I confess that I never heard of Ramachandra Gandhi till reading newspaper reports announcing his death on June 13th at India International Centre, New Delhi. Of course, I had heard of his more famous brothers, Rajmohan Gandhi and Gopal Krishna Gandhi. The three are the grand children of two illustrious Indians, Mahatma Gandhi, on their paternal side and C.Rajagopalachari,India's last Governor-General, on their maternal side. Of course, it is not lineage that is on focus here but that Ramachandra Gandhi was a Professor of Philospohy with a Phd. from Oxford and an exponent of Advaita-Vedanta with a few erudite works to his credit.
Articles written about Ramachandra Gandhi in the Hindustan Times and New Indian Express, immediately after his demise, have convinced me to find and read his books and understand his ideas.
In the Hindustan Times, Sanjay Baru, now media advisor to the Prime Minister of India, has written of how he first met Ramu ( as Ramachandra is affectionately called),in 1979, immediately after joining the teaching faculty of the University of Hyderabad. Ramu was Prof. of Philosphy there. Ramu would jokingly say that his office was in the bathroom of Sarojin Naidu's Hyderabad home, 'Golden Threshold', (which the Nightingale of India had gifted to the University) while the Prof. of English sat in the bedroom. This, Ramu would say signified the status of Philosophy in modern University life in India. Sanjay is first introduced to Ramu at a seedy bar where he is enjoying his beer and listening to Hindi film tunes. Sanjay describes himself as being thrown off his feet when told that his fellow drinking companion was a Prof of Philospohy and the grandson of the Mahatma. Sanjay narrates how Ramu had launched a mini-chipko movement, with the support of students, against the cutting of a huge neem tree planted by Sarojini Naidu to build classrooms. And how the University authorities did chop it a few days later in the dead of night leading to Ramu resigning his job in protest. Sanjay shares more of his personal encounters which bring out the warm human being that the late Prof. was.
Chandan Gowda, writing in the New Indian Express devotes more attention to Ramu's philospohical inquiries, his deep understanding of Advaita and other Hindu scriptures and how he drew their connections with modern life from which they have been banished in the name of progress. Ramu was concerned that modern day politics had freed itself from trancendental concerns with the meaning of life and death to dwell in exlusive identities of caste,class,race,nation and religion. He warned that such identities wouuld only give false answers to the question of 'Who am I' or ' Who are We'. This reminds me of reading Raja Rao's book, 'The Meaning of India', where he quotes the French writer Andre Malraux telling Jawaharlal Nehru in Paris in 1936 'keep India from duality... let the great Sankaracharya, let him guide India. such my prayer'. Ten years later, Malraux confronts the Indian Socialist leader Jayapraksh Narayan in Paris with the question 'What influence has Sankara on the government of modern India? to which a startled JP could only smile . Ramu, Gowda points out, was very conscious of the fact that while economic domination of the West was widely criticised, there was little concern about the domination of the Western intellectual framework over the rest of the world. He considered the second as dangerous as the first and wanted to ensure that India's civilisational autonomy (svaraj) was preserved amidst the wild charge of globalisation.
Ramu's interest in Hindu names led him to discover that the word gandhi is a derivative of the word 'gandha' meaning perfume and that the gandhis are traditionally perfume sellers.
'Svaraj - A Journey with Tyeb Mehta's Shantiniketan Tryptych', 'Sita's Kitchen',
'I am Thou; Meditations on the Truth of India' and the novel 'Muniya's Light' are among his famous books.