Thursday, October 15, 2009

Do we know Mr.Gandhi!?

October 2nd has become inexplicable as a public Holiday. It's not a flag-hoisting day or is it a religious festival day. Nor does anyone, including our scores of print/electronic media channels spare a serious thought about the person whose birthday we are supposedly celebrating this day.

For Indian public, Gandhi remained a caricature, whom we routinely tag with a few fancy words like 'ahimsa', 'truth','vegetarianism', etc. He is deified and so it automatically meant no one, being mortal, should even try to understand him as a person. We are told from our childhood that he asked us to show another cheek if we are slapped on one. What he actually meant through those words in not explained in any school or college textbook. We are asked to literally follow it as blindly as we follow our religions. Gandhi, we are lectured, is the new god.

What triggered this post is a new Telugu movie - Krishna Vamshi's 'Mahatma'. Any logically thinking person would come out after watching it swearing non-violence is a stupid idea! Consider this, the hero just survives the 'climax' purely because of luck - the bad guys by mistake ended up killing each other. Earlier, in the mandatory climax-fight the hero refuses to fight because he embraced mahatma and his ahimsa! Bucket loads of hero's blood was being spilled out by the bad guys in the movie and yet the hero refuses to put up a fight because we are told that is what ahimsa means - just stay put even if the villain is going to ram a truck onto you. Now with this kind of interpretation of Gandhism, we are not surprised with the common man's indifference to Gandhism. They end up saying Gandhi afforded to be that because he was mahatma while they being mortals can't afford to embrace his principles. Period.

I think a good tribute we can pay to our father of the nation is to spare some time to go through his autobiography, at least on October 2nd when we have a full day of free time. The book, having been written by Gandhi himself, leaves no scope to misinterpretation. If folks like Krishna Vamshi, who obviously didn't take the pain to read the book, can not find time to spare or just finds it too demanding to sit and read, they can contribute to Gandhism in their own way - by not speaking about it! After all it is grave injustice to misinterpret Gandhi's principles as irrational and just altruistic and forever alienate the uninitiated, especially the young from them.

Gandhism: Missing the wood for the trees!?
When we discuss Gandhi, we have to bear in mind the age he lived in, the people he dealt with and strategised for and against. He was no god, not even an apostle. He was shrewd and was a man of convictions. He was a England educated barrister, lived in the diverse South Africa, enriched his worldview enough for being rational. He called his own autobiography 'The story of my Experiments with Truth'. He devised his principles rationally over a period of time and not on some blind faith. He went testing with each principle through his own experiments and stood by them once they passed out. In fact he went on to say in his autobiography that no one should follow him as he is on his own path of self-discovery through his own experiments. He said he may have to switch paths for a better one, if he finds one, after a period of time and so he advised his followers to think on their own before committing to follow him. He went on to mention how he failed initially in his pursuit of non-violence, truthfulness, celibacy, vegetarianism, alternate medicine etc.. Gandhi is the same man who beat his wife, ate meat, succumbed to carnal desires despite vows of celibacy, failed to rescue his son despite his belief in hydropathy medicine. He discussed his failures elaborately and that is the cornerstone of his fearless character that later came to be referred to as Mahatma. Gandhi's success is not as much about his principles of ahimsa, truthfulness, celibacy, vegetarianism etc as it is about the path he took to experiment, evolve and adhere to these principles. Making Gandhi synonymous with ahimsa and truth is like missing the wood for the trees! There was rationality behind his principles and unless they are understood, Gandhi and his principles can not be understood or appreciated.

For instance, Gandhi advocated ahimsa as the way to achieve independence not just because he wanted to avoid human casualties in the struggle but because it was the only feasible solution to achieve independence. By eschewing violence, Gandhi forced the British too not to use their army and firepower. This was a strategic move that would not just weaken the oppostion (in South Africa and in India) but paves way for a civilian engagement where voices of reason would be heard. The rules of the game were hence changed by Gandhi when he forced the British to discuss the rights of natives over table. The British were denied a chance to violently put down the freedom struggle as the freedom fighters themselves refused to be violent. For all the civilizational glow they painted their empire in, the British had no way but to engage the Indians in a dialogue. In this non-violent struggle, the masses hence followed Gandhi as they realized sooner or latter the numbers would matter and reason would be heard and they were proved right. It is this strategic thinking of Gandhi that influenced leaders of the civil rights movements, including those of Martin Luther King, James Lawson, Nelson Mandela, Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan, Steve Biko, Dalai Lama, Aung San Suu Kyi across the world. While Indian media never tires of trumpeting this fact, it hardly finds any time to find the reason for this. Not for nothing was he TIME magazine's man of the year in 1930. He made major achievements through mass moments like Champaran with his principles. Gandhi was a man of action, not words and it is high time we grasp about Gandhi, the agitator to understand the Mahatma halo we are shown around him.

To further strengthen the struggle, shrewd Gandhi went on to use religion as well as the common unifier despite the diverse languages and regional historical backgrounds across the country. Otherwise how would a distant Punjabi or Gujarati find a common cause with a Madrasi in an age where there is no TV or Internet? Gandhi was the think-tank that made it possible. Using the same religion now in politics produces disastrous results. This is an aspect which importantly shows that Gandhi's strategies and principles have to be seen and understood against the age they were designed in. Gandhi was pragmatic and so should we be.

Gandhi's strength is his conviction and his efforts to follow celibacy were to be read to understood what it means to adhere to a principle. He would cut down on all diet that he thinks would contribute to carnal desires in human body. This showed how practical Gandhi was. So when someone tries speaking about Gandhi's principles, it is apt if they explain the logic behind those principles too. If we are not informed, let us learn about them instead of dumbyfying Gandhi into a god.

It is nauseating to repeatedly hear a question like 'Are Gandhi's principles relevant to this age' every year on TV shows on his birthday?. I have only one thing to say - to know if something is relevant, first get to know it! If people are too busy to learn about him, why make a sham about him in discussions and movies?


Jai said...

Thanks to Vamsi Krishna ... we got a nice post becoz of him !!!
Kudos to you for writing such a piece

Deepak said...

I am awestruck. Thanks for such an informative post that makes one think. Hats Off.

Sagar said...

Hey amar,Very good and informative blog.....its true that the ideas of Gandhi's Principle are either blindly followed or rejected without understanding should definately read his autobiography atleast once to get more closer to his ideas/thought....

Sagar Ingalwar

Saughmraat said...

yeah. He might be a great leader.. ( I dont have enuf info and I'm a very bad student when it comes to History and Social Studies)

But I wonder why...."Following the fundamental principles of a(ny) relegion" is considered to be "Great Character". Chetlu leni chota aamudapu mokka mahaa vrksham ani... Is the society sooo spoiled that a person who follows the basic principles becomes a "Mahatma"???

Amar said...

Jai and Deepak,

Thanks a ton. It is satisfying to see ur comments. I am relieved i made my point clearly :)


Thanks for picking up the crux of the post. Ironically, we know too little about our father of our nation comapared to what we know abt Sachin Tendulkar! I think at least Gandhi's autobiography be made an optional read at school. The books contribution to character building in young kids would be immense. Thanks for your comments.

Amar said...


Gandhi surely believed "Following the fundamental principles of a(ny) relegion" brings in great character as those basic principles demanded honesty, truthfulness and compassion (This quote, ofcourse, should be seen in context of the age gandhi lived in. An age where there was no Jihadi moment or Ayodhya moment and all what people across religions wanted was freedom).

It could be interesting to also notice that Gandhi was given the sobriquet 'Mahatma' by not some devout religious fanatic but the most modern thinker and rationalist of his time - Tagore.

I. said...

I am so glad to have read this.
Your clarity of thought shines through, in this piece of Gandhi.
And yes I agree to what you say here.
Way to go buddy

sachin said...

Good informative post buddy.
Keep shooting.

Amar said...

Thanks Tess and Sachin :)