After my first post on the Mahatma and his way of life, I think it will be quite relevant to discuss and elaborate WHY on earth shall we try to listen to the words of Gandhi? Why is the message of the frail, fragile and bald-headed peace-loving man remembered even today by those who praise him? Why, after all, considering that Gandhi lived in the first half of the previous century?
The basic principles on which Gandhism stands are non-violence, satyagraha and universal love. Nothing new with that, right? Even the historians have blindly repeated Gandhi's words so often. So what new and relevant message does those words convey? But if you picture yourself in the Europe, or for that matter even India, of the early 1900's, you'll get some picture of the situation. Picture the world around-- the race for arms, the misguiding political calls for 'patriotism', 'development', 'world political power', rivers of blood flowing, corpses littered around, often unsympathetic government, state-sponsored violence, unemployment coupled with total economic decay (sudden bouts of inflation and depression in the market), ethnic-cleansing, bereaved lovers and relatives of dead, or worse still, brutally injured and amputated soldiers-- and then it dawns upon you that the world Gandhi lived was uglier than the most insane of human minds can imagine. All this nauseating ugliness and more, the biggest threat being chemical, biological and nuclear warfare. What the world required at that point of time was a messiah of peace. One who rightly noted that 'an eye for an eye shall make the world blind'. One who said that 'the difference between what we do, and what we can do, can solve most problems on earth'. One who recognised the horrors of blind industrialisation and political powerplay. And that was Gandhi. Surprising though it may seem, when Gandhi visited London for the second Round Table Conference, the mill-workers of Lancashire (whose bread Gandhi had indirectly denied, by promoting his khadi and boycott movements) gave him the warmest of receptions. A certain reputed newspaper noted that 'Gandhi maybe a politician among saints, but he is no lesser a saint among politicians'. Though Gandhi left London a hugely disappointed man, for the Conference had failed to reach a definite conclusion, Gandhi had met a great number of talented thinkers from George Bernard Shaw, Charlie Chaplin, Gandhi's own erstwhile jailer General Smuts, Albert Einstein etc. And all of them agreed with one thing-- the world needed the healing power of love more than the destructive power of the atomic bomb. But alas, the West failed to truly understand Gandhi's message of universal love. Gandhi failed to stop World War II.
But, we were talking about Gandhi's relevance, weren't we? His message's relevance in current times. The only change in today's scene is that in place of a Germany, we have an USA today. And in place of a Hitler, we have Bush! Things haven't changed much from that perspective. Practically, the world is still ruled by a half-literate power-thirsty despot, who wages wars against countries at his own will. Who thinks it's perfectly fine to take the side which seems most favourable for his own political good, and change that if situations change. A person, to whom the only 'good thing done' which may be attributed is that he doesn't run concentration camps to cleanse the Earth of 'social scum'. And seeing even our own India's and Pakistans's eagerness to make atom bombs and deadly missiles, how much has changed since those dreadful 1930's and 1940's? So decide for yourself how much relevant Gandhi's message of non-violence, satyagraha and universal love is. When technology is given more importance than human welfare, what more can be said? In today's world, where a cellphone is more important to a youngster than the amount of social work he does, or even think of doing, what else can be said about Gandhi's insistence than technology shouldn't be allowed to prosper if it threats to extuingish the lamp of humanity? When the state forces poor farmers to give up their farmlands to make way for companies making small-budget cars, at the cost of grain, how much do you think is one being rational and humane?
Gandhi was one who lived by the cliche: "Simple Living, High Thinking." He was one of the first people who stressed than sanitation in rural India would stop most of the diseases from spreading; the one who stressed that spitting, defecating and peeing by the roadside isn't only ill-mannered but unhygienic too, considering that a huge number of Indians walk barefoot. Gandhi moved from village to village, addressing its people, informing them about the benefits of sanitation, hygiene, meditation and communal unity. He dug out toilets, showed the villagefolk how to make water filters from simple gravel, sand and pitchers. And above all, he was the one who advocated how necessary and good it is to believe in oneself, and ultimately God. His regular prayer meetings were attended by people of all religions, caste, creed and colour. Gandhi's simple dictum that all ministers of free India should live simple, walk around without bodyguards, converse regularly and closely with the people of the country was not an old man's sudden whim. Even before half a century had passed since the day Gandhi uttered those words, India was, and is still, ruled by corrupt politicians and ministers. One question keeps popping up, was Gandhi wrong in suggesting all he did? It certainly doesn't seem so.
I certainly don't say that non-violence is the universal answer. Gandhi himself maintained that it isn't. At times, violence has to be used. Non-violence doesn't work with heartless and totally unsympathetic people. It doesn't work when someone is trying to rape your mother or sister, or kill you. Then you certainly have to resort to violence. But I believe that violence should always be the last resort. At least, violence is a lot better than cowardice. Gandhi once remarked-- "I'd happily have a country full of violent people, than a country full of cowards." But keeping in mind, that most people are cowards-- those who rag juniors at college when in groups, but flee when they are alone against a group of violent hoodlums-- am I not saying too much? And neither is non-cooperation always effective, or even justified. Tagore often reminded Gandhi that though he didn't fear Gandhi misusing non-cooperation, most others would reduce such a powerful and meaningful political weapon to the level of sillyness. Tagore couldn't have been more right. Being an admirer of both Gandhi and Tagore, I understand that Gandhi's methods, though effective when used by Gandhi, at times were unsuitable for lesser individuals to truly understand and implement.
And above all, Gandhi showed that love is the ultimate power a man can possess. Love is the panacea for the world's ugliness. It was Gandhi's belief in love that made the 'Miracle of Calcutta' possible: a Calcutta, reputed as the most violent city on earth at the time and which had recently seen the Ganga turning red with Hindu and Muslim blood on August 16, 1946. In less than a week, Gandhi arrived in Calcutta, a city seething with rage at the news of Bengal's partition, and catalysed it's metamorphosis to a haven of communal peace. That is an achievement in itself-- because it was here that Gandhi was treated with stones by the people upon his arrival for the first time in his whole political career. An achievement, considering that a taskforce of 55,ooo soldiers failed to restore peace in Punjab.
I'll be happy to entertain intelligent questions from eager readers and thinkers. But I stress that all posts should be in full, correct and polite English. That's not too much I hope! And please mr. anonymous (I hope you get me!), if my posts pose you so much inconvenience, please don't read them!