Location: Hyderabad, Andhra Pradesh, India

Monday, October 03, 2005

Gandhi through my eyes

136 years have passed since the man hailed by Einstein in the following manner was born.

"Generations to come will scarce believe that such a one as this ever in flesh and blood walked upon this earth. (said of Mahatma Gandhi)"
Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi - hailed as the Father of the Indian Nation, revered as Mahatma - was born on this day, 2nd of October in 1869. Typical start to something on Gandhi, right? Year after year, we celebrate these three of our National Festivals - the Independence Day, the Republic Day, and Gandhi Jayanti - with the same kind of rhetoric, which sometimes signifies a dearth of ideas - the lack of spirit - and at times this sounds alarming. It sounds sick when the rhetoric cherishes those ideals which are no longer followed or whose richness or the lack of it not identified. Hypocrisy starts working on the minds. The Constitution of India states that it is the duty of each citizen - to cherish and follow the noble ideals which inspired our national struggle for freedom . As an attempt towards performing my duty as a recognized citizen (I'm currently an Indian Passport holder) - I felt for long to start knowing what those noble ideals were which inspired the freedom struggle.

It is claimed that Gandhi's thoughts have had a great influence on the way the struggle shaped itself. And since he also happens to be called the Father of this Nation, it is indeed my duty to know what is behind all of the thought. I shall start my story of how things moved on.

There used to be vague sense of patriotic thoughts and nationalistic feelings whenever I came across stories on Gandhi tata (Telugu for grandpa). I do not think if they had any firm ground at all. It used to be more like a routing affair. My first proper encounter with Gandhi was through a two book series from Nehru Bal Pustakalay - Bapu I and II. I think I was 9 years old then. There were certain things which I think I liked about him at that time - the Dandi March. It really impressed me that such an old man could walk for such long distances. I have always liked walking for long distances. Used to like anyone who walked for long. I used to lament at my lack of intent or ability to walk for longer distances at that time. All that I could manage was a travel from Narayanaguda to Koti - which probably would be a distance of 3 and a half kilometers.Knowing that someone could walk greater than that, that too when he was more than 60 was definitely something which challenged my young thoughts.

I could not quite understand what could possibly be the reason this man kept harping on non-violence - and the Chauri-Chaura incident - but who cares. All I wanted to do was walk like him. A desire that I still have. Walk on, walk on.., keep walking :)

And then, I moved on to the Autobiography when I was 10. My first encounter with an Autobiography was My Experiments with Truth - how boring it was! I struggled hard to read through the pages. Skipped certain sections, and somehow finished it - so to say. My first experiment at reading an autobiography was an utter failure in that sense. Gandhi is not someone who wrote things like Nehru did. At about the same time, I read the Letters from a Father to a Daughter - something which was far more interesting to read.

One thing that really did impress me whenever I looked at Gandhi was his glasses. It felt like heaven when I first wore my glasses - which I selected to be similar to Gandhi's - at least I imagined them to be so.

Of course, there was one other thing that impressed me. Being truthful, to oneself. Saying nothing but the truth. Right from my childhood, this was driven into my brain that truth will be the ultimate victor and if you want to be an ultimate victor - then always say the truth and never lie. I tried to be so. And reading Gandhi's life, there were instances where I could liken myself with him at times - that made me feel like - okay, be truthful and it is as good as you have read through all that things that Gandhi described in his autobiography.

Then when I was in sixth standard I believe, I was asked to don the role of Gandhi for a Independence Day parade. I did not have glasses at the time. The next year when I was called in for this role of Gandhi, I went on to get my head tonsured so that I look as close to Gandhi. That was more or less a decision which I took on impulse. From that time, it more or less became common for me to play the role of Gandhi every year. Thankfully, my physique always cooperated :)

Playing Gandhi somehow was never difficult for me. It was quite natural. And in a sense I guess at times it brought a false sense of familiarity with him and it also breeded considerable amount of contempt for him. Especially, as I came to know more about him, as I read more about him. One thing that I always had in my mind was Gandhi was never a Mahatma. I could see flaws in his way as I have grown up on the thoughts which clearly question his understanding of ahimsa as the supreme Dharma. And calling him one only makes him someone who cannot be followed.
Gandhi was a great man. Gandhi is a great man. The reason that made him great was his constant effort to be truthful to himself at all times. Though at times I fell for the argument that Gandhi's greatness arises from the influence that he was able to wield on an entire nation; I still feel his simple living and sticking to truth as the reasons for his greatness.

My next encounter with Gandhi was through the eyes of Godse. I happened to carefully study Godse's "May It Please Your Honor" - Godse is one person who surely has dissected Gandhi's Political life in his own style. The way in which he goes about doing that, is absolutely interesting. I still feel that whoever wants to know Gandhi's political life better would do well to read Godse's version. Godse's charge main against Gandhiji (he always respected him for all that he did) - that Gandhiji has made the whole country as his laboratory; and Indians as guinea pigs - this is what I condemn - I agreed with Godse in all of his argument. I definitely feel that this argument is of great validity even today. The limitations of any argument are things that I was not yet aware of and to me things were still that one argument has to win over the other. All this when I was in 9th and 10th standards.

For the next few years the connection was almost lost. The yearly celebrations continued. Once I ended up in IIIT-Hyderabad, Gandhiji knocked my mind's doors again, in some sense, I should say. The Director of the Institute, Prof. Sangal inspired by Gandhiji's thoughts has conceived the progress of the Institute to tread the path set on the ideals that Gandhiji stood for. And I came back to study Gandhiji in a different light. My interactions with Dr. Anindita were in a sense directed towards a change/deeper understanding in the earlier Godseian thought of Gandhiji and all the earlier thought. "We love Gandhi for all his failures" - was a statement that is often heard from Dr. Anindita - and she often advised me to go through Hind Swaraj, or the Home Rule which personifies Gandhian thought. I definitely did not go through it deeply and continued with taking positions based on my previous understanding and a little opening towards the flow of a different thought.

Later on in B Tech III year, my association with Prof. Sangal interested me in the study of Gandhiji. And it resulted in me going to the Gandhi Ashram at Sevagram, and my stay there for a few days (yet to be penned or should I say typed), and finally a study of Hind Swaraj is something that made me come to my own conclusions.

Gandhiji is possibly the most dangerous critic of the Western Civilization (probably the main reason why Gandhian thoughts have a great commercial value in the west) and his work towards energising the enervated Indians from their submission to the Western Civilization was something that was supported by the whole country. Unfortunately for India, the way the thought to action took place did not have multiple viewpoints and there was no one who could challenge Gandhiji intellectually over his methods of implementing the ideas and ideologies. History does not show any such instances as well.This was before the Independence.

After the Independence, it was Nehru's time where the very Western Civilizational roots took over the country's course in history. Probably it is time we look, with a sense of respect for this man who said "My Life is my message" - it may not be possible for us to study his life, but an instance of his life which can represent the whole of his thought stream is sufficient. As I made a promise to myself, I intend to go ahead with holding one week of study in our campus to debate over Hind Swaraj. Hope I have good number of takers.


Blogger Imanpreet said...

One day I had an argument with one of my friends about his philosophy. The basic premise for him "hating" Gandhiji was the partition of India. India should never have been partitioned. People say when it was pretty much decided that India will be partitioned "Gandhi cried".

But after the talk with my friend I have always wondered if Gandhi could have prevented partition.

Also, people often claim that it was Gandhi and Gandhi alone that gave India its independece. I am not sure about this.

Sunday, October 02, 2005 8:05:00 PM  
Blogger mythalez said...

sage, i expected this article to go over my head but it didnt :)
Good one ... though i doubt u ll hav any takers to ur one week.

imanpreet, i dont agree with the claim that Gandhi alone gave us freedom .. After WW2, all countries of the British Empire had to be freed as the hypocrisy couldnt be continued any longer...

Sunday, October 02, 2005 8:14:00 PM  

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