An Anachronism?

on Sunday, January 30, 2011

"A gun is a reasonably good way of settling an argument but, unfortunately for his assassins, the posthumous Gandhi turned out to be as dangerous as the living one." -Ashish Nandy

I have never been an admirer of the much hailed Father of Our Nation, Mahatma Gandhi. It was my ignorance. I have always been more in touch with people who seek pleasure in denouncing the personality that Gandhi was, and who glorify his misgivings much above his contribution towards making India which we are proud of today. Of the many good things I derive out of my recently acquired habit of reading newspapers with a pious, unwavering dedication is feeding on knowledge which is dynamic in essence. I always knew that the Martyrs Day was celebrated on 30th of January, the day when the hand of the Mahatma which blessed our land with a sort of filial love was robbed of us, forever. However, it never happened that I understood the importance of this day. For that matter, many a 30th Januaries came and went- little did I even realize them passing by. Not for once did I stop to pay a brief homage to the soul of this great benefactor of India, whose ideals, though largely an anachronism for many around me, still haunt that part of my mind which is blindly patriotic- and proudly so.

I regret it. I regret never having understood Gandhi. Never having devoted time to it. It is quite riveting to read the venerable journalist, Karan Thapar insinuate towards the not so admirable facets of Gandhi's idealism through his column in one of India's leading daily. It is equally riveting to read a reply to Mr. Thapar's article in the same newspaper by Gandhi's grandson- Rajmohan Gandhi- a prolific scholar, a human rights activist, noted political figure, and the winner of the prestigious Biennial Award from the Indian History Congress in 2007 for his book A True Story of A Man, His People and An Empire, Gandhi's biography. And what was most fantastic while reading the two articles was a conspicuous realization of the fact that there was so much of history of my own land which I failed to connect to, despite having harbored loud ambitions of one day serving the country to the best of my capacities. Knowledge in this context is certainly not irrelevant, in fact, it is most imperative. The present system of education (encompassing the preparations for most governance related competitive examinations) invariably makes us a slave to facts; not for once endeavoring to give us enough time and space for understanding and developing ideologies and principles which we may regard as our own, and which remain a part of our system through every stage of life. A cornucopia of facts can only baffle us, while a cognizance and identification of the ideological path which we seek to tread on can certainly elevate us above our puerile self; aiding in the process of decision making and lending us that coveted mental clarity, without which, any discernment is hollow.

It was in an article in one of the many newspapers I follow that I came across information pertaining to a Fast Unto Death being organized at Jantar Mantar to register loud, but non violent protests against the high degree of corruption pervading our country, by the veterans of an organization called the Gandhian Satyagraha Brigade. This news piece stirred a now dormant part of my memory. A little more than a month ago, I had had the good fortune of meeting up with the vanguard of this long enduring movement against corruption and the honorary General Secretary of the GSB. It was a tryst by chance- but one, that continued to haunt me for long. And I promised myself that I would write about it, a promise that was submerged under a deluge of assignments, examinations and then placement stresses. So 'today' I feel is the perfect day for me race back to that day, and recapitulate, and record in words everything that is worth remembering from then.

Mr. Shambhu Dutt. A nonagenarian. A freedom fighter. A really young and energetic old man. An invitation to meet him came my way through Colonel Dharmadhikary, who works for Transparency International, the very same organization which has ranked India 87 on an index of corruption, in the derisive company of states like Iran. Colonel was a dapper old man, who made me want to listen to him once he started speaking. He requested me to take out time and visit the office of GSB, to meet a 95 year old young man, fighting against the most ugly form of contemporary social evils- Corruption- much in the Gandhian spirit. Colonel said that a dialogue with the young, concerned blood of the nation will infuse a lot of courage and enthusiasm in the heart of this freedom fighter. It was not an invitation I could deny. And so, on a cold winter morning, I set out with my friend Namit, to honor my commitment of meeting Mr. Shambhu Dutt, not knowing what to expect, and pondering even if it was worth undertaking the effort.

It was not a meeting. It was an experience. This I realized the moment I sat down across the table from this affable person in his late nineties, who gave me a very comprehensive peek into the post independence history of corruption in our nation. The medium of our conversation was the Colonial language- English- and the way he spoke his long monologues, I could only feel like a buffoon for sitting there, taking down notes under the table on his linguistics, rather than the content of his speech. He was an austere man, firmly dedicated to the vision of one day living in an India totally free of the hydra headed monster of corruption. Besides explaining to me their three demands from the government, viz., appointment of an effective Lokpal, confiscation of illegally acquired property and disqualification of candidates seeking to contest election who have a pending criminal case against them, he laced his talks with a lot of inspiring opinions and interesting anecdotes. He expressed his angst on the way the common man today has accepted corruption as way of life, and explained to me and Namit the top-down approach at combating corruption which their organization endorses. He stressed the need for the higher echelons of governance to be transparent, because corruption breeds from higher to lower levels. He gave us a lecture on the recalcitrant attitude of the government to go ahead with any concrete step that would help retard the monster of corruption which has already devoured much of the resources of our economy. He told us several other things which have, unfortunately slipped off my mind.

A lot of times while he was speaking, I could feel several miniscule tremors at various parts on my body, which, I later realized were very visible goosebumps. At other times while he spoke, I felt acute derision for myself when I contrasted my often bleak visions of my own future with this nonagenarian's bright, zealous and enthusiastic hopes from tomorrow. A flippant remark on the impossibility of him being able to celebrate his next birthday made my heart sink a little, but my heart sank a lot more when I could witness in documents the callousness of the Indian administration at administering its own subjects. 

Mr. Shambhu Dutt was a true Gandhian who went on reiterating that it was not possible to ever be a true Gandhian. His earlier name was Shambhu Dutt Sharma, but he renounced his surname in opposition to the caste based atrocities which are rampant in our country. I had never in my dreams imagined that I would ever hear from a freedom fighter himself what having fought in the famous Quit India Movement would have been like. He resigned from administrative services under the British Raj a day after Gandhiji was jailed in QIM. Quite promptly, he too was imprisoned. "Now when I reflect back on it Colonel, I feel it was a very wise thing to do. I would never have been entitled to my freedom fighter's pension had I not gone to jail- the only thing I ever did and was tagged a freedom fighter!"- he gently jests while looking at Colonel who was still accompanying us, in the concluding moments of our rendezvous. 

I smiled at myself, finished my tea, collected a daintily prepared envelope which was given to me as a souvenir from this meeting. While Namit gathered most of the attention because of his composed outlook when the monologues were still going on, I was happy I could make a lot of notes which surely added a great deal to the pool of knowledge I was desiring to create for myself. Colonel thanked us for taking out time and keeping our word. We thanked him back for giving us this experience. It was nothing formal- we both meant every word of gratitude we expressed. 

Upon returning, I sank back in my bed, and started rummaging through the contents of the envelop given to me. It had a lot of documents- letters, publications etc. At the beginning of one of the articles were mentioned the three basics which the Satyagrahis of the GSB swore by-
  1. There is no room for untruth or violence in a Satyagraha.
  2. In Satyagraha there is no enemy.
  3. A Satyagrahi knows no defeat.
The last one sounded like a cool thing to inculcate in myself. So did the second, and may be the first too. 

Suddenly, Gandhi no longer seemed distant, or anachronistic. That night, upon reflecting, I could become a little more perceptive of his influence on the modern polity. The Gandhigiri propounded by Raj Kumar Hirani, no longer seemed only a cinematic concept, or at best, a gimmick. I am still to understand Gandhi, but so far, what I have heard of him sounds good. It sounds good enough to intrigue me into reading a lot more about him. For today, I tried reading about the Gandhian Satyagrahi Brigade on their official website. Along with the above mentioned three basics of a Satyagrahi, a quote by Gandhi adorned the first page of the website. I find it worth sharing.
Corruption will be out one day, however much one may try to conceal it, and the public can, as its right and duty, in every case of justifiable suspicion, call its servants to strict account, dismiss them, sue them in a law court or appoint an arbitrator or inspector to scrutinize their conduct, as it likes.
- Mahatma Gandhi

 (If you feel like, you can read more about this organization run by some really dynamic and young-at-heart concerned citizens of our society-