Written by Kaajal Oza-Vaidya
A boy named Mohan, who was afraid of the dark, saved this country from the darkness of slavery. Before him, another Mohan, born in a prison cell from a mother mortally afraid of carrying him in her womb, was born fearless. Both went different ways but an irony of fate united them — one was born on the Saurashtra coast and attained salvation on the banks of the Yamuna. The other one was born on the banks of the Yamuna and left the world from the Saurashtra coast.
Both these Mohans struggled to keep our country united. One was an advocate of violence for dharma, the other, a lawyer, made non-violence his dharma.
We celebrate both their birth anniversaries with great fanfare. And they both have proved to be models for marketing many things. One is Krishna Vasudev Yadav; the other, Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi.
Every year on October 2, the entire country remembers Gandhi. Khadi produce goes on sale, events are planned, schools and banks are shut, and bars go dry.
Nobody remembers him from October 3 to January 30. Then the cotton hanks come out to decorate his memorials. And then quiet again till October 2.
During these two days, everyone, in the name of homage to the Father of the Nation, collects ‘likes’ to their posts on social media. If we were to take a test on who among them has understood Gandhi and to what extent, then probably all of them would fail.
Who was this man who continues to be discussed even 150 years after his birth? What was so special about him that a word on him would provoke an entire country, and another would turn them peaceful?
It is surprising that today ‘Gandhi’ is not an individual, but one of the biggest marketing strategies. One can sell anything in the name of Gandhi — both good and bad.
Gandhi is blamed for preventing Sardar Patel from becoming India’s first prime minister as also for the Partition. In the same breath his is the name to market Swachhata (cleanliness) and Swadeshi (of the country).
Mohandas Gandhi was not merely a man born in 1869 and shot in 1948. He was a phenomenon that lived and moved amongst us. Just like in the film Rashomon, everyone has a different version of him.
Many people who know nothing of Gandhi hold the rights to opine on him. Gandhi has become such a public property only because everyone thinks of him as their own.
The sad part is that we are not as sensitive about Gandhi as we are about movies like Jodha Akbar or Padmaavat. Be it films, plays, or books, people take liberty to portray him as they think right. Nobody — writer, reader or audience — is interested in verifying facts about the portrayals.
The generation that knew something about him and believed in him is gone. Those around are more interested in distorting the stories and thinking of Gandhi to suit their ends. These suave and fussy Gandhians who wear khadi, with their glasses perched on their noses, have been busy pointing out flaws in the newer generation. Little do they know that no leader ever had such a following among youth. The reason is that Gandhi never opposed new thoughts. And so, his newspaper was called Young India and not Old and Rigid India.
When the Congress met in Haripura, Gandhiji proposed the name of Subhas Chandra Bose to preside over the party. He was warned, “But he is against you….” Bapu said, “All the more reason! There should be someone who dares to speak the truth!”
Today, most of what is being peddled, sold or read in the name of Gandhi is largely fictitious and a lie. If Gandhi was what he is being blamed for, then why is it that the whole world is honouring him? Historians are yet to take note of a person who continues to have such an imprint on the world.
If we are to call ourselves Indians, then for the sake of understanding our own identity, it is essential to understand Gandhi, the person, his thoughts and his ideology.
The new generation will have to think of a new way to understand Gandhi. It may not understand the concept of Gram Swaraj but certainly it can understand cleanliness and self-help. What he said a century ago is relevant even today. That itself proves that Gandhi was ahead of his time. Satyagraha means the persistence of truth and integrity, the path to which cannot be of violence. However, if a law or the government seems wrong, it is okay to protest, but with humility. If today’s youth understands this, many lives would chart the right course.
Gandhi also believed in the virtue of non-possessiveness (aparigraha), and fearlessness. Minimalism in possessions, giving them to the needy, recycling them — these are very much his ways. Only the fearless can speak the truth.
If the new generation understands Gandhi in the true sense, then his dream of sarvodaya (upliftment for all) and antyodaya (upliftment of the last human) can be realised soon.
Kaajal Oza-Vaidya is a Gujarati author
Translated from Gujarati by Leena Misra