Von der indischen Autorin Anvaya Sardesai wollten wir wissen, ob von Gandhi mehr bleiben wird, als eine Apple-Anzeige unter dem Slogan „Think different“.
My first encounter with Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi or Gandhiji as he was respectfully referred to then by most Indians, was as a child. Even before I met him in my school history textbook in 7th grade titled “India and the Freedom struggle” as “Bapu”, meaning “Father of the Nation”, I had met him through my grandfather who had a sonorously sweet voice and had sung for Gandhi at an Indian National Congress rally held at the Girgaum Chowpatty beach in Mumbai, his most favourite Gujarati devotional song.
My Grandpa in his youth had actively answered Gandhi’s call for non-cooperation with the British. He had set afire imported goods in small bonfires, spun a bit of yarn on the spinning wheel as Gandhi’s symbolic call for a quiet resistance to unjust practices on the part of the British. He had been part of the early morning processions on foot singing patriotic songs like most of his contemporaries. I remember his account of the atmosphere in those days: The air in Mumbai had been laden with patriotism and nationalist zeal, with the faith that freedom from the foreign yoke would open up new and welcome horizons.
Every evening at seven thirty all of us in the family assembled in his room to pray and recite with him from Gandhi’s favourite prayers and devotional songs, in several regional Indian languages, sung at his Sabarmati Ashram. The little prayer book, in which these were compiled, was called the Ashrambhajanavali. I was fascinated by the unassuming bespectacled bald old man sitting upright covered with a shawl, whom I saw on the book cover. I tried to fathom his thought processes and principles. Especially the small spinning wheel in my grandfather’s bedroom was an object that caught my eye, and I learnt later that Gandhi, who spun yarn on his own spinning wheel an hour daily, was identified by it. He always wanted to make India self-sufficient by imparting primary education through village handicrafts - like spinning and carving. By doing this, he had hoped to reduce dependence on imported foreign machinery and technology.
Gandhi’s concept of non-violence, truth and self-restraint derives from the Hindu holy book Bhagavad-Gita, where the virtues of mind-control have been elucidated. The mind must be kept cheerful, the intellect alert. To do that one must not succumb to anger, fear or sensual pleasure, not be vain or desirous. Mind control enhances concentration and brings peace.
If only Indians would not have glorified Gandhi to a mere pop icon of peace! Because Gandhi always practiced what he preached. He did not shirk from consequences even if his life was at stake. He fought tooth and nail against injustice and for human dignity by means of the unique weapons of peaceful resistance.
Today in a world of constant bickering and greed, Gandhi is considered haloed and irrelevant. His status of Father of the Nation is questioned. His picture hangs on walls of government offices and city civil courts, but under his nose corrupt practices unabashedly carry on. Today’s Indian youth sees Gandhi in ignorance as a historical myth. Using Gandhi as an Apple advertisement in the late nineties under the slogan “Think different” does not ruffle feathers.
Gandhi propagated meditation and prayer for purifying and controlling the mind, thereby making the mind cheerful. It had a sanctity. Today the very same prayer is used disfigured in a Bollywood movie and the film Gandhi causes temporary euphoria, but no lasting effect among youth.
His philosophy of truth and non-violence is either ridiculed or brushed off by many. Why should he take the cake when there were other freedom fighters as well? He is often blamed for India’s partition. For many of today’s Indians he has obscured into oblivion.
But can the success of his philosophy be attributed to the momentous social and cultural changes in India at that time alone? A century fraught with discontent, colonialism, imperialism, bloodshed – a world thirsty for virtues?
To my mind, even the British as the colonial rulers had a liberal bent of mind towards educated Indians. The world was thirsting for non-violence and peaceful co-existence. Humanity had suffered beyond repair in the quest for colonies, through the dictatorships and then the World Wars. Principles, faith, goodness had turned to empty words. And there came Gandhi with a new meaning to human life. He practiced and preached what was needed most. His quest for truth was for moral good of all and culminated in the Almighty.
His moment of death was one, where at the onset of daily morning prayers at the Ashram, three gunshots were fired at him at close range by a radical Hindu nationalist, Nathuram Godse by name. The man first touched his feet as an Indian mark of gratitude for a person, a split second before he fired those shots. Gandhi only uttered: ‘He Ram!’, ‘Oh God!’ and breathed his last. This signifies his devotion in the ultimate truth called God and his conviction that truth means human pursuit of moral good. He saw non-violence as the doctrine of peaceful coexistence. He consciously forgave his assassin. From him we can learn today the rewards of self-discipline, self-surrender, forthrightness, self-dependence, dignity of labor and dogged pursuit of conviction through self-restraint. Freedom from dogma and open mindedness without succumbing to greed and lust. Justice in the face of injustice. He gave us the essentials of real education: a child should learn that hate can be easily conquered by love, untruth by truth and violence by self-surrender. Education should appear like play. And human dignity is not to be compromised.
Gandhi is a distant lost past when he should be a living throbbing present in today’s context of innumerable scams, rape, violence, terrorism, indignity towards women, and the tearing apart of human dignity once again. Perhaps this article may trigger renewed thoughts regarding his contribution in giving us freedom as a formula against racial and social discrimination and reestablishing the dignity of humanity.
___Anvaya Sardesai promoviert über deutsche Kurzgeschichten an der Universität Mumbai. Dort hat sie in den achtziger Jahren auch ihren Master in Germanistik gemacht und ist seit 2009 selbst Dozentin an diesem Department.