The evening event was held round a log-fire in The Great Hall at The Abbey, Sutton Courtenay, and was chaired by Barbara Vellacott, Chair of The Abbey governing body.
BV: A very warm welcome to everyone here, familiar faces and new – it’s really good to see you all at this Fred Blum Memorial Lecture, after 26 years of The Abbey’s existence in its present form.
I want to say a word about The Abbey’s connection with Gandhi and then introduce our distinguished speaker, Bhikhu Parekh. Our connection with Gandhi is a profound one. Fred Blum’s commitment to nonviolence came partly out of his experience of Auschwitz and the loss of his own parents in the Holocaust, partly out of his contact with the figure of Jesus in Christianity, and partly out of his contact with friends of Gandhi in India. So there’s a strong thread of commitment to nonviolence in The Abbey’s history. Fred made several visits to India and engaged in a number of interview-type conversations with friends of Gandhi. Work is being done to publish results of those remarkable conversations.
Another Gandhi connection is through the Abbey’s Library, which has a large collection of Gandhi’s works, collected by Fred. And a third connection is that the Summer School of the Gandhi Foundation met here for several years.
Our speaker tonight, Professor Bhikhu Parekh is a world-renowned scholar on Gandhi. He is an author, and in common with Fred Blum, has a training in social sciences, and is Professor of Political Philosophy at the University of Westminster and a Member of the House of Lords. I will mention two of the many honours he has received: in 1999 he had the BBC Special Lifetime Achievement Award, and in 2005 was awarded India’s highest honour for overseas Indians.
Arna Blum, Fred’s widow, sends deep apologies for her absence due to family illness, and is very sorry indeed not to be with us. Before I ask Bhikhu Parekh to start, I suggest we spend a moment or two in meditative silence, as we always do before starting meetings at The Abbey, to put us in contact with the spirit of peace and love.
BP: Thank you Barbara, and for that generous introduction. I want to talk about Gandhi in the 21st century. But before I do that I want to say how honoured I am to be giving the Lecture this evening. I didn’t have the pleasure of meeting Fred Blum, but when I visited here in the early 1990s, I met Arna Blum. She alerted me to the fact that there were Fred Blum’s tapes, which had been transcribed and she wanted to know whether I, as a Gandhi scholar, would look at them. They were most interesting, not only for someone who is interested in the Mahatma, but also for other people who have only a mild degree of interest. What Fred was interested in doing was to acquire a greater understanding of Gandhi by asking 5 major questions to some 17 people. One of these I found particularly fascinating: “What was the man like? What was his personal charisma? How did he relate to you? Describe some of his characteristics, eccentricities, foibles that you might have come across”. The rest of the questions concentrate on Satyagraha, his experiments with celibacy, etc. I made detailed reference to those files in the second edition of one of my books on Gandhi. I then thought it might be a good idea to edit those tapes – as there was a lot of repetition as you would expect. I have a couple of friends in India who have been working on those tapes and transcripts, and all being well, by 2008, when the Gandhi Foundation will be marking the 60th anniversary of Mahatma’s assassination, we should hopefully have one or two major volumes based on Fred Blum’s transcript. That, of course, is Fred Blum’s great contribution to Gandhian scholarship.
So – as a Gandhi scholar as well as an ordinary human being – I want to pay tribute to Fred Blum for the wonderful work that he has done. That’s my starting point – because in this way he could not have been more Gandhian.
To read Bhikhu’s lecture, please click here