The science behind defiance: when PopSci covered Gandhi’s charkha.

A footnote to the recent sale of Gandhi’s famous spinning wheel is that the one of the earliest known references to his practical tool of nonviolent civil disobedience appeared in the December 1931 issue of Popular Science. Mahatma Gandhi invented the portable teak spinning wheel, or charkha, which folded into a bundle about the size of a travel typewriter, while held in the Yerwada Jail. The instrument became a symbol of Indian self-sufficiency as the civil rights leader pushed for a return to home industries and for the British to “Quit India.” Pop Sci reported the civil rights leader used the machine in “whiling away the shipboard hours” en route to Britain to plead his country’s cause.

Ironically, considering Gandhi’s modest lifestyle, the invention sold for £1,10,000 in an auction that also included his will–which, by comparison, fetched a mere £20,000–as well as his shawl and sandals. The shawl was woven with yarn hand spun on a charkha, as was his traditional Indian dhoti. However, the latter was not, ahem, included in the sale.


A spokesman for Mullock’s auction house in England told the Indian Express, “The charkha was the physical embodiment and symbol of Mahatma Gandhi. He once said: ‘In my dream, in my sleep, while eating, I think of the spinning wheel. The spinning wheel is my sword. To me it is the symbol of India’s liberty.'”

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