Sweetness and Light

Just want to bring a smile to the reader's lips - and an occasional thought. Will try to stay away from controversial topics - rather create my own! And would definitely welcome comments. :-)

Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Of Gandhi, and dustballs - II

Last night, on the way back from office, I was having this chance conversation with my fellow passenger, which veered from Rang De Basanti to Bhagat Singh to Gandhi. And the lady happened to remark that she did not agree with Gandhi, or Nehru, or other leaders of their ilk. I confessed to my admiration for Gandhi, to which her immediate reaction was (suitably impressed, I think) - "you are a Gandhian?" I immediately denied any such claims to greatness (at least thats the way I perceive it), but it also set me thinking - and hence this piece. :-)

Being a Gandhian is not just a matter of wearing Gandhi topi. As an aside, I wonder why the cap is called Gandhi topi at all. Gandhi himself was a minimalist when it came to clothing (and also food and shelter, for that matter). Even if being a Gandhian was that simple, I wouldn't don the cap, so to speak - for two reasons. One, it is no longer fashionable, even among politicians, and two, more importantly, this is the performance appraisal time where I work, and I don't want to give my boss more reasons to regret his recruitment strategies. :-) In any case, to get back to the main issue, I simply do not have the courage - physical, moral, spiritual - or the conviction, or the dedication, or the empathy, or....basically I don't have what it takes to be a Gandhian. Even Gandhi probably was not always a Gandhian - as the sorry episode over Netaji Bose's election as Congress President reflects. Which, of course, just emphasizes my point in the previous post, that Gandhi was also a human being.

Was Gandhi really responsible for our freedom? I was quite amazed when I went through a fairly decent biography of his (I think by Robert Payne, but need to cross-check), and found that post his return to India, he was involved in so many causes which had tenuous link with our freedom struggle. Yet, what all of them had in common was that it related to the masses. And may be that is what freedom meant to Gandhi - power to the masses. The oppressors might be the British government, or the mill owners of Ahmedabad, or the village panchayat that would not allow the untouchables to draw water from the village well. But the struggle was always for the downtrodden. To that extent, Gandhi's fight for freedom was about freedom from injustice - not just from the British. At least that is my interpretation.

In fact, it can be argued (and not frivolously) that Hitler (him of the Nazi fame) probably did as much for India's freedom as any Indian leader - and I am not referring to his aid to Netaji (which wasn't really material). If Hitler had not done to the British Empire what Toyota has done to General Motors (i.e. make it bankrupt - of course, through vastly different means), it is questionable whether the English would have left us in 1947 just because we told them to "Quit India" in 1942. This is not to trivialize the sacrifices of freedom fighters at all, but it just brings me to one of my pet themes - correlation does not imply causation. Or, a lot of effects can probably be explained by the theory "at the right place at the right time." Would strongly recommend the book "Fooled by Randomness" in case any reader is interested in following up on these thoughts.

There are times when I wonder whether we got the freedom too early. If the real idea of freedom is freedom from oppression, then for the vast majority of Indians even today, we have probably exchanged one set of oppressors for another. This is unlikely to strike a note with most of the readers, and indeed myself, because of the India we inhabit - IT, BPO, economic growth, Sensex etc. But is that the real India? Of course, the fact that I can write all this without the fear of censorship from the likes of Yahoo, MS and Google (all under the patronizing glance of the Chinese government) is itself a testament to our freedom. But what does freedom mean to a pavement hawker, to a slum dweller, to the farmers in AP and Vidarbha? Would they trade freedom for assurance of food? Wouldn't I?

P.S. As I was leaving for work, I spotted two of them, engaged in a conspiratorial whisper, just behind the front-left bed-post. The battle continues between me and the dustballs. Tomorrow is another day! :-)

Monday, January 30, 2006

Of Gandhi, and dustballs!

Today, 30th Jan 2006, happens to be the 58th death anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi. A day as good (or as bad) as any to think about the man, if one wants to. As it happens, I do.

My journey in "knowing" Gandhi started, I suspect, as most Indian kids' do - there was an essay book in class 3 that had an essay on him - born on 2nd October 1869 in Porbandar, son of......so on and so forth. Then I happened to watch the movie by Richard Attenborrough, and was mesmerised. Then read the book "Freedom at Midnight" by Lapierre and Collins, and was even more hooked. What sort of a man could choose to be thousands of miles away from the centrestage on what could arguably be his finest hour? At the midnight of 14/15 August 1947, as India made its "tryst with destiny", Gandhi was in Noakhali, in Bengal, trying to calm down the fires of hatred sparked by the Partition.

And yet, many believed, and still do, that the Partition itself was sparked by Gandhi. I don't know. My further readings, on as well as by, Gandhi, have only generated a sort of love for the man - a love born out of, and not in spite of, his imperfections. He was no Mahatma - he was indeed just another human being - but with staunch belief in himself, and whatever he happened to deem his duty for that period - be it in South Africa fighting against apartheid, in India fighting for the Indigo farmers, the mill workers, untouchables, India's freedom...

Today, Gandhi is little more than a prop for politicians and masses alike. The popular saying "Patriotism is the last refuge of the scoundrel" may indeed be rephrased as "Gandhi is the last refuge of the scoundrel". We first created a Mahatma out of a man, then forgot what the man stood for, and now care little either for the man or the Mahatma.

P.S. What is it with dustballs? They are all over the place when the last thing you want to touch on a saturday morning is a broom. Then they do a disappearing act when you actually get down to cleaning. And finally, when you are lying down on your bed with the satisfied smirk of a job well done, they again pop from all nooks and corners. It cannot be a coincidence, or am I just being paranoid?

Inaugural Address?

Friends, friends of friends, and those on their morning constitutional on the cyber highway! Welcome to all of you. I think it was Shaw who said "wise is the man who has nothing to say and cannot be persuaded to say it." Some one else (I don't quite remember who - all readers will have to bear with this irritating aspect of mine - most of my words are not original, but I am bad at remembering the source) had the following to say about bores: " a bore is someone who has nothing to say and all the time to say it in". Well, if I were to believe some dear friends, I am more BORING than wise, and hence this blog! :-)

So what will I typically write on? On anything that I feel strongly about - life, love, positive thinking, Calvin & Hobbes, Random Acts of Kindness, brushing teeth regularly - just to name a few. Things missing from my notes would include coherence, logic and common sense - because I want my blog to be the reflection of my world. :-)

As a rule, I would avoid responding to comments unless there is a factual error somewhere. Firstly because who am I to judge your comment? And secondly because its fun to prove some one like Dr. Amartya Sen wrong - I am not an Argumentative Indian. :-)

Oh, by the way, the name of the blog is inspired by the motto of Uncle Fred's life (ever heard of him, of the Blandings fame? P.G. Wodehouse?). In fact thats his motto - to spread sweetness and light. So if any sentence of mine (original or quoted) brings a smile to your face, my day is made. :-)