Monday, July 28, 2008

Gandhi and after...

"He was full of pieces he had picked up here and there: his mother’s love of fasting and austerities, the English common law, Ruskin’s idea of labour, Tolstoy’s Russian religious dream, the South African jail code, the Manchester No breakfast Association. His strong political cause- in South Africa and India- gave an apparent unity to all these impulses, but there was no real unity; the pieces did not fit together; no piece was indispensable….

…And when forty years or so later, the main cause had been won, and India became independent, it was those “outside” causes that made it hard for people to know what Gandhianism was. Was it the dhoti, the spinning wheel, the homespun, the Thoreau, the Ruskin, the sexual abstinence, the vegetarianism, the Christian hymns, the refusal to drink cow’s milk, the latrine-cleaning? It was impossible for anyone to be a complete Gandhian; no one could make that pioneer journey again; people had to take the one or two things they liked from the menu. In the main they took the homespun; that was the easiest and most stylish item. ….

,,, And still from time to time in the Indian press there is a cry for the Gandhians of today, and the regret that what had been the ‘greatest mass movement in history’ should have vanished so completely. The unspoken feeling is that Gandhi grew out of the Indian soil and the people who came after have turned away from wisdom that was open to them. There is little understanding that Gandhi had been created by the cultural incompetence of his three years in London, and then by his embattled twenty years in South Africa; those extraordinary conditions cannot be repeated, Indians hardly know about the long South African years and are unwilling to read about them, They feel that, being Indians, they possess Gandhi. They don’t have to study him; he is inside them and then can find in him what they wish."

Extracted from “ A writer’s people: ways of looking and feeling” by V.S.Naipaul

Update 30-07-08 : After posting this extract, I reflected on why I found it interesting, in the first place. After all, Gandhi is a subject that, over the last so many decades, has been dissected and analysed threadbare, as to become quite boring

Descriptions of Gandhi have been either too laudatory (as in hero-worship) or, in some cases, too critical. Whereas Naipaul, in this article (from where I extracted a few paragraphs) has viewed this subject dispassionately. Gandhi, he says, was made up of several parts that made a significant whole. Each part, by itself, was not indispensable. Conversely, hanging on to one part and believing that to be the whole Gandhi, like the blind men of Hindoostan, is also foolish. And, not all the parts would appeal to everybody. Like in a buffet meal, we are free to choose the elements we want to.

And, Gandhi was not a one-trick pony. He had several weapons in his armoury. Copying one or two out of his bag of tricks will not make one a Gandhian, just as sporting a beard cannot make one Tagore. Because Gandhi’s bag of tricks evolved through a unique combination of experiences and circumstances ( England, South Africa, etc) , that cannot be replicated. He was a product that materialised at the appropriate time.


Dilip Muralidaran said...

"sexual abstinence" is a crock. Any grandpa types dude in india would tell you gandhi slept naked with two other naked 16 year olds, specifically. This was to test his chastity and conquer his sexual urges so that he can win his political struggle with Jinnah. This of course was as per the hindu dharma and all was fair in the name of religion.

Of course who can forget the enema that gandhi personally gave everyone in his ashram almost every morning, which includes specifically women and children.

Of course, even though he was a racist and called native south africans as "Khaffirs" and did not to do anything with them and addressed them derogatorily in his news paper as cow grazing, sleeping with their sisters kind, even though these facts were well documented and even attested by Gandhi's grandson.. winners always write the history books and no one will teach the real gandhi with his mistakes and shortcomings included.

Anonymous said...

"It is fashionable at this fin de siecle to use the man to tear down the hero, to expose the human pathologies at the expense of larger-than-life achievements."

- Johanna McGeary, Time, January 3, 2000.

Anonymous said...

This post amuses me no end. The delectable irony of a commentator that identifies himself as a senior technology instructor (aka cyber coolie) dissing the humble coolie barrister that had hoped for a different India using (and badly misunderstanding) the writings of the original coolie writer on a self-professed cyber coolie blog. As for the rest of us, guess we are too coolie for schoolie

Dilip Muralidaran said...

@manasi: i'm not here to declare myself as a cool types of anything. if you have evidence to refute my claims please do so, otherwise you should refrain from speaking out, especially making personal descriptions of whom im am and what i claim to be. Sr. tech instructor is my job profile and has nothing to do with my opinions/views and information i have at hand on anything. Have you ever watched penn and tellers gandhi/teresa bullshit video? i never said gandhi was not a hero. All im saying is gandhi is NOT perfect and is not all right as everyone is claiming to be. Definitely not a mahatma for sure.

Anonymous said...

Gandhi himself would refuse that he is a Mahatma and He would gladly agree that he is not perfect. I think in my opinion no one is perfect, we have good and bad in ourselves. As for Gandhi, we just need to pick his qualities that had profound impact on the nation. We neither have to fanatically follow him nor have to criticize his other characteristics.

Raj said...

As I mentioned in the update, reams of material exist on Gandhi and he has been analysed threadbare. No sense in debating the same issue. So, hold fire, those for or against Gandhi.

I liked Naipaul's narrative style and that's what I wanted to share.