Gandhi Jayanti

La Trobe University Hindi Students learn quotes of Mahatma Gandhi (Photo by  Margaret Swan)

La Trobe University Hindi Students learn quotes of Mahatma Gandhi (Photo by Margaret Swan)

Today is the birth anniversary of both Mahatma Gandhi and Lal Bahadur Shastri. To mark the occasion of Gandhi Jayanti, our Hindi class spent the week reading Gandhi’s works, presenting on his life and times, and learning pre-independence-era folksongs.

We read a famous section of Gandhi’s autobiography that details the discrimination he faced while working as a lawyer in South Africa. He describes these experiences as a turning point in his life:

Screen Shot 2014-10-02 at 7.52.18 pm

The Story of My Experiments with Truth was originally published in Gujarati in the 1920s. With the help of a dictionary, we found the Hindi translation to be quite readable by students at the end of their first year of Hindi study.

Gandhi is one of the most quoted individuals in history. So my students each selected some of his quotes to write on the board and memorise. They created their own images featuring Gandhi’s quotations, and we shared them on our class website.

"Where there is love, there is Life," Mahatma Gandhi. Image by Hannah Watson

“Where there is love, there is Life,” Mahatma Gandhi. Image by Hannah Watson

“An eye for an eye makes the whole world blind," Mahatma Gandhi. Image by Kathryn Roddis

“An eye for an eye makes the whole world blind,” Mahatma Gandhi. Image by Kathryn Roddis

We also learned a pre-independence-era women’s folk song that I recorded at a wedding in eastern Uttar Pradesh in 2003. The song’s refrain is jai bolo mahātmā gāndhī kā—“Shout victory to Mahatma Gandhi.”

“My beloved Dhanshyam is in jail,” they sang. “My friend, please tell me the way to the jail.”

The theme of love in separation is a common theme in North Indian poetic traditions. Many songs and poems describe a husband who has left for work in a far-off place. His wife is left alone, and she sings of her sorrow.

This song likely has some origins in the decade preceding independence, when many men in eastern UP were jailed by colonial authorities.

एक छोटी चवन्नी चांदी का
जय बोलो महात्मा गांधी का
हमतो जिवनाँ बनाये धनश्याम के लिए
उतो जेवन वाला जेहल में
जड़ा जेहल का रास्ता बता दो सखी
मेरा बीर बहादुर जेहल में

एक छोटी चवन्नी चांदी का
जय बोलो महात्मा गांधी का

One small silver four anna coin
Shout Victory to Mahatma Gandhi
I prepared food for my sweetheat, Dhanshyam
But that eating one is in jail
Friend please tell me the way to the jail
My brave one is in jail

One small silver four anna coin
Shout Victory to Mahatma Gandhi ….

The song has many verses. She pours water for her beloved, but her drinking one is in jail. She prepares betal leaf for him, but her chewing one is in jail. Finally she prepares a bed for him, but her sleeping one is in jail.

After listening to their performance in class, we sang the verses ourselves. An excerpt of my original recording of the song is available here.

Also check out the live tweets of the program!

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