His attitude toward the assassination Gandhi knew that the assassination was coming. The story has been told so many times. toward the end of November 1947: "Now we are daily growing more and more barbarous."22 On the morning of day he was killed. it needn't be reviewed here. And since he was an extraordinarily disciplined person.. as indeed it did.These examples taken together .. This hypothesis provides a special explanation for why he did not mention his beloved Rama when he said. one of his dearest wishes in his last years. that overseas Indians "must not support either side" but instead should "pray to Khuda-Ishwar" that is. and yet did nothing to prevent it. The purpose of preparing his last words would be to make the most effective contribution to "the service of my country and therethrough of humanity". he might hope.23 Since he had this premonition and was a remarkably thoughtful and utterly dedicated politician.."25 His broadening religious identity Already in 1909 in South Africa.and others could be cited . to keep it to himself until that moment. it seems likely that he expected his assassination to fulfil. once the idea had occurred to him. above all. to fade out doing my duty with my last breath. Reflections in this vein might cause him.show that Gandhi was never more ready to innovate than in his very last years. between our two communities..24 He knew from experience that to harp explicitly upon such an idea as dying with an invocation of Rahim on his lips would mainly just annoy the fanatics.."in mosques and in temples to grant that there might be an end to the disputes . but only for some of his followers who would find it regrettably contrary to his ishtadevan heritage. During the last few years of his life Gandhi had for the most part lost his former wish to live out the theoretical full Hindu. In this light it could be argued that the idea of invoking Rahim as well as Rama was too radical."26 3 . then alone would I have made good my claim [to be a man of God]. Gandhi had argued. in regard to some Hindu-Muslim riots in Calcutta. he might even say what he planned to say (whereas most people would probably be unable to carry out such a plan). just a few hours before his assassination (though not on the same day). to a deity at once Muslim and Hindu . Yet even they must."21 Earlier in 1947.. That is why I am praying within.. 'O Rama. But I would love. now take me away soon'. An assassin's bullet may put an end to my life. which not even his heroic walking-tours and fasts could fulfil: to mitigate the mutual hatred of Hindus and Muslims far more than anyone else at that time could imagine possible. not for him.. he had told a friend: "I do not want to die . "If someone were to end my life by putting a bullet through me . come to their senses if he were to proclaim it at the very moment of his death.19 Given his remarkable depth of political insight into India. 125-year life-span.as someone tried to do with a bomb the other day . I would welcome it. he expressed unmistakably his doubts as to whether he would survive that particular day.20 and this welcoming of death had in recent months become stronger.
. On the last day of a fast in 1933. is so terribly ignorant. we can draw a lesson from the evidence in regard to "Rama! Rahim!".which had been. If other people also have thought about the matter along similar lines. For me Rama and Rahim are one and the same deity. Dr. A visitor around 1920 recalled. To these were later added verses from the Bible and recitations from Parsi. I am ashamed of this [Hindu] gentleman who ."27 He would sometimes mention Kabir in the same breath as his beloved Tulsidas."37 And to the Hindus: "Anyone who says that I cannot go and offer my prayer before the Muslims does not know Gandhi. Ansari will read something from the Koran.28 and. and then our song of the true Vaishnava. It would be worthwhile. however. is a convenient and expressive phrase.. given that Gandhi's mother had belonged to the KabirPanthi sect .36 By now he was saying to his Muslim listeners: "If Muhammed came to India today.."30 The similarity to Kabir should not surprise us. to take seriously the possibility that they may have been the ones that he said they would be. Gandhi said. for instance.. "Better fix up the plan for tomorrow.. he is known to have read Kabir in prison in 1922 and again (in Tagore's translation) in 1923. Even without being able to determine what he said."34 The tendency was particularly strong in regard to Islam. When I . in that very form I make that faith of his secure.which in 1932 he had described as an idea of his own devising: "Probably this view of mine about equality of all religions is a new idea..Having memorised the Gita. we might have a Christian hymn. the meaning of which no alternative can so fully express to the [Hindu] millions. be self-suppression and hypocrisy. he knew of course that it sanctions the worship of a universal supreme spirit in any form: "Whatever form one desires to worship in faith and devotion. For me at any rate.."33 His religious observances included non-Hindu prayers and hymns. as well as the singing of hymns from various religions.. Sikh. Kabir often equated Rama with Rahim . I am not aware of the fact.. with the words "Ishwar Allah tere nam" ("'Ishwar' and 'Allah' are Thy names") replacing "Patita pavana Sita Ram" for the second verse. and Buddhist prayers. They were inaudible. who can extinguish it?"38 Gandhiji himself? But how? Any devotee of truth ought to admit that we shall never know which were his last words. In 1946 he explained: "'Rama-Rajya' . Any other mode would."35 Everyone knows how in January of 1947 (a year before his death) Gandhi adopted an uncommon variant of the Ramdhun prayer."29 Kabir is thus likely to have been a source for some of Gandhi's own statements along the lines of: "By Ramarajya I do not mean Hindu raj. the idea is original and it has given me the purest joy. while to a Christian audience I would describe it as the Kingdom of God on Earth. 4 . years later: "Gandhiji's prayers included readings from the Gita and the Koran. address predominantly Muslim audiences I would express my meaning to them by calling it 'Khudai Raj'. he told his secretary. for me.as when he would say: "Rama and Rahim are one and the same. he would disown many of his so-called followers and own me as a true Muslim.."32 This was to some extent like regarding all religions as equal .. "looked upon as crypto-Muslims". [but] the kingdom of God. When the ocean catches fire.31 It was personally important to Gandhi not to infer from the Ramraj slogan a Hindu nation.
and prefacing their selected excerpt with the tag. XXI. Ibid. IX. LXXIX. bk. 1st edition. 19. XIV. p. 199. 247 and LV. 9. the Last Phase.. C.. Gora. Trivandrum . available (for Rs... N. Ahmedabad. THE DAY BEFORE. University of Kerala. See J.. 64 has the following captions: "THE CONSUMMATION. which was also Ramzan in 1998. Pyarelal was not there but his account is surely based on first-hand reports.1. Ibid. 1993. No. p. 122 of Jeevadhara. New Delhi . for the celebrations of the centenary of Gandhi's birth. p. Pyarelal. Hay... p. Gandhi. p. p. 16. etc. p. 'EVEN IF I AM KILLED. Psalms. 1948.10) from the Centre for Gandhi Studies. 4. Isaiah. XXI. p. This was noticed more than thirty years ago by someone at the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting in New Delhi (Directorate of Advertising and Visual Publicity) who prepared. Collected Works. ed. "Jain Influences in Gandhi's Early Thought". vol.. Gurbadu Singh. p.'. 35. 1951). Deuteronomy. Gandhi. p. 1 and LXIII. JANUARY 29. vol. India.NOTES 1. 386. 303. New York. 6. 15. these editors focused exclusively on the basic point that Gandhi equated Rama and Rahim. p. p.. I shall not give up repeating the names of Rama and Rahim. Harijan. Gora.695 034. p. op. 281. 17.' Mahatma Gandhi with his associates on his way to the prayer ground in Delhi on January 29. Voice of a New Age Revolution. Gandhi. Gandhi. 61. 7-15. XXIX. 49. 9. or 2nd edition (1966).. p. 1956).. 118. An Atheist with Gandhi (Ahmedabad. and the World (Melbourne. A detailed account is in a booklet entitled "How Gandhi Came to Believe Caste Must be Dismantled by Intermarriage". sheet no. 5 . Harijan. Voice of a New Age Revolution. Gandhi. 40. p. An American scholar has suggested that this version is due to a businessman who was there. In that package. 1991). I SHALL NOT GIVE UP REPEATING THE NAMES OF RAMA AND RAHIM. the day before he was assassinated. I (Ahmedabad. 8.110 002. WHICH MEAN TO ME THE SAME GOD.. II. p. 1983. Gandhiji at Delhi (in Gujarati. XXXIII. Mahatma Gandhi. Manalel. XXIX. 5.. 14. Kottayam. 411. "Bible and Women's Liberation" (Vol. XIII. p. Collected Works. (Martin Green." By omitting the second sentence of the citation ("With these names on my lips. 446. a portable exhibition package entitled "Mahatma Gandhi in the Service of Humanity". 127 and LVII. XLVIII. 13. which mean to me the same God. they implied (misleadingly) that Gandhi made the remark on 29 January 1948. Collected Works. 11. The Collected Works of Mahatma Gandhi. I will die cheerfully"). 1948. I. 20 April 1947. p. 77. 558. "the day before". 44. XLVI." Then on the 50th anniversary of Gandhi's death. See Harijan.. the The Hindu (perhaps stimulated by having received in the post a draft of the present essay) published at the top of its front page a photograph of Gandhi. p. 7 July 1946. 428.) 10. 2. See S. 17. cit. p. 213. 1964). 109. Exodus.. (A Hindi translation is available for Rs.20 from the National Gandhi Museum. and Gandhi.386. New York. 2. LAST DAYS. Green.. 15 February 1948. 1970). with the following caption: "The day before: 'Even if I am killed. 17-18. 325. 8 and XIX. Rajghat. ON THE WAY TO THE PRAYER GROUND.) 3. LXXVII. in Sibnarayan Ray. Tolstoy and Gandhi.. 7. 12.
LXXXVII. 317. Harijan. VII. Manubehn Gandhi. 405. p. Goswami. In Gandhi's Collected Works. 445. p.. (Verrier Elwin had encouraged Gandhi to include something Christian each Friday. p. 23. 30.. for instance. p. see. vol. Collected Works. XLI. 135. 1979). 6 . p. Pandit. I/2. 18. op. 36.. p.18. 134. 1st ed. "Bring me all my important letters. I must reply to them today. Pyarelal. p. 522. G. 29. A Personal Memoir (Delhi. pp. 10 February 1940.. Collected Works. Gandhi. 19. Harijan. 24. p. 21. bk. Gita. see for instance LXXXV. 431. 1996). 515. Gandhi. Pyarelal. for tomorrow I may never be" (K. (in note 3 above). or 2nd ed. p. p. XXIII. 349. 1971. L. p. op. 20. 32. 28. 767). 26. LI. Gandhi. 205. Tendulkar. Ibid. 34. P. The Early Phase (Ahmedabad. Last Phase. p. p. p. p. 27. IX. cit. Mystic Songs of Kabir (Delhi. vol. 31. 374. op. cit. 37. III.. 25. 34... I. II (1958) and in Robert Payne. Das. 66. I. I.. Pyarelal. Gandhi. Collected Works. 22. cit. in Gandhi's Collected Works. Gandhi. 206. p. Ibid. p. 121. LXXXV. V. Mahatma Gandhi. p. The Life and Death of Mahatma Gandhi (London. tr. I. Life of Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi (Delhi. Some good narratives are in Pyarelal. p. Pyarelal. cit. or 2nd ed. p. 1st ed. Gandhi. Mahatma. XC. 2nd ed. The Scope of Happiness.. cit. Mahatma Gandhi. p.. 766. A Chronology. and LXXXVII. p. L. 150 and 179. 17 November 1946. op. p. 239). pp. II. 2.. Collected Works. 83.. 21. II. "Who knows what is going to happen before nightfall or even whether I shall be alive?" (Pyarelal. 38. N. 1965). XXIII. 370 and 455. 202. 1969). 214. Delhi. 33. Collected Works. 158. 1962). vol. Collected Works.) 35. 562. op.