The light has gone out of our lives
The light has gone out of our lives is a speech that was delivered ex tempore by Jawaharlal Nehru, the first Prime Minister of India, on January 30, 1948 following the assassination of Mahatma Gandhi earlier that evening. It is often cited as one of the great speeches in history.
Assassination of Mahatma GandhiEdit
Mahatma Gandhi was assassinated by Nathuram Vinayak Godse, a Hindu fundamentalist and former member of the Hindu Mahasabha, at Birla House, Delhi on 30 January 1948 while Gandhi was heading for a prayer meeting. At 6.00 PM that evening, the Government announced over All India Radio, in a carefully worded statement that "Mahatma Gandhi was assassinated in New Delhi at twenty minutes past five this afternoon. His assassin was a Hindu." Messages of condolence for his death came in from across the world. As world leaders paid homage to Gandhi, Bernard Shaw acerbically noted that "It shows how dangerous it is to be good." To show its respect, the United Nations lowered its flag to half-mast. In India, the news of the assassination plunged the country into deep shock and grief but also a sense of relief, given the sectarian violence between Hindus and Muslims that accompanied Partition, knowing that the assassin was not a Muslim. At the mourning chamber in Birla House, the Governor General, Lord Mountbatten brought Nehru and Patel closer telling them what Gandhi told him earlier that day, "They listen to you more than they do to me. Do your best to bring them together." Mountbatten informed them that "That was his dying wish". Visibly moved, Patel and Nehru embraced. Mountbatten then asked Nehru to address the nation as the people were now looking upon him to lead them. To this Nehru replied: "I can't", "I am too upset. I am not prepared. I don't know what to say." Mountbatten told him not to worry for God would tell him what to say.
Prime Minister Nehru addressed the nation later that evening over All India Radio. His speech was delivered in English, spontaneously and without preparation. The speech begins by Nehru telling his "friends and comrades that the light has gone out of our lives". He identifies himself with the Indian masses in their sorrow by expressing his own helplessness through the words "I do not know what to tell you or how to say it". Nehru then goes on to warn the masses of the dangers of communalism and asks them to take a solemn pledge to work for unity, fraternity and peace as the best tribute they can pay to Gandhi's memory. Throughout, Nehru compares Gandhi to an eternal beacon, predicting that a thousand years later
”That light will be seen …the world will see it and it will give solace to innumerable hearts. For that light represented something more than the immediate present; it represented the living, the eternal truths, reminding us of the right path, drawing us from error, taking this ancient country to freedom.”
He then turns to the more mundane matter of giving them the details of the funeral arrangements. The speech is noted for its grace and poise conveyed through Nehru's choice of phrases and images. He warns his listeners about the 'poison of communalism' and refers to the assassin as a 'madman'. The speech is noted as a great example of oration because of its content, language, as seen in the wholeness of its sentences and themes and the almost poetic choice of words, and narration that employs variation and ordering of themes and repetition of key images. The sense of calmness with which Nehru talks about the funeral arrangements, his warning to the people and his call for peace and combating communalism at a time of such deep loss all convey a sense of solemnity and dignity of his office.
John Paul IIEdit
During Pope John Paul II's first visit to India in 1986 he addressed the nation at Raj Ghat, the samadhi of Gandhi, where he referred to Nehru's eulogy. Nehru's words, "The light that shone in this country was no ordinary light", the Pope said, had "expressed the conviction of the whole world". In further concurrence with Nehru's words that
The light has gone out, I said, and yet I was wrong. For the light that shone in this country was no ordinary light. The light that has illumined this country for these many years will illumine this country for many more years...
the Pope went on to note that Gandhi
who lived by non-violence appeared to be defeated by violence. For a brief moment the light seemed to have gone out. Yet his teachings and the example of his life live on in the minds and hearts of millions of men and women. Yes, the light is still shining, and the heritage of Mahatma Gandhi speaks to us still. And today as a pilgrim of peace I have come here to pay homage to Mahatma Gandhi, hero of humanity.
Henri Cartier-Bresson famously captured an image of Jawaharlal Nehru on the gate of Birla House announcing Gandhi's death. His photographs covering Gandhi's final hours before his assassination, the arrangements for his funeral and the masses attending the funeral have been described as "not the portrait of any man, but the portrait of a nation in the deepest moment of its sorrow" and have been shown all over the world.
In popular cultureEdit
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- "ADDRESS OF JOHN PAUL II ON OCCASION OF THE VISIT TO THE FUNERARY MONUMENT OF RAJ GHAT DEDICATED TO MAHATMA GANDHI". Libreria Editrice Vaticana. Retrieved 8 March 2013.
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- Kumar, Amitava (2010). Nobody Does the Right Thing: A Novel. Duke university Press. p. 16. ISBN 9780822392651.