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  • Mary Shivanandan

Exchange of Gifts



For those, who are Christian, the Feast of the Epiphany on January 6, usually marks the end of the Christmas season. Because it is also my birthday and the beginning of my husband’s real courtship, the feast has special meaning for me. On that day my future husband gave me three gifts in imitation of the three gifts given by the magi. Since he was not only from the East—Sri Lanka—but also in time an astrophysicist, that is one who studies the stars, the analogy is even closer. Rereading his daily letters after all these years, I learn anew how his conversion from Hinduism would be more upsetting to his family than marrying a foreigner. But convert he did, influenced by others besides myself. Since he lost his mother at the age of two years, Mary and the Rosary became, especially, important in his life.

At the end of his life he wrote his autobiography, paying tribute to his Sri-Lankan ancestors and family. He also details his many experiences, growing up in Malaysia, studying in Australia and Canada and wrestling with rockets and space exploration in the U.S.A. In retirement he turned his infra-red expertise to the detection of breast cancer, particularly in women. Fundamentally pro-life, he was also pro natural family planning (NFP). He saw firsthand the dangers of women interfering with the hormones, especially, through the contraceptive pill.


The wise men of the East had to return by another route for fear of Herod, who, according to the Gospel narrative, slaughtered the innocents. It seems that the contraceptive (and abortion) lobby today is so powerful that NFP gets short shrift in government programs both nationally and internationally. Yet towering figures like Mahatma Gandhi promoted it, especially for its role in fostering virtue.



A six-volume set of The Selected Works of Mahatma Gandhi was published by Navajivan Publishing House, Ahmedabad, with Shriman Narayan as general editor in 1968. (Incidentally that was the same year that St. Paul VI issued the encyclical Humanae vitae). Since my husband collaborated with Vikram Sarabhai, founder of the Indian Space program, who had a space center in Ahamedabad, my husband regularly traveled there. I sometimes went with him. Ahmedabad is also the site of Gandhi’s model village.

The final volume is called “The Voice of Truth” and it is from this volume that excepts will be quoted. Chapter 75 is devoted to “birth control.” Gandhi writes: “I think it is the height of ignorance to believe that the sexual act is an independent function, necessary like eating and sleeping.” He goes on to say that the world depends on the act of generation and it “should be controlled for the ordered growth of the world. He who realizes this will control his lust at any cost, equip himself with the knowledge necessary for the physical, mental and spiritual well-being of his progeny and give the benefit of that knowledge to posterity.” (496)

"Moral results can only be produced by moral restraints"

He calls it a “crime” when the desire for progeny is absent, for the sex urge, which is “fine and noble” is meant only for the act of creation, not primarily for pleasure. He goes on to say, that “moral results can only be produced by moral restraints.” While he acknowledges the necessity of birth control, “the only method handed down from ages past is self-control or Brahmacharya. It is an infallible remedy doing good to those who practice it.” He further points out that the medical profession, instead of devising artificial means of birth control, will earn great gratitude if they develop methods that promote self-control. There are many more similar quotes in the chapter, but Gandhi’s intent is clear. Incidentally this volume contains his main thought on Satyagraha or non-violence.

I shall conclude by saying that the gifts of our East-West marriage keep coming.



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