Chicago Blues

This blog is an online repertoire of my columns that run in the Indian Express, North American edition. Here I rave and rant about life, mostly as seen from the large vistas of my little world.

Location: Chicago, United States

Friday, December 21, 2007

Gandhigiri - A Class of Its Own.

Gandhi is not just a name that all desis, especially NRIs, are routinely expected, and ought to be proud of. Gandhi is a phenomenon - forgotten, revived, forgotten, and revived again, over the decades. The term “Gandhi” insinuates patriotism, peace, and whether we’d like to believe it or not, poverty too, to an extent. Gandhiism, or “Gandhigiri,” to use the celebrated Indianism, has been given a fair share of attention lately. First, there was “Lage Raho Munna Bhai,” a typical road-Romeo-with-quirky-sidekick Bollywood comedy, which shook the box office, the nation, and other NRI-populated countries across the world with its simple yet staggering theme - it had Gandhi appear miraculously in his Khadi attire, for the hero’s eyes only, and teach him the age-old lessons on truth and non-violence. The movie was a breakthrough of sorts, as it brought Gandhi to the masses, to the autorickshaw drivers, the pan vendors, and even the black-market ticket sellers - for whom he remained, up until then, perhaps, an unknown enigma, given that Gandhi has been turned into a familiar text-book concept for school-goers alone in India. And of course, continuing in the same vein, we recently witnessed an incredible NRI-groupie episode right here, at the time of the Green Card fiasco, where a Gandhian style passive-protest led to re-opened doors and renewed hopes for hordes of hopefuls among us.

Then, there was the movie, “Gandhi, My Father,” and even though the crux of the film’s matter revolves around the troubled relationship between Gandhi and his son, it brought to light the lesser known, personal anguish that Gandhi bore in his heart. But the highlight of the film was Gandhi’s choice of principles, and his relentless pursuit and respect for dignity and humanitarian values…over everything else in his life. Also another reference to Gandhi, and his principles can be seen in Ramachandra Guha’s recent book, “India After Gandhi,” which, as the title suggests, is about India’s emergence as a secular nation, after Gandhi.

With all the manner of things that surround us today, in a world filled with violence and myriad injustices, and with the countless allusions to Gandhi, and Gandhian philosophy, how much of it do we actually care for? And how much of it have we really imbibed? If it takes a Bollywood masala movie or two to bring Gandhi back in vogue, and if our children have to heed TIME’s 100 most influential people (they don’t exactly have to know Gandhi was runner-up to Einstein in TIME’s Person of the Century ranking; not that there’s anything absurd about Einstein as an apposite choice for that one), what good is it hailing from Gandhian territory?

Okay, not that we should go overboard, and turn overly patriotic, and truthful, lovers of peace, and weave our own Kurtas and quilts; but one can’t help wonder how we’ve demoted the good things about being Indians. For instance, going back to “Gandhi, My Father,” the producers of the film abstained from putting up posters of the movie across India for fear that they might get spat on, torn to shreds, or disrespected in other ways; or perhaps even become the cause of unwarranted riots. So, while audiences abroad, and in South Africa per se, comprising the likes of true-blue Gandhian cohorts like Nelson Mandela, sat in peace and reverence watching and appreciating the movie, the Indian cinemas had to use caution before screening the movie, for fear of stirring up unnecessary troubles.

Every time a communal clash results from the slightest of provocations, and Hindus and Muslims get caught up in bloody turmoils, no stones go unturned in setting the tone to besmirch Gandhi, as the topic invariably flits to Kashmir. Even sitting oceans away, we are not totally exempt from or oblivious to such debacles, for every riot there has rippled effects on the lives of Muslims and Hindus here. But what fails to manifest, each time, is the camaraderie that Gandhi would’ve wished to see, and the solidarity he prioritized and preached, which seems superficial somehow, like say, getting patriotic over a game of cricket and then, with a Miller Light or two downed, blissfully forgetting all about our roots.

It’s about time we moved on from relegating Gandhi as a mere fashion statement, and heed his simple beliefs, put them back up on the pedestal they deserve. That’s not to say we should discredit the value of Khadi, or simply revel in the repentant tone of the Nobel Committee for not having bestowed the prestigious Peace Prize on Gandhi. As lame as it may sound, if Leicester Gujaratis can campaign for a statue of the Mahatma, to denote the city’s multiculturalism, the least the throngs of NRIs elsewhere can do is think Gandhian thoughts and, shedding all fear, take true pride in them.


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