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Gandhi advises respect for all

They came by the hundreds to bathe in the spirit of a man who changed the world.

Even regional chancellor Karen White had to sit on the floor in the University of South Florida St. Petersburg's gym.

Evangelizing his revered grandfather's message of nonviolence, Arun Gandhi told a rapt audience Wednesday night that they should respect themselves, others and all of creation.

"It is the key to understanding people as human beings and not by labels,'' Gandhi said.

He is 72 and travels the world delivering words of peace. He and his wife, Sunanda, founded the M.K. Gandhi Institute for Nonviolence in Memphis, Tenn., in 1991.

His audience of nearly 600 ate it up.

"It's Gandhi,'' said Paula Testa, explaining why she and her husband, Ralph Testa, and granddaughter, Mia, 7, drove from Hudson in Pasco County.

As a 12- and 13-year-old, Arun Gandhi lived with his famous grandfather, Mahatma Gandhi. Young Arun had been fighting other boys in his native South Africa when his parents sent him to India, hoping his grandfather's wisdom would help.

"I was quite a feisty 12-year-old,'' Gandhi said.

White youths beat him because he wasn't white enough, and black youths beat him because he wasn't black enough, Gandhi said.

His grandfather taught him "to channel his anger for the good of humanity,'' through such methods as writing an "anger journal,'' he said.

Arun Gandhi was not quite 14 when his grandfather was assassinated in 1948 at age 78, a few months after India won independence from Britain.

Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi - the term Mahatma is a spiritual leader's honorific rather than a name - became a worldwide symbol, portrayed in thousands of photos as a slight man, bespectacled and serious, wearing a homespun, togalike garment.

Arun Gandhi is the keeper of the legend. USF St. Petersburg's honors program sponsored his appearance.

"It's the biggest thing we've done,'' said Thomas Smith, an international relations and government professor who directs the program.

The crowd was among the largest to hear a speaker at the 40-year-old campus, said Raymond Arsenault, history professor and co-director of the Florida Studies program.