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Rajmohan Gandhi, grandson of the Indian leader, Mahatma Gandhi, sat down with The Herald before his lecture Sunday to discuss his grandfather's legacy and his views on East-West relations.

The Herald: Both of your grandfathers were very prominent freedom fighters in the Indian independence movement. How have you been influenced by their thinking?

Rajmohan Gandhi: Gandhi's life from my childhood impacted me. I was aware how Indian people loved him and of course, the final phase of his life when he was assassinated. So that had the profoundest impact on me as I grew up, and I understood, among other things, that if you believe in certain things deeply, then sometimes you pay for your beliefs with your life. So that was a sobering and yet moving and in some ways inspiring impact.

During your research for your latest book, did you find anything interesting or surprising about Mahatma Gandhi's life?
Not in the sense of new facts, but new perspectives, new insights, new understandings — yes, a good deal. One of them was his family relationship with his wife and his sons — a very important part of his life. I understood that much better as a result of this research.

How have you seen the relationship between the United States and India evolve, where does it stand now and where do you think it should go?

I think the feature of our modern world is the U.S.-India relationship, the two largest democracies in the world. And a growing relationship, with a real understanding, real friendship, and a great stake in each other — so many people of Indian origin now live here, work here. So it's unthinkable for people in India to imagine some kind of conflict between India and the United States. But then, what these two very large countries, one extremely powerful, the other also potentially quite powerful, what these two countries will together do for human kind is a great question.

This year, Brown is promoting a better understanding of India through our Year of India. Why do you think this is important today?
Well, for better or for worse, the one billion-plus Indian population is going to impact the world. Remember, too, that the median age in India is quite small. In the years to come, active, energetic, educated Indians will be quite a factor in the world, so their thinking is important to all corners of the planet, and therefore, for young Americans, who I imagine will have a leading role in the future of the world.

Later this month, the Prime Minister of India is visiting the White House. What do you expect from the visit?
The election of Barack Obama was quite an exciting thing for Indians. We didn't expect that all of America would vote for an African American. So likewise, although it's not fully realized in the United States, the Indian Prime Minister is a Sikh. So in India also, the fact that we have a Sikh Prime Minister is a very noteworthy event. So that will result in some very interesting exchange I think. This is an extremely important session.
You've spoken a lot about bridging cultural divides, especially between the Western culture and the Islamic culture. Do you see hope for bridging this divide, and how we can help bridge this divide?
There is need for stereotypes to be resisted and replaced with a more realistic picture on both sides of this divide. I would urge Americans not to fall into the trap of thinking some countries are impossible, and hopeless cases, failed societies, failed states. Those are completely incorrect readings of the situation. There is hope in all those places, and there are just some very real wonderful human beings there who need our understanding.

Do you see the U.S. playing any sort of role in promoting peace between Pakistan and India?

Yes, very much so. I know that people in that part of the world, in India and Pakistan don't necessarily want others to tell us how to sort out our disputes. That said, I would say that if Americans can form really good relationships with Pakistanis, individual Americans with individual Pakistanis, likewise individual Americans strengthen their relations with individual Indians, that will help the Americans become a natural bridge.

If Gandhi were still alive today, what do you think he would think about the way our world is right now?
Two things would trouble him. One is the worship of money more and more and more. And the other is the revenge, counter-revenge, bomb, counter-bomb, nuclear bomb arms race. So these two things would disturb him profoundly. He would not be shocked by them because he knew human nature, and people do react like this, so he would want the world to see the stupidity of greed let loose, unleashed. Greed, on the one hand, and this unthinking revenge and counter-revenge, when actually all of us have so much in common.


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