Thursday, October 2, 2014

World Thankful Day, someone?

It's that time of the year when Gandhiji moves out of our wallets and enters our discourse. Everybody talks about him as if they are his official biographers. Everybody suddenly becomes an expert in history. Unarguably, he's a divisive figure. Most great men are. A reason why "Majboori ka naam Gandhiji" became such a popular idiom. When in doubt, blame him. You don't get an easier patsy. Those aligning with the right-wing will obviously find it difficult to come to terms with his contributions. But they are not alone. However, there are two things common to most of his detractors. 
1: Allergic to books. 
 2: Madly in love with their assumptions. 
The world at large has blindly accepted him as a saint when he clearly stated that he's a "politician who's trying hard to be saint"—not vice versa. He understood this country—even before it took geographical forms—better than anybody else who ever walked. And the sky knows he traveled far and wide, understanding very well what really drives our civilization. Now that's a term we don't generally use in our reference. You know why? Because we don't understand our country. And you know why that is? Because we don't travel. It's too hot out there! We're more comfortable with the idea of India and the comfort Indianness allows us. Also a reason why his haters will neither grasp him nor themselves. When a guy belonging to Bania community decides to go abroad for higher studies, what does that tell you about him? (On a cue, have you ever been to a completely foreign country without some help from Google? Just asking.) 
OK, wait. 
Let's do a background check here. 
None of his family members have ever crossed the sea as their religion forbade it. Oh, did i mention he was married at the age of 13 to a girl who was a year older? Or that he became a father at the age of 15? Under such circumstances, he goes against his family to provide himself the finest that academics has to offer. So, off he sets on a ship to England at the age of 19. On reaching the island country, the first thing that shocks him is the cold-dampy weather. There were many more surprises coming his way. Regardless, he fulfills his desire to become a barrister. 
What next? 
A stable job. 
And that's something which took the not-yet-Mahatma 24-year-old to South Africa. In his autobiography, he admits that he wasn't an excellent lawyer but because of his acquaintance with law, he was able to identify the right from wrong. To him, that particular capability mattered more. He kept working on it, thus signalling his experiment with truth. What began as a search into his soul changed the course of Indian history. Nobody comes remotely close to altering the destiny of a nation. No, not even the ones with their horses, elephants, machine guns and A-bombs.
Historians and skeptics will always find flaws in his methods but they'll never find holes in his intentions. After all, he was the first to admit failure. How many leaders—national or otherwise—can you name to whom this quality can be attributed in his times, forget today? 
Did i just use the word 'national' in there?
Before Gandhiji entered the scene, we didn't have a single leader whom we could call a national figure. Some represented north while some represented east and so on. Gandhiji was the first national leader we had. If you think people were fools to just accept him as their leader, irrespective of where they came from or what language they spoke inside their house, then you're mistaken. When he came back to India from South Africa, he noticed some aspects of our livelihoods that the British Raj took advantage of.
So what did he do about his observations?
A lot. 
Well, he asked the people to start with the basics. Maintain cleanliness (looking at the way our cities are today, one can estimate the price we paid for distancing ourselves from him), stay fit (sedantry obesity, huh?), stand up for the truth (well..well...your pants just caught fire!), grow your own food (if we at least had our own garden, GM crops wouldn't have infiltrated our system the way they did in developing countries), boycott British clothes by spinning your own yarn (khadi clothes weren't just about the material used but was a sly at reminding Britishers that we may be working for you but my heart lies in the right place) and most importantly, don't be violent (peaceful protests? Not happening, right? Hong Kong, are you listening?). As a sidenote, he was critical of cinema (all he saw was the propaganda spread by British through was only after his chance meeting with Charlie Chaplin that his views changed) and detested industrialization (there will always be arguments about how technology changed our lives but it won't change the fact that India is still an agrarian country which witnesses a mere 2% annual growth in agriculture).
People love saying that Gandhiji was no angel. True. But he was no ordinary man either. Especially after he transformed himself. In fact, he was the best ever Transformer of all time. Think about it. A well-earning barrister with four kids gives up Western comfort (including essentials like soap and toothpaste), adopts self-made cotton garments (even when it was blistering cold during the First Round Table Conference), never lies even once either in public or in private (why do you think the world believed him when he spoke?), stuck to his ideals even when he was ageing horribly fast (Obama's grey hair know what i'm talking about) and maintains abstinence (that's a touchy topic given the dry day lent to his birthday in spite of him never suggesting such move; or for that matter, he didn't impose ban on beef). These are not the characteristic of a common man. Like you and me or the one who is sane enough to not read this post because it doesn't matter. He's dead and gone and what we're left with is a frustrating nation which could have been worse had we not had someone like him at the helm for more than three decades.
His opposers can't help but point out that we won independence despite of him. All of a sudden, they turn into masterclass economists and connect World War II with India's release date. They conveniently overlook the fact that Gandhiji single-handedly kept the country united. There would have no united nation if there wasn't a national figure at the top. Today, when you stand up to sing your national anthem without worrying whether your state is represented in it or not, much of the credit goes to that humble man in loincloth. He, with this religio-socio messages and ear-catching songs, reached the nooks and corners of the  nation that was to become free with or without him. He manifested stability. While he was a it, he ensured that India won't be about division but about unity. No wonder you don't see him hurling the flag on our Independence Day. The thin old man didn't have time for photoshoot as he was busy pacifying a mob in Bengal.
Never before did a country so vast and so diverse attained independence from a colonial power. There's no precedent set. Blood was going to flow and it did. Moreover, that happened because of the myopic view of an ex-Gandhibhakt Jinnah, not because of Gandhiji. However, if you ask a common man today, more often than not, he'd be of the opinion that Bapu divided the country. They find it hard to accept that the man was adamant on accepting the terms of Partition. And it included reparation of Rs 55 crore to be paid to the smaller nation. How is he wrong in ensuring that the amount be paid to Pakistan? The argument put forth by the right-wing is India was in no position to pay such a huge amount.
Three things.
1: It wasn't such a huge amount given the wealth we were left with after Partition.
2: It became a matter of ego, not commerce.
3: Pakistan needed help as much as Scotland would have from Britain had it seceded.
These are the ways of the world. The sooner we accept it like Gandhiji did, the better. Besides, it wasn't like he wanted to carve out Pakistan. Wasn't he the first one to promote Hindu-Muslim unity on a subcontinental level?
Throughout his political career, he made people uncomfortable with his ideas. One to walk the mile and not take shortcuts, he was willing to wait. As a result, history is strewn by anecdotes of him testing the patience of younger leaders like Nehru, Netaji, Ambedkar and Sardar. Nevertheless, they all respected him. From time to time, they might have had disagreements but he was no dictator. They knew he was a rarity and they couldn't afford to lose him. (Ask yourself: Can your company afford to lose you? Just like that.) In some ways, he was too good a soul to be at the center of attention. But he acknowledged the responsibility that follows cynosure. And he made the most of it, didn't he? For example, there's a dialogue by Kulbhushan Kharbanda's Brahmin character in Deepa Mehta's Water: "He's the only one in this country who seems to be listening to his soul." Isn't that a compliment to a person who was doing everything that an orthodox Brahmin wouldn't approve of?
Yea..yeah..rhetorics only. Like yours. Like mine. 
In any case, there was no dearth of compliments when he was alive. Or dead. Of course, there were people like Churchill who couldn't stand the temerity of a miniature-sized hero. But then, historians are convinced of his inherent racism too. Would he have approved of the multicultural London that is today? Gandhiji certainly would have. 
There are some cynics who say that he didn't fulfill his duties as a father. Ahem. A man on a mission rarely does unless he's Uncle Abe (whose wife still disapproved of his parenting skills). However, all his four sons did quite well for themselves, specifically by staying away from politics! Perhaps, after a point, they were content with their dad being called the father of the nation. Anyway, legacy helps. Kasturba was the one who suffered but she knew what was going on. Maybe that's why she admonished a lady correspondent from Life who wanted to paint a neglected-wifey picture of hers.
Painting an image? 
 Let's talk about his fabled sex life. Or should we? What he does in his privacy isn't any of our concern. But still, for argument's sake, let's accept that he was a sex maniac. Did he exploit anyone? Did he do anything against anybody's consent? These aforementioned sentences carry a question mark because the endless theories about his sexcapades should carry a question mark but they don't. They simply assume. Not a single quote from either Gandhiji or his grand-nieces are made available to support the he-was-freaking-sex-weirdo theories. 
To make things more interesting, the ones who keep highlighting his alleged unusual sex life are also a part of the generation that firmly believes that DMs aren't supposed to be made public. And before they get defensive, EVERYBODY who's on social media is a public figure. They are also the ones who somehow manage to overlook all his other qualities—be it honesty or frugality or principles or persuasion—in order to focus on his sex life. Thus merely showing where their own interest and weakness lies.  
When a genius like Einstein and a critic like Orwell approved of his legacy, wonder what it takes to convince them! Are they suggesting they are smarter than Einstein or more learned than Orwell? Guess what? I seriously doubt. None of us even lived in the difficult times Bapu did. If that wasn't enough, even his assassin bowed in front of him—for theatrical or otherwise—before killing him. Sadly for his killers, he continues to live. 

N.B. The purpose behind ditching my usual one-paragraph blog post and writing this lengthy piece isn't to brag that i've read more books than you did. It's just an attempt at reminding myself and y'all that a bit of gratitude won't hurt. Particularly when we don't really have a national leader. The fact that NaMo repeatedly invokes Bapu (although he really needs to know his Lal from his Das) in his speeches is a boost to the latter's legacy because the former belongs to the camp that shot him dead. Or maybe we should keep our opinions to ourselves and stop looking for scapegoats. We can barely manage our own life and when a guy took it upon himself to show millions of people the way towards independence (FYI, independence means not depending on others for survival—British or no British), we ought to pay more attention. Dismissing a personality just because he was trying to do and be someone we can't possibly dream of doesn't make HIM small. Lastly, our country is big but it was bigger when he was alive. Think about the troubles he must have faced. At least he tried to make a difference. What have you done? Maybe your majbooris aren't greater than his.


Anonymous said...


Ankita said...

very nice post, i agree with you

rita puri said...

So perfectly has been put up !

eleanorindistress said...

I think every person has his pros and cons. Gandhi was essentially a man. He made a lot of mistakes and to be honest, I'm not a big fan of his. But I do respect the man very much and what he did for us. It's the same as any great leader, I suppose. I do agree that people who don't do anything for the country run their mouths the most. But that's how it is I guess. Anyway, loved the writing.

Anonymous said...

As always, perfect.

xkeshav said...

Excellent. I would say Gandhi Ji from now , till last