Mahatmas

a play in one act






Can a Viceroy grab one last chance to bring peace to India and save his reputation?


Even if that means negotiating with a convicted criminal and inviting obloquy ?



British India, January 1931.

On 5th May 1930 Mohandas Gandhi had been arrested for illegally picking up salt on the beach at Dandi in South Gujarat, and imprisoned without trial. 

Thousands still remain behind bars, thousands more are rioting, illegally making their own salt and boycotting British cloth. 


As hard-liners in London condemn him as too soft, and Indians condemn him as too repressive, Lord Irwin needs a miracle.


He decides to release Mohandas Gandhi from prison on 26 January 1931. He responds by asking to meet the Viceroy in person.  


Despite disparaging voices in London, Irwin invites Gandhi to his palace. The two men have eight meetings, lasting 24 hours.


Using letters by M. K. Gandhi, the autobiography of Lord Irwin, who later became Lord Halifax, and historical imagination, the play construct an interpretation of of those meetings, which culminated in the Gandhi-Irwin Pact on 5th March 1931.


It also explores what it takes to negotiate with one’s sworn enemy. And how it effects those who dare to do it.                 

 

The Indian poet and political activist Sarojini Naidu (1879 – 1949) called M. K. Gandhi and Lord Irwin “The Two Mahatmas”  – “The Two Great Souls”.


The play has an approximate running time of 30 minutes and has a cast of four: Edward Wood, Lord Irwin; Mohandas Gandhi; Dorothy Wood, Lady Irwin                               (doubling as Mirabehn); and Sir Herbert Emerson.  


The action takes place  Between 20th January and 2nd April 1931.



"Mr Gandhi’s Salt March and symbolic violation of the law has inspired hundreds of thousands of Indians to follow his satyagraha. Just think what that word means, Edward: a force born of Truth and Love. What is Christianity if not a force born of Truth and Love?"

Dorothy Wood, Lady Irwin


"However deplorable are the results of Mr Gandhi’s actions, Herbert, we cannot ignore the spiritual force which impels him to do whatever he can to promote the cause in which he believes. As we speak hundreds of thousands of Indians are enthusiastically supporting his satyagraha."

Edward Wood, Lord Irwin


"Dear Friend, I have received suggestions from friends whose advice I value that ... it might be better for me to meet you and discuss our difficulties with you. I can no longer resist this advice. I feel without personal contact and heart to heart talk with you, the advice I may give my co-workers may not be right.

I therefore ask, if you are willing, to send me an appointment as early as may be possible. I would like to meet not so much the Viceroy as the man in you. Could I expect a reply by Monday next?"

Mohandas Gandhi writes to Lord Irwin

"It is alarming and also nauseating to see Mr. Gandhi, an Inner Temple lawyer, now become a seditious fakir of a type well known in the East, striding half-naked up the steps of the Viceregal Palace, while he is still organizing and conducting a defiant campaign of civil disobedience, to parley on equal terms with the representative of the King-Emperor."

Winston Churchill at the West Essex Unionist Asso­ciation on 23 February 1931.

In history

Edward Wood, Baron Irwin (1881 – 1959, later Earl of Halifax)

Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi (1869 – 1948) 

Dorothy Wood, Baroness Irwin (1885–1976, later Countess of Halifax)

Sir Herbert William Emerson (1881 – 1962)

Madeleine Slade (1892 – 1982), also known as Mirabehn

Staging Mahatmas

On the bare stage, suggested props: Drawing room and the Viceroy’s office: a sofa, a small coffee table, a teapot,  a milk jug, sugar bowl, two teaspoons, two china cups and saucers, and a small desk with two chairs. For Gandhi’s meal: a bowl of dates, a pitcher of milk and two glasses. 

Lord Irwin was born without a left hand. This never affected him. The actor playing him should use their natural physical attributes.                                                                                                

An extract from the first meeting between Lord Irwin and Mohandas Gandhi

GANDHI

If both of us desire not to quarrel, Lord Irwin, we shall not quarrel. I am determined not to fight as far as possible.

IRWIN

I share your sentiments, Mr Gandhi.

GANDHI

Please be assured that I do not want to tell you anything except the truth or to conceal anything from you. And I do not want to have a single mental reservation. Therefore you can tell me whatever you wish to. 

IRWIN

Thank you, Mr Gandhi. I agree with you. The Bible exhorts us to let nothing be done through strife or vainglory; but in lowliness of mind esteem others better than ourselves; and to look out for one another's interests, not just for our own. It is my fault that we have not been able to meet until now.

IRWIN smiles stiffly and self-consciously. GANDHI beams. IRWIN melts slightly.

I must say that the British public have been most aroused by your movement, Mr Gandhi.

GANDHI

That pleases but does not surprise me, Lord Irwin. Although I hold the British rule in India to be a curse, I do not intend to harm a single Englishman or any legitimate interest he may have in India. I do not consider Englishmen in general to be worse than any other people on earth. In fact I have the privilege of claiming many Englishmen as dearest friends.

IRWIN nods indulgently.

Indeed, much that I have learnt of the evil of British rule is due to the writings of frank and courageous Englishmen who have not hesitated to tell the unpalatable truth about that rule.

HALIFAX

I will take your comment about Englishmen as a compliment, Mr Gandhi. You will not be surprised to learn that I disagree with your verdict about British rule. But, although I am fully aware of the differences between us, my objective is to seek areas of agreement by which we can bring peace to India. You know that it is my policy for India to attain Dominion Status in the future.