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The Message and Ministrations of Dewan Bahadur R. Venkata Ratnam, volume 2/Chapter 31

XXXI

GOPALA KRISHNA GOKHALE.

(1915)


Being told just at this moment that I have to address the meeting, I feel that the tribute that comes involuntarily, without previous notice or meditation, is always the most, genuine; and thus the very few desultory remarks which alone the heaviness of the heart may permit will be valuable only as the spontaneous expression of a sorrowing soul. It has been said that the graves of great men are the gathering-places of all nations. What is true of the grave may be said to be true of the closing event in a great man's life—his translation from this to a higher realm. All differences of race, all diversities of thought, all varieties of sentiment, all distinctions of ideals are converged into one point of universal regret, of conjoint tribute to that prince among men who has long held in fee the warmest regard that the heart of India could cherish. Therefore the offering need not be enriched with elaborate encomium or rendered weighty with deliberate judgment, if one undertakes to express one's unpremeditated sentiments on a solemn occasion like this.

Those lines of Scott which bemoaned a like national bereavement now come spontaneously to one's mind :

"Now is the stately column broke,
The beacon light is quench'd in smoke,
The trumpet's silver sound is still,
The warden silent on the hill. "

Such is the heavy sense of loss which weighs down the nation at the present day. The beacon light is quenched ; the warden rests still; the stately pillar is broken; and the nation is sunk in sorrow — not the gloom of despair, for that would argue the failure of his life; but the anguish of the aching enquiry, "What next? Who is to follow?"

His life can be described briefly yet happily in the lines in In Memoriam where the poet speaks of

"some divineiy-gifted man,
Whose life in low estate began
And on a simple village green ;
Who breaks his birth's invidious bar,
And grasps the skirts of happy chance,
And breasts the blows of circumstance,
And grapples with his evil star ;
Who makes by force his merit known,
And lives to clutch the golden keys,
To mould a mighty state's decrees
And shape the whisper of the throne ;
And moving up from high to higher,
Becomes on Fortune's crowning slope
The pillar of a people's hope,
The centre of a world's desire. "

That was really and truly our nation's hope, Gokhale. Beginning his career in ordinary, if not humble, surroundings; by sheer dint of native genius and acquired capacity, distancing powerful rivals, not through the adventitious aid of rank or good luck, but by force of powers faithfully employed, ideals loyally followed and services selflessly rendered, he rose to a position of unsurpassed magnificence and irresistible might, so much so that he inspired the whole nation with the hope of the rich possibilities ever of India. Stu- dents of Ranade may remember that remarkable address of his which he named 'the Telang school of thought and action' — an address which, in my humble opinion, could more appropriately be named 'the Ranade school of thought and action.' Of that school of thought and action, the noblest specimen in our generation has been the illustrious worthy whose premature demise we universally mourn. The leading characteristic of that school, said Ranade, is to maintain a golden mean between the stolid indifference which fights shy of progress and the unbridled impulsiveness which takes no note of practical conditions. The typical man of that school is the stout-hearted, puritan soul ever ready to battle for the right, ever pressing into broader light, always confident but never jubilant, always serious but never dejected.

Such was Gopala Krishna Gokhale. Unto him as to none else, in one generation, belonged the right to be honoured with that distinction which even England's greatest orator in the last century held in esteem; and what Bright was called in his day by the English nation, we can very rightly call our Gokhale. He was, indeed, "the people's tribune"— the upholder of the people's rights, without ceasing to be a pillar of state on which trustfully leaned the monarchy. Whether it was to voice the wishes of the dumb millions, or to bear aloft the battle-banner for the maltreated Indian in self-seeking colonies; whether it was when closeted with the Cabinet Minister who did not disdain to receive whole-some suggestion from one whose heart ever did beat in living touch with the pulse of the nation, or standing up in dauntless singleness, like a Wilberforce, for the rights of a down-trodden people, upholding by unaided voice and unsupported hand the cause of those whose mouths were to be gagged or whose consciences were to be stifled, Gokhale w T as a prince that stead-fastly remained "loyal to the royal" in him. We owe unto him not merely the memorial of an oil-painting here or a bronze statue there. Unto him we owe that monument which has been stated to be the highest praise in the British Kingdom, the praise accorded to the name of Sir Christopher Wren in the answer, "Look around and behold his monument" — in this case, the monument of a regenerated nation that is to be reared generation after generation unto his memory. Describing the prerogatives ot successful statesmen, Gray has said:

"Th' applause of listening senates to command,
The threats of pain and ruin to despise,
To scatter plenty o'er a smiling land,
And read their history in a nation's eyes.'

Owing to the unfavourable circumstances under which he had to labour, it might be said that Gopala Krishna Gokhaie could only command the applause of listening senates; and it could be said to his credit that he could despise the threats of pain and ruin; but, under his conditions, it was not given to him to scatter plenty over a smiling land and to read his history in a nation's eyes. But he could whisper hope unto this drooping land, and he could read his history in the nation's heart. Therefore, unto him we owe the everlasting tribute of lifelong imitation. Admiration is only a prelude to imitation. And a great man, it has been said, is great in that he quickens the throb of greatness in those that come in vital touch with him. To us, his humble followers and reverent mourners, it may be given to be great, not of course in the sense in which he was great, but in the sense of looking up to the great, following after the great and thus immortalising the elements of greatness in a nation's life.