Every 2nd October is spent by most Indians conducting clichéd rituals to celebrate the life and teachings of Mahatma Gandhi. Be it Ben Kingsley in and as Gandhi or Munna bhai aka Sanjay Dutt doing Gandhigiri, or some politicians sharing the customary bytes about the ‘Father of the Nation’.
But this blind, ritualistic, banal celebration of Mr Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi’s birth anniversary has made the current generation lose touch with him.
They don’t know and understand Mahatma Gandhi’s ideology and thus don’t care for him; instead merely indulge in empty platitudes that have been handed down over the years.
But this 2nd October needn’t be just a ‘Dry Day’ as Munnabhai and Circuit note in Lage Raho Munna Bhai, or a mid-week holiday! It could be the day we re-examine the importance of Mahatma Gandhi and how his ideas are relevant still — be it in terms of environment, peace or unification.
Especially now when some parts of the world are turning more pragmatic and less idealistic even as the disenfranchised are looking to raising their voice — be it the Hong Kong youth or climate activist Greta Thunberg.
Is Gandhi relevant?
Tenzin Tsundue, poet, writer and Tibetan activist, is not bogged down by negativity and remains optimistic about the world in general and the Mahatma’s place in it, specifically. He stated, “We are often overwhelmed by the media which feeds off negativity, violence and shock value. The construction of narrative matters; the way we tell our stories.
And the narratives in all media particularly in ‘in-the-moment’ social networks what seems to matter is something very personal, beneficial and customised, as there is always the option to negate others. Therefore, pragmatism perceptionally seems to rule and not idealism.
But, in reality, if we pause, step back and look around, there is bigger number of people desiring to work for peace than ever before in human history. Gandhi is a brand; the idea of peace and non-violence are as old as the hills as Gandhi used to say.”
Writer-poet Maitreyee Bhattacharjee Chowdhury, who was nominated for the Crossword Book Awards, 2013 (Non-Fiction category), believes that “in most senses and more, Gandhi is universal and such people never go out of fashion. If Gandhi is old fashioned, then truth is old fashioned too.”
She expounds, “All experimentation rests on the bed of truth and philosophy — one can only experiment, be instinctive, when one is sound in the philosophy of how mistakes are to be corrected and acknowledged. In our country, history is often taught by the blind glorification of our leaders — so, Gandhi became a 'saint'.
In reality, Gandhi took wrong calls too, he was human. What makes him relatable however is that he was open to admitting those mistakes! I feel Gandhi will, and should always be relevant.
He had his problems, but he was a true world leader, courageous and connected to the realities of people on the ground. Criticise him if you will, but not before you understand his work and thought process while keeping an open mind.”
Deification of MKG
The youth of India have limited access to the Mahatma. His deification makes him less approachable. Take for example collegian Pramod (name changed on request), who knows of Gandhi from the silver screen and school textbooks, but Gandhi is not magnetic enough to entice him to study him further.
“Everyone talks about Mahatma Gandhi, but what’s the big deal? I would much rather learn more about people like Greta Thunberg or Malala Yousafzai.”
But aren’t “Greta and Malala, students of Mahatma Gandhi? As were Martin Luther King Jr. and Nelson Mandela”, asks Tanu, who calls herself a ‘Gandhi fan’. She suggests that Gandhi was way ahead of his times for he espoused environmentally-friendly ideas and humanism.
As Maitreyee explains, “The voices of Greta Thunberg and that of the protestors in Hong Kong have the same ambition – that of being able to point out the wrong and set in motion what needs to be done to right the situation.
If one were to find Gandhi in both these protests, it would be to emulate his courage in speaking against what is wrong and never cowing down, no matter how grave the situation. Gandhi’s greatest lesson to the world was to never be afraid of speaking the truth, whether it was his protest in South Africa or later in India, honesty was a weapon he used effectively.
In both the instances of the young teenager speaking out about the environment and the HK protests about the rights of the people – it is honesty and the urgent need for it that stands out. Had the Mahatma been around I'm sure he would have approved.”
Tenzin adds, “Be it Greta’s flag-bearing campaign for environment or the HK movement for democracy, it’s essentially one and the same. They insist upon greater sensitivity to each other and the environment we live in.” And isn’t that what Gandhi had advocated?
Gandhi believed in the young
Maitreyee suggests Mahatma Gandhi had a great relation with the young. He often spoke of their courage and ability to take the country ahead. She remembers an anecdote in this regard — while touring Noakhali (in present day Bangladesh) to douse communal tensions (in 1946), Gandhi had called a meeting with the communities.
He waited for half an hour, but no one turned up from either community. Gandhi had carried a ball with him and addressed the children standing at a little distance from him: “Your parents are frightened of each other but what can you be afraid of? You are the children of God.”
The children, irrespective of community, started moving towards the dais where Gandhi was sitting. Gandhi threw the ball at them. The children threw it back. He played for half an hour and later told the villagers: “You have no courage but if you want that courage, take it from your children.”
Tenzin believes “Mahatma Gandhi is dead, but Gandhi is alive amongst us as our conscience.” He says that, “Gandhi teaches simplicity, honesty and kindness, like Buddha did.
It is easier to become rich of wealth, corrupt physically and morally and wallow in material comfort than to stay simple, light and moral, the difference between the world of genuine happiness and the world material pleasures.
Therefore Gandhi lives in your next-door neighbour your never visit, but you do know he is alive and enjoying his morning ‘thande thande pani se nahna chahiyeh’ morality.
These are no either/or lives, just striking the balance, a balance tipped more towards a conscientious living. If we pause, look around and think, we see we are all walking into a trap of our own making.
Young people see this trend in the ‘post-industrial world’; therefore the youth idealism is driving this new movement for greater sensitivity for humanity and the environment. We should listen to this wind.” And this trend makes Mahatma Gandhi extremely relevant!