Saturday, 23 June 2007

Forgotten soul: The Mahatma...

I was wondering what article I should post first in my blog- and suddenly I had this idea of writing something on the man whom I idolise. It dismays me to see that few young people treasure history in current times- for forgetting history is synonymous with repeating mistakes that our ancestors did, or staying gleefully unaware of the events that make us who we actually are. Here I am writing about someone who resides in the pages of history, one who is perhaps very unhappy now- because though Indians call him "The Father of the Nation", few understand the ideals he stood for.

Before I actually start something, I must acknowledge that my article is perhaps influenced most by Dominique Lapierre and Larry Collins' book "Freedom at midnight", closely followed by Richard Attenborough's multi-academy award winning motion picture, "Gandhi". What I love and respect most in Gandhiji is the inherent simplicity of his thoughts and actions, which are applicable as much to national politics as to our own everyday life. Born into a modest Gujarati family, he was an extremely shy man, but grew to be man who could communicate with a single simple gesture with a nation of 400 million people sitting at any corner of the country.

What dismays me most is that people nowadays accuse Gandhiji wrongly of being sympathetic with the Britishers, and delaying the freedom that could have possibly been won by violent methods. I criticise those people fiercely for two reasons- one, their knowledge of history is poor and secondly, they don't know that violence does precious little. We are past the days when the world was at war, and so we don't actually realise the magnitude of what warfare brings with its ugly self. He often used to say- "if we take an eye for an eye, the world would become blind." In a time when dictators all over Europe (and other parts of the world) were brainwashing their subjects leading them to believe that territorial expansion was the only way a nation could achieve greatness, Gandhiji believed that only spiritual awakening was (and is) the way to achieve greatness. But as always, people have seldom learnt from mistakes too easily. Gandhiji's message failed to rouse the Europeans who, even after the terrible aftermath of World War I, continued to follow the mantra of "blood, toil, tears and sweat" which led to the most catastrophic war mankind had ever witnessed in recorded history- World War II. He always maintained that non-violence and non-cooperation needed more steel and valour that firing cannons, for it's easier to kill than heal. When the Axis powers attacked England and France, he asked the people, in vain, to face their enemies with courage and let them take away or destroy their possessions and lives till these people grew tired of killing themselves. It was his cherished dream that Indians should die without raising a gun when the Japanese attacked India, until all the blood and gore had forced the Japanese to retrace.

And yet I do not imply that Gandhiji wasn't wrong at anything at all. He was quite wrong-headed in matters related to sex. His advocacy of celibacy as a solution to India's population explosion was in fact a poor suggestion, because that would eventually mean the end of a country! But I never doubted one thing: Gandhi was himself a strict practitioner of what he followed. Who else would admit that his darkest hour was when he had an erection at 67, decades after he had started preaching sexual continence and bramhacharya. But that doesn't make Gandhiji a whit short of the great soul he is: take my word, had there been three Gandhis in India, India could have easily avoided the terrible human massacre succeeding partition (well maybe, there would be no partition at all!). Remember this: Calcutta, the most violent city in the world of 1940s, was not engulfed in communal passions in the summer of 1947. All Gandhi did was to undergo a fast unto death in Calcutta unless all violence stopped permanently. The soul of Calcutta responded very quickly to Gandhiji's call: the riot-waging hoodlums vowed to spread Gandhi's message of peace!

But whom do I address? Haven't we have confined Gandhi to banknotes, portraits and statues? And politicians and bureaucrats commit the final act of disrespecting Gandhi: taking bribes, unabashedly and ironically under my dear old Gandhiji's portrait. It's time we understand this man's eternal message of love, happiness, simplicity, non-violence and honesty; or be prepared to live a life of unending mediocrity and inch toward WWIII.


soumyarup said...

"It was his cherished dream that Indians should die without raising a gun when the Japanese attacked India, until all the blood and gore had forced the Japanese to retrace."-Sudipto.
This is precisely the reason why i,an extremely non violent person myself, somehow fail to admire Gandhiji.No doubt his ideal of ahimsa was and still is venerated the world over,yet i personally feel that he carried it a bit too far.Who can deny the historical blunder he committed when he called off the hugely popular Non-Co-operation movement in 1922 on account of the Chauri-Chaura incident?While it is true that had Indians chosen a path of guns against the mighty Raj,brutal retaliation would have been the only answer,it is also true that his policy only helped British to tide over times when nationalist and patriotic feelings in the country had reached its zenith and could have easily overpowered them with a little bit of militancy.History shows that no freedom has ever been achieved without bloodshed!!(undeniable fact!)
And as far as the gory Partition is concerned,let us not forget that Gandhiji,though he was morally against it,did nothing to stop it,inspite of having the power to do so.Thus the blood which he sought to prevent from flowing during the struggle for freedom was unfortunately compensated after it,leaving a scar which unleashes its terror every day.
But it is true that Gandism has much relevance in our day to day life. For more details see Lage Raho Munnabhai.His ideals and views are of paramount importance in the strife-torn world of today. But believing that his policy would have helped India achieve freedom more easily is just deceiving oneself !!

Sudipto pondering said...

My dear friend,
First, let's get some facts right.The non-cooperation movement was called off in 1922 because Gandhi realised that his own people hadn't yet understood his message of non-cooperation and non-violence. Because he was an exceptionally great man, Gandhi's ideals had greater priority in his mind that achieving freedom for India. Remember that for Gandhi, it would be meaningless to him if India won independence somehow (maybe, with the aid of violent struggle) and was ruled by war-mongering and riot-waging leaders. A violation of his ideal of non-violence provoked Gandhi to call off his movement, maybe when nationalist feelings was at its zenith-- and as a Gandhian, I see no reason to blame him in this case. Though critics will always differ. Accept this at least: that great men make greater mistakes than normal people do (and hence even if you call this a blunder of Gandhi's part, it doesn't mean that Gandhi's ideals were wrong).

One thing that I clearly admit is that Gandhi was at times impractical and theoretical in his approach: as GB Shaw said about him-- "Too good for the world".

I agree with you on this however: that freedom struggle necessarily requires blodhshed. And hey, Gandhi accepted that too! He said-- "Let our blood flow from our wounds till our enemies realise the terrible wrong they have done in harming us." It maybe a difficult idea to emulate, but as Gandhi had shown in Delhi and Calcutta: it was perfect for him.

Suvro Chatterjee said...

What delights me about this post as an ageing teacher who has refused to give up certain basic ideals and principles despite being ridiculed and abused lifelong for them is that there are a few like Sudipto (and the two who have already responded to his post) among our youth who are still drawn by anything remotely resembling serious ideals and lofty aims beyond the merely material and mundane. The overwhelming majority of our young are either completely without goals, standards and morals (and don't even care) or they give up in frustration and despair too soon, after a few insignificant 'struggles' (as compared even with those that a very ordinary person like me has grappled with and overcome, leave alone a titan like Gandhi)! Even if they 'admire' anybody at all, it is usually nobody more important than a moneyed celebrity-of-the-hour. Considering that Gandhi, in a certain sense, was a spectacular failure, remembering and appreciating and trying, even in a small way, to follow in his almost-superhuman footsteps means that all hope is, perhaps, not yet lost. Why are so few young Indians aware, let alone being proud, of the fact that no less a giant than Einstein told Gandhi that he held the future of mankind in his hands, and mourned after his death that generations to come would scarcely believe that a man such as he had ever walked the face of the earth? Why have our standards fallen so low that we imagine that where Gandhi failed, the likes of Aishwarya Rai are going to make India globally known and admired? - even if that happens, is that the kind of 'admiration' we now desperately want, from the same land which gave mankind everything from the Upanishads to modern mathematics to the Buddha and Ashoka?

But beware, those who are keenly interested: you need to find out a lot more, and think a lot more, about Gandhi's beliefs and practices, and then decide how and how far to follow him in your own 21st-century lives. Indeed, that is precisely the kind of respect he would have liked: to be really LISTENED to, not blindly revered or reviled!

Abhirup said...

Dear Sudipto,
Your essay was an excellent one. I can say, without exaggerating, that now I feel proud to have you as a friend: a youth who can think and write so coherently and beautifully. What impresses me even more is that in today's world, when most of our peers are wasting their time (and often their parents' money too!) on all sorts of trifles, you spend your time and energy in writing about Mahatma Gandhi. Indeed, if we cannot pay the Father of the Nation the attention and respect that's his due, how on earth can we dream of progressing? As Sir has said, surely Aishwarya Rai is not going to make India a respected nation!

However, I would like to say that I agree with what Soumyaroop said: it was too extreme on Gandhi's part to say that "Indians should die without raising a gun when the Japanese attacked India, until all the blood and gore had forced the Japanese to retrace." If the Japanese attack a person's family, and if that person has the strength to defeat the Japanese and defend his family, is it a sin on his part to pick up a gun and shoot the Japanese? Self-defense is not the same as violence, and if I do not defend myself and my near and dear ones despite having the power to do so, it's not non-violence, it's cowardice.
Also, I must say that it was very utopian on Gandhiji's part to expect that the Japanese will be sickened of the blood and gore and retreat. Before the Second World War began, the Japanese had occupied China, and for twelve years, they tortured, killed and raped MILLIONS of Chinese. No amount of blood and cruelty had stopped them. Later, as the war began and the Japanese captured Hong Kong, Singapur, Malaya and Burma, they committed similar atrocities there. It is useless to hope that such people will ever grow sick of shedding blood: in fact, they REVEL in shedding blood. I am sure that if a nobody like me knows of these Japanese crimes, so did a great man like Gandhi. So, he should have been a little more practical in his comments about the Japanese. There are people who CANNOT be conquered by non-violence, no matter how hard you try: those who have fought or survived the reigns of Hitler, Stalin, Pol Pot and General Pinochet will agree completely with me on this point. In fact, Pol Pot (he was the dictator of Cambodia, and slaughtered about one-third of the country's population), said, after ordering his troops to gun down about 60 non-violent demonstrators, "All these talks of non-violence and peace is dangerous nonsense. These are the attempts of cunning seditionists to overthrow the government with sweet words and stabbing in the back, for they do not have the courage to fight with us." While dealing with someone like this, it is not sinful or immoral to take up arms in defiance. I, for one, would certainly not die without fight, should I be attacked by brutes who do not even understand the meaning of noble virtues like non-violence. I am not disrespecting Gandhi or his principles. What I am trying to say is that one must not follow his words to such an extreme stage that he is left vulnerable to the malicious forces of the world. In this matter, Theodore Roosevelt offered a far more practical solution: "Walk softly, but carry a big stick."

In conclusion, I ask you, Sudipto, to keep writing, both here and at orkut. You are too good at it. Cheers!

With regards,

Sudipto pondering said...

Oh! I forgot to clarify one thing, Soumyarup.

Gandhi never had the power to prevent partition, as is very clear once you read "Freedom at Midnight". And I have sufficient belief that the authors were unbiased documentors of history. In the summer of 1947, no one was listening to good ol' Gandhiji: not even his beloved Nehru and Patel. He was an absolutely helpless man; a "dejected sparrow" in Mountbatten's words. Gandhi once acidly noted that his Congress colleagues didn't treat him at par with even an untouchable sweeper. Such a lonely man was he in 1947.

And Gandhi was fundamental in restoring peace in troubled areas of the sub-continent almost single-handedly. In Calcutta, Mountbatten's "one-man boundary force" of Gandhi did what a 55,000-strong army failed to do in partitioned Punjab: keep calm. And bear in mind that Calcutta was the most violent city on earth at that time-- a city that had just witnessed the August 16, 1946 killings of Direct Action Day.

And remember that I am not justifying Gandhi's faults, or trying to hide them. I know that Gandhi's teachings often had piquant contradictions within themselves.

I shall point them out if someone wishes me to-- but even in that case, Gandhi had so much greatness in him that his faults tend to fade away in comparison; even from the point of view of a neutral. Unless you are a hardcore and biased critic, who maginifies Gndhi's mistakes more than he understands and emulates Gandhi's strong ideals.

So friends, young and old, why not step forward and try to understand to some extent what this man had to say? Listen and understand: don't blindly rever or revile (to quote Sir)!

Sudipto pondering said...

I agree with you, Abhirup Da.

I disagreed with Soumyarup only on two things: Gandhi didn't call off the non-cooperation movement of 1922 without reason, and secondly Gandhi had precious little power to prevent partition in 1947.

That's all!

Samir said...

Sudipto (Bappa), amazing post....though I am not a follower of Gandhiji's ideologies and also dont know much about him, I thought that reading through your blog was an enriching experience. you kiddos (U, Jishnu ad Shaheb)suddenly are seeming to be well grown up guys to me. Let me tell you that your writting skills are outstanding, keep it up. You seem to be a fan of Gandhiji, and have read books written on him and saw movies made on him, but as a neutral individual I would also suggest that you go through Nathuram Godse's (the man who killed Gandhiji) biography, to get a holistic view on Gandhis life. If you have already done that than give us some perspective on what did he think about Gandhiji and what made him kill the man. I dont know much, but have read somewhere that Nathuram Godse respected Gandhiji a lot, then why did he kill him.

Samir Dada

Sudipto pondering said...

Samir Da,
While I must thank you for posting here, and appreciating my essay, it would be good if you yourself tried out "Freedom at Midnight" (That's just a start: and a good one at that, for there are volumes written on Gandhi and his philosophies!). I know enough about Nathuram Godse, and actually Godse was a Gandhian in the beginning of his political career (and had even been jailed during the civil disobedience movement), but abandoned him for Veer Savarkar (Who needless to say, is a person I hate: for he was a bigot, who had no sympathies for any other religion other than Hinduism). Godse was the model RSSS (Rashtriya Swayam Sevak Sangha) fascist militant, one who made a living out of killing innocent muslims and trying to assasinate giant Indian politicians.

Gandhi, on the other hand, was a social and political reformer, whom I regard very highly.

Rakshita said...

Hi Sudipto,

A very well written Blog. Though I don't really follow his ideals. He had his own flaws as a human being. Yet, he was strong enough to create a nation-wide stir and steer the country.

Keep writing...