Categories
Editorial

The Heart of Non-violence

“God is Truth”

That is what Gandhi believed and this month, we celebrate this soul who would have loved a world without borders but was forced to be part of drawing boundaries that still lead to violent dissensions and bloodshed. Gandhi himself dissented but with non-violence.

This I understood well when I completed reading My Experiments with Truth from cover to cover. In the process, I uncovered a man who despite his idiosyncrasies had a lot to offer the world — his outlook and his persistence, his organisational skills, his ability to analyse a solution, his ability to forgive, his presence of mind.

I wonder how many of us understand his ultimate weapons Satyagraha, action based on truth, and ahimsa or non-violence. Is that why often our protests are ineffective as opposed to his protests, only some of his worked in his estimation, like the ones in South Africa? Because people listened and learnt his system. But what happened in India? Bapu’s autobiography cleared up much for me, though only a small portion of the book is devoted to his life in India. He was in South Africa for twenty-one years. I, perhaps, have understood a bit on what he said about protest, about a practitioner of Satyagraha, a Satyagrahi:

“A Satyagrahi obeys the laws of society intelligently and off his own free will, because he considers it to be his sacred duty to do so. It is only when a person has thus obeyed the laws of society scrupulously that he is in a position to judge as to which particular rules are good and just which are unjust and iniquitous. Only then does the right accrue to him to the civil disobedience of certain laws in well-defined circumstances. My error lay in my failure to observe this necessary limitation. I had called on the people to launch upon civil disobedience before they had does qualified themselves for it, and this mistake seem to me of Himalayan magnitude.”

(An Autobiography or My Experiments with Truth, Penguin, Pg423)

Gandhi realised his error and withdrew civil disobedience. But I wonder if every protester across the world understands this definition or accrues more to Malcolm X’s school of getting one’s way by “any means necessary”, a reflection that I borrow from the interview of the writer who wrote Gandhi’s life in ballad form, Santosh Bakaya. The other interview we are carrying is of a journalist who upholds the truth — perhaps someone who Gandhi might have admired, like he did Mrs Besant or Gangaben Majumdar (the woman who helped him realise his dream of Khadi) — Teresa Rehman. An award-winning media person, she has spoken of her journey as a “reporter” or a “chronicler” of people’s lives.

This month we had given a call for writings on Gandhi and humour. Some of the responses were a pleasantly surprised. It was amazing to have a surprise essay from New Zealand by Keith Lyons. I only understood what an impact Bapu has had all over the world after reading Lyons’s essay. This time our essay section is filled with writing on Gandhi — Rakhi Dalal’s essay on the relevance of Gandhian values in the present context and Dustin Pickering’s essay, again on My Experiments with Truth, Gandhi’s autobiography. He has even managed to apply some of Gandhi’s outlook to American politics.

Pickering has also given us a spoof on Trump in the future, which brings a smile to your lips as does Bakaya’s spoof on Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr in Heaven. We have lot of stories this time, flash fiction and otherwise, few exhibiting Gandhian values. Our fiction columnist, Sunil Sharma has given us a story that revolves around finding the creator of Alice. Also centring around the theme of Alice’s Wonderland is a review we carry on a translation by Arunava Sinha of Sukumar Ray’s Haw Jaw Bo Ro Lo ( Habber Jabber’s Law in English) by an academic who has worked on Bengali Children’s literature, Nivedita Sen.

The other reviews are that of Bhaskar Parichha — essays brought out on Gandhi as part of his sesquicentennial celebrations last year — and Moiank Dutta, who has given a glowing review of Bakaya’s the Ballad of Bapu. Debraj Mookerjee has reviewed a book called India Dissents and has identified Gandhi as the giant of all dissenters. Here is what he says, and I do not think I could have said it better: “He (Gandhi) was a devout Hindu who was secular to a fault, and against the evils inherent in Hindu society. It is precisely because of this that Gandhi was so successful in mobilising India both politically and socially.”

Varied thoughts on a man who is a major contributor to world change, thought and philosophy with his simplicity and stubbornness have been captured in Borderless this month.

We have a couple of musings on Bapu too, including one which attempts to bridge gaps between the different ‘castes’ in New Delhi.

Our columnist, Devraj Singh Kalsi, has given us his trademark poignant cum humorous non-fiction down the memory lane. Veering more towards humour is our book excerpt of Rhys Hughes new book, Corybantic Fulgours. Do pause by to see what this humorist has to say on evolving a new form of artistic expression, that started out with a doodle any one of us could attempt but leads up to an impossibly named book! More humour in verse has been provided by Mauritian poet, Vatsala Radhakeesoon. We are absolutely delighted that she and Hughes have agreed to contribute humour to Borderless on a monthly basis.

Poetry has an interesting collection this time with three Korean poets, mouthing values that sound like those of Tagore and Gandhi! We also have poetry on and around Gandhi. A poem in which the very well-known Nabina Das reflects on the universality of Shaheen Bagh in being a meeting ground for all believers in democracy would have almost been Gandhian in intent but is it? I leave you to decide for yourself.

Sara’s Selections for young people has a range from butterflies to Gandhi, thanks to Nidhi Mishra and Archana Mohan of Bookosmia. They gave a call for young people to write on Gandhian values too and some of the pieces have been amazing.

Our translations this month have housed a pièce de résistance — Saratchandra’s short story, ‘Abhagi’s Heaven’, translated by no less than Akademi Award winner, Aruna Chakravarti. And we have Fazal Baloch with a translated story from Balochistan. The interesting feature we have had in translations is that two poets from Nepal and Kashmir have translated their own poetry in their respective languages to English! 

I leave you all now to discover for yourselves the rest of the magic provided by writers and I thank you all contributors and readers for making Borderless a part of your lives and thoughts!

Wish you happiness and sunshine always!

Mitali Chakravarty

Borderless Journal

Categories
Essay

‘If humanity is to progress, Gandhi is inescapable’

By Rakhi Dalal

Vaishnav jan to tene kahiye je 
Peed paraayi jaane re 
Par-dukhkhe upkaar kare toye 
Man abhimaan na aane re (Vaishnava)

One who is a Vaishnav (Devotee of Vishnu)
Knows the pain of others
Does good to others
without letting pride enter his mind.

Vaishnava-janatho-(With-English-Translation)

It is a 600 years old devotional poem by Gujrati poet-saint Narsinh Mehta and we know it probably because it is known to be Mahatma Gandhi’s favourite bhajan or devotional song. He loved it because it speaks about humanity, truth and empathy among humans; traits which he thought were indispensable for harmonious living and which could create a world living in tranquility and peace. His convictions in these humanist traits make his stance on non-violence more comprehensible and relevant to us today. Especially today, when all across the world we witness the grisly play of vicious might bent on establishing hegemony by creating animosity among people, unleashing violence not only in action but also in thought.

The 2010s saw a rise in fascism across the globe. Characterised by ultra-nationalism, unquestioning adherence to a single party/leader, hostility towards minorities, suppression of dissenting voices and people’s civil liberties, this decade’s worse fears have been made worst by the exploitation of social media to spread fascist propaganda. Over the years, most of the platforms have indulged in giving a free pass to hateful messages simply for the sake of maximum engagement and shareholder return or for the sake of not losing business in respective countries where they operate. Even the mainstream media, including news-channels and newspapers, have resolutely carried out the objectives of such propaganda thereby aiding the spread of hatred in society.

In a recent documentary called The Social Dilemma on Netflix — many individuals, who once worked with big giants like Google, Facebook and Twitter, come forth to talk about the threats that our societies now face in the wake of frightening explosion that media has wilfully abetted. Besides addiction to social media, rise in anxiety and depression among people, what these individuals are really troubled about is the onslaught of fake propaganda on social media, which they worry, could lead to civil wars.

According to The Social Dilemma, fake news or propaganda gets viral six times faster than genuine news. This has given a way to effortless creation of polarised factions of people in the virtual world. As a result, sometimes a carefully engineered hatred, which if escalated, can be easily employed to provoke the factions into indulging in actual violence. It does really make for a very powerful tool in the hands of fascist regimes, which is exactly what we are witnessing around us. Social media has helped escalate it. The othering of people on the basis of caste, religion, class and communities has always existed in societies, even in democracies. Now this list also includes people having different opinions than a majority. It seems we have reached a point of no return. We have lost the sight of what social media had initially really intended to do – to bring people closer and connect them.

We have forgotten that violence only begets more violence.

But perhaps, collectively, mankind was never a kind species. Did we ever believe in vasudhaiva kutumbakam, the world is one family? A look back at history is sufficient to prove that, as a species, we have never lived congenially with each other. Neither World Wars nor the consequences of environmental destruction have been enough to make us realise the value of living in accord with each other or with nature. Perhaps that is why saints like Gautama Buddha, Guru Nanak Dev or Kabir searched for a spiritual path, one that could steer more people towards love   and compassion. That is why Mahatma Gandhi realised that violence could never be an answer to anything, not even to the fight for independence. BR Nanda, a scholar on Gandhi, has confirmed in an essay on ‘Gandhi and Non-violence‘:

“He (Gandhi) objected to violence not only because an unarmed people had little chance of success in an armed rebellion, but because he considered violence a clumsy weapon which created more problems than it solved, and left a trail of hatred and bitterness in which genuine reconciliation was almost impossible.”

And don’t we all know it first-hand? Recall any of your fights with your friends, even as a child, which turned physical. Can you remember what you felt after the fight was over? After one of you lay down on ground, wounded and defeated. And whether you were able to easily reconcile with that friend afterwards, without a feeling of bitterness inside your heart? We know better, don’t we? We do realise that violence is seated in something much more innate. Engaging in violence is always an easier option because it comes from a place of feeling superior, and not equal, with respect to other. Violent action is usually preceded by violent thoughts. And such thoughts never leave a person at peace. Neither the aftermath of a violent scuffle ever leaves us calm.

Jiddu Krishnamurti says: “It is violence when we use a sharp word, when we make a gesture to brush away a person. So violence isn’t merely organized butchery in the name of God, in the name of society or country. Violence is much more subtle, much deeper.”

On the other hand, choosing non-violence requires courage; it requires a sense of equanimity, kindness, empathy and the necessity to stand true to a notion of higher purpose, which we humans believe is our goal in this world. Gandhiji placed satyagraha and ahimsa at the centre of force of life which can sustain humankind and present an approach to curb the world of brute force of violence. These ideas are eternal because they are inevitable in coming to terms with human condition.

Gandhiji did not only postulate the idea of non-violence, including non-cooperation and civil disobedience, as a form of resistance against colonial occupation, but also against long held prejudices in the social system. He understood it too well that it wasn’t only against colonisers that India was fighting. He conceived violence in its elemental form as anything which is inflicted to hurt, whether physically or mentally. Therefore, he emphasised upon ahimsa as a way of life, upon harmony between people of different religions and upon being kind-hearted. He changed his stance on the practice of caste system in Hindu religion, which he once believed in, later in life.

According to Gandhi, non-violence is the greatest and most active force in the world,” writes Subrata Sharma, a scholar. He quotes Gandhi while defining non-violence and explains the perspective of this great leader:”‘Avoiding injury to any creature in thought, word and deed’. It is a positive force, when positively put it means love in the largest sense that means love for all without discrimination of good doers and evil doers. Non-violence does not mean meek submission to the will of the doer. Rather, it inspires man to stand against the will of the tyrant. It not only enables us to conquer the opponent but also unites with all our fellow men.”

In the chaotic times that we find ourselves in at present, Gandhiji’s ideas assume greater importance because we have already suffered the consequences of indulging in violence, even on social media. We are forced towards fascism, towards submitting to brute force of authoritarianism, resisting which, in the most assertive and non-violent way has become an absolute necessity. We stand at the junction where we may either decide to put at stake the future of our coming generations, this country and the world at large by giving in to the violent forces of fascism and enmity or we may decide to follow Gandhian principles of non-violence, truth and humanity. 

“If humanity is to progress, Gandhi is inescapable. He lived, thought and acted, inspired by the vision of humanity evolving towards a world of peace and harmony. We may ignore him at our own risk.”Martin Luther King Jr.

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Rakhi Dalal is an educator by profession. When not working, she can usually be found reading books or writing about reading them. She writes at https://rakhidalal.blogspot.com/ . She lives with her husband and a teenage son, who being sports lovers themselves are yet, after all these years, left surprised each time a book finds its way to their home.

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PLEASE NOTE: ARTICLES CAN ONLY BE REPRODUCED IN OTHER SITES WITH DUE ACKNOWLEDGEMENT TO BORDERLESS JOURNAL.

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 Disclaimer: The opinions expressed are solely that of the author.

Categories
Review

Gandhi & Aesthetics

A review by Bhaskar Parichha

As India celebrated the sesquicentennial of MK Gandhi last year, Marg had come out with a special issue on the lesser-known aspects of Gandhi’s engagement with aesthetics.

Gandhiji’s aesthetics was two-fold: one, it was a quest for exquisiteness and two; it was a set of principles fundamental to the personal practice. Edited by Tridip Suhrud, the nine essays are a fitting tribute to the inventive beauty of Gandhiji and its wide-ranging applicability in present-day society.

In an art project organised by Sahmat in 1994–95 as a continuation of a program called Artists Against Communalism that emerged in response to the Babri Masjid demolition in Ayodhya and as a part of a year-long series of events, artists — from KG Subramanyan to Atul Dodiya, from NS Harsha to Nilima Sheikh, A Ramachandran to Vivan Sundaram, Nalini Malani, PT Reddy, Nand Katyal, Shamshad Hussain, Orijit Sen, Parthiv Shah — were invited to create postcards that could later be displayed as artworks in galleries and also be circulated among the general public as boxed sets. Ram Rahman’s essay   ‘Thematic Ad-Portfolio: Postcards for Gandhi’ deals with these postcards.

In the editorial note, associate editor, Latika Gupta, gives an overview of the underlying themes of this volume and how they explore Gandhi’s conceptual understanding of art which combined the ideas of truth, beauty, and utility. The Mahatma is also placed in the context of the current times when his legacy is being put to different political uses.

It is a widely held belief that the Mahatma had no place for art, music, and literature in his ascetic life and ideas about national regeneration. In the introductory essay ‘Art as Namasmaran: The Aesthetics of Gandhi’, Tridip Suhrud unravels the various human and natural artistic elements that moved and influenced Gandhi, the concepts and patterns that guided and came to be reflected in his choice of attire, living spaces, and discipline.

‘In the Footsteps of Spectres: The Aesthetics of Gandhi’s Walks’ by Harmony Siganporia, we get to see how walking was an integral part of Gandhi’s private and public engagements with politics and truth. Gandhi embarked on several important walks throughout his life. They served as forms of pilgrimage, mass agitation, and individual protest. This essay explores various aspects of Gandhi’s walks by revisiting his writings and the photographs of these historic events.

Sudhir Chandra in his article ‘Gandhi’s Hindi and His Aesthetics of Poverty’ dissects Gandhi’s appreciation of minimalism and purity, which is evident not just in his sartorial style but also in his use of language. Convinced that Hindi alone could be India’s national language, Gandhi attempted to transform it into a more inclusive language, incorporating certain words from regional languages and others of Urdu-Persian origins.

‘Music for the Congregation: Assembling an Aesthetic for Prayer’ by Lakshmi Subramanian explores Gandhi’s adoption of musical prayer as an important tool for shaping ashram life and community at Sabarmati. For Gandhi, music was a useful prop to make prayer a joyful experience and prayer was crucial for character-building among satyagrahis. His taste for music was shaped by his exposure to the church choirs of England, and the larger repertoire of devotional recitation and music that had been popularized by V.D. Paluskar and the Gita Press. These influences eventually guided his choices as he approached Pandit N.M. Khare to lead the prayer sessions and public meetings at his ashram and created a collection of songs — Ashram Bhajanavali.

In ‘Architecture as Weak Thought: Gandhi Inhabits Nothingness’. Venugopal Maddipati looks at two houses inhabited by Gandhi in Segaon (Sevagram), Wardha —Adi Niwas and Bapu Kuti. While the former is very simple and minimalist, the latter is more elaborate in design with clearly partitioned rooms. Though it would seem that architecture played a secondary role in Gandhi’s life and was relegated to the marginal spaces of domesticity and interiority, Maddipati has an alternative viewpoint.

‘The Long Walk to Freedom’ by Jutta Jain-Neubauer brings into focus a lesser-known aspect of Gandhi’s personality as a designer and maker of chappals. Gandhi saw in handmade sandals an aesthetic route to eradicate the stigma that had been associated with the communities of skinners, tanners and leather workers. Inspired by the Trappist Roman Catholic monastic order who were staunch believers in austerity and manual labor, Gandhi set up a shoemaking unit at the Tolstoy Farm and later replicated the model at Sabarmati Ashram in Ahmedabad. Made from the skin of animals that had died a natural death, this iconic ashram Patti Chappals also came to be known as ahimsa slippers.

‘A Biography in Prints: Gandhi and the Visual Imaginary’ by Vinay Lal studies the evolution of the representations through a range of prints that offer a chronological rendering of his life, charting his transformation from a law student in England to a satyagrahi in South Africa and finally the architect of India’s independence. Lal discusses the subtler meanings and politics conveyed in the compositions.

Throughout his long political and spiritual career, Mahatma Gandhi frequently stated that his life goal was to reduce himself to zero. This was a goal that he variously pursued by shedding worldly attachments, declaring celibacy, adopting abstinence, and periodically undertaking to punish bodily fasts, all for the sake of meeting his ideal of aparigraha or “non-possession”. ‘Reducing Myself to Zero: The Art of Aparigraha’ by Sumathi Ramaswamy reflects on the aesthetic dimension of this key Gandhian aspiration.

‘Ark, Saint, City, Cipher: The Gandhi of Gulam Mohammed Sheikh’ by Ananya Vajpeyi focuses on the Baroda-based artist’s engagement with the Mahatma and his ideals. Looking at a series of paintings made by the artist from 2000 to 2019, the writer analyses how Sheikh draws on references from various older texts and images and places Gandhi as an interlocutor across different periods and philosophies.

A fitting tribute by the Marg foundation to the father of the nation.

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Bhaskar Parichha is a Bhubaneswar-based  journalist and author. He writes on a broad spectrum of  subjects , but more focused on art ,culture and biographies. His recent book ‘No Strings Attached’ has been published by Dhauli Books. 

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PLEASE NOTE: ARTICLES CAN ONLY BE REPRODUCED IN OTHER SITES WITH DUE ACKNOWLEDGEMENT TO BORDERLESS JOURNAL.

Categories
Musings

Travels with Gandhi

Dr. Nishi Pulugurtha meanders through the passages of Aga Khan Palace…

Places have always fascinated me. They say so much, about lived experience, about people and about culture. There is so much of history and life in places, known unknown and little known. Some waiting to be discovered, some familiar. Tucked in the familiar lanes and by lanes of the city I live and places that I have been to are moments of history, of lives, of stories that need to be heard, places and buildings that need to be discovered. Even familiar places throw up new stories and new histories.

Living in times such as these when COVID_19 has kept us locked in, at times I see some picture, a news item, a small story somewhere that takes me back to a place, a memory,  a slice of history and the past. Travel writing has taken up quite a bit of my time in the past few months as I sat editing my manuscript, an edited volume, a collection of travel essays. So, even though I was physically in one place, at home, I was able, at least, for some time to visit and re-visit places as I read the essays that my wonderful contributors had crafted.

 I thought of going back in time too, to speak of a place, a city that I had visited some years ago. Of a monument, a building that stood majestic, of a hot summer day when I decided to put to use a couple of hours that I had at hand before I had to catch my flight and head home. Those were times when travel was not a big issue and we travelled for various reasons. Moreover, we could travel when we felt like it, or wanted to. The pandemic has pulled the plugs on that, life has now become restrictive and as I try to make the most of it,   I decided to scribble some thoughts that came to mind. Especially, as October was knocking around the corner and being imprisoned was something that Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi often experienced. I refer to him as the monument that I speak about has a connection to him and to an important aspect of his life.

On a trip to Pune I encountered a small part of history. This was my first trip to the city and a very short trip at that. I was hoping to make the best of the few hours of leisure I had. A city that had been growing at a fast pace for some years due to the software industry, Pune seemed at first sight very much a modern city that is ever growing and expanding. The older part of the city is crowded with a lot of traffic. The dirty Mutha river, mostly dry, the Shaniwar Wada close by and the very popular Dadushth Ganesh temple are crowded with tourists and locals. I did check them out too. I did write about my visit to Shaniwar Wada some years ago too.  In this essay I will write of my experiences of my visit to the Aga Khan Palace. One of the reasons for my choice of it is its connection with Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi whose birthday falls in this month.

A short auto ride took me to the Aga Khan Palace that is located in Samrat Ashok Road on a scorching day in May.  Built by Sultan Muhammed Shah Aga Khan III, the spiritual leader of the Nizari Ismaili Muslim, this palace was built to help the poor in the region badly affected by famine in 1892. According to popular lore, the Sultan built the palace to provide employment to villagers of the surrounding region. About a thousand people worked on it and it was constructed in five years at a cost of about twelve lakh rupees. For many years the palace housed a school till it was handed over by Prince Karim Aga Khan to the Gandhi Smarak Samiti in 1972 as a mark of respect to the memory of Gandhi.

As one enters the compound one notices a plaque at the entrance that announces that this building is a monument of national importance. It is in this building that Gandhi was imprisoned along with his wife, Kasturba Gandhi, his secretary, Mahadev Desai and political activist and poet, Sarojini Naidu after he began the Quit India Movement, from August 1942 to May 1944. This monument is also important as it is here that both Kasturba Gandhi (February 22, 1944) and Mahadev Desai (August 15, 1942) died. In a corner of the premises of this monument is a Samadhi, a memorial to both of them, marking the place where they were cremated. Two tulsi plants mark the spots. A calmness pervades the whole place. A lone gardener cleans the dry leaves as I stand there for a while transported to another time.

The palace is now a museum with the rooms used by Gandhi, Kasturba and Mahadev open to the public. The rooms are spartan revealing the simple life that its inhabitants lived. A few personal items of Gandhi are on display too – utensils, slippers, clothes and letters. As one enters into the big hall at the entrance there is a large statue of Gandhi. The museum has large paintings which present various aspects of him during the struggle for freedom. There is one that has Gandhi with a begging bowl in front of a big crowd. One image is that of Kasturba lying in Gandhi’s lap, a canvas that presents an intimacy in their relationship. A painting titled “New Hope for Rural India” reveals Gandhi’s engagement with the “Constructive Programme”- a programme that envisaged an agenda for a revolution that would bring about a change in the individual and in society, a programme that Gandhi undertook to prepare the people for a post-independence India. Another painting is titled “A Crusader for Humanity.

The imposing palace has Italian arches and lawns and has five halls. With a magnificent structure, the two storied building has a corridor that encircles the entire building. This building is now the headquarters of the Gandhi National Memorial Society. I recall walking through the building taking in every aspect of it, pausing to observe and note as I move through the rooms and corridor. I remember sitting under one of the large trees and gazing at this building that had been witness to a major part of Indian history. As I revisit the place with words and emotions, in times that are so different, I am reminded of the relevance of Gandhi’s ideals of non-violence in a world that is increasingly becoming violent — in action, in deeds, in words. It is time, to ponder about his ideals that are needed now more than ever.

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Dr. Nishi Pulugurtha is Associate Professor in the department of English, Brahmananda Keshab Chandra College and has taught postgraduate courses at West Bengal State University, Rabindra Bharati University and the University of Calcutta. She is the Secretary of the Intercultural Poetry and Performance Library, Kolkata (IPPL). She writes on travel, film, short stories, poetry and on Alzheimer’s Disease. Her work has been published in The Statesman, Kolkata, in Prosopisia, in the anthology Tranquil Muse and online – Kitaab, Café Dissensus, Coldnoon, Queen Mob’s Tea House, The World Literature Blog and Setu. She guest edited the June 2018 Issue of Café Dissensus on Travel. She has a monograph on Derozio (2010) and a collection of essays on travel, Out in the Open (2019). She is now working on her first volume of poems and is editing a collection of essays on travel.

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PLEASE NOTE: ARTICLES CAN ONLY BE REPRODUCED IN OTHER SITES WITH DUE ACKNOWLEDGEMENT TO BORDERLESS JOURNAL. 

Categories
Poetry

To Thee O Gandhi

By Soumik De

Round glasses and a cane stick

A loin cloth and a pair of clogs

Mark thee O mark thee!

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Truth and triumph

Struggle and stride

Shape thee O shape thee!

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Bold and bald

Bend but strict

From thee O from thee!

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Wheels and whiffs

Text and textiles

Spins thee O spin thee!

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Glamour and Glory

Great yet gentle

Merge into thee O merge into thee!

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Thou art the other name

Of India

Salute thee O salute thee!

Soumik Kumar De, a teacher   by profession and a poet by passion, likes to write both in Bengali and English. His creative compass includes poetry, short-story, flash-fiction etc. Adrika Ke Niye is a collection of Bengali modern creative poems . His poems have recently been published in Aulos: An Anthology of English Poetry and in Caravan. His Bengali poems has also been included in the anthology Sangshaptak . Besides he has to his credit several other academic writings. The areas of his interest include cultural studies, diaspora writings, Dalit studies etc. He also passes his leisure by playing guitar occasionally.   

 

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PLEASE NOTE: ARTICLES CAN ONLY BE REPRODUCED IN OTHER SITES WITH DUE ACKNOWLEDGEMENT TO BORDERLESS JOURNAL. 

 

Categories
Stories

When Bapu met MLK Jr…


By Santosh Bakaya

A skeletal man, almost half-naked, was sitting under a tree next to a charkha* reciting something from a piece of paper while tiny birds hopped around, at their twittering best.

Stand ye calm and resolute,
like a forest close and mute
with folded arms and looks which are
 Weapons in unvanquished war 

And if then the tyrants dare
Let them ride among you there,
Slash and stab and maim and hew
What they like, that let them do …….

Then they will return with shame
the place from which they came
And the blood thus shed will speak
in hot blushes on their cheek. 

One audacious one perched on his shoulder, looked around and whispered something into his ears, the other birds chirped themselves hoarse.

“Bapu, Bapu, look someone is coming to meet you, chirp – chirp – chirp.” The birds were in a frenzy of excitement.

The skeletal man, contemptuously called the half- naked fakir on Earth, who, was indeed Mahatma Gandhi; stopped spinning and sprung up, nudging away a candy floss cloud which was very keen to tickle him. Then, arms outstretched and wearing a toothless smile which brightened the surroundings, he headed towards the dapperly dressed man and remarked, happily: “Oh, you are Martin, are you not? I came up here in the year 1948, on 30 January, to be precise, and in 1955, I heard about a young man in the USA who was doing a lot for civil rights in the USA.   Ah, so I get to see you finally. I remember hearing about the Montgomery Bus Boycott which was a tremendous success,” he remarked.

 “Ah, that was the beginning if it all, and the Bus Boycott was inspired by you, Bapu. Initially started for a day, it lasted for 381 days and we carried on despite the stones and insults flung at us.”

“Oh, you succeeded in instilling a new sense of dignity in your brethren.”

“Yes, our community woke up after a long period of slumber. Oh, I just heard you reciting from The Mask of Anarchy by Shelley but, you know, the opponents are still slashing and stabbing, maiming and hewing – and there are no hot flushes on guilty cheeks.”

“But, mark my words, Martin, they will feel ashamed of their actions, one day, just wait and watch.”

“Yes, I am still waiting for the realisation of my elusive dream….” King remarked with a distant look in his eyes.

“I am told, down below hugging is not allowed! What a dystopian world it is turning into, unimaginable! No one is hugging or even shaking hands.” King said, inadvertently pulling away his hand which he had extended.

“Oh Martin, Don’t be funny, tactility is not taboo here, and we are at liberty to shake hands. No social distancing here. It is high time people shed their mammoth egos — look what they have reduced the world to — it is so scary.”

They hugged and shook hands warmly, their eyes twinkling merrily and the birds once again burst into a happy crescendo of chirps.  

“I love this spinning wheel,” Martin said, casting appreciative glances at it. Bapu chortled in mirth, which was almost juvenile.

“You know, Martin, Gurudeb, my great friend, laughed at me for my charkha obsession, chuckled at what he thought were my idiosyncrasies, but I stuck to them – I was known for my obstinate nature, you know, and continue spinning here. It is just a symbol, actually. We need to be self-sufficient. This is what I was trying to prove.”

“Yes, you spoke the language of symbols, even your clothes symbolized the rampant poverty in your country. But no one seems to be bothered about poverty and homelessness even in the USA.”

“You know, that reminds me of an incident. It was the year 1916 and I had been invited by Annie Besant for the inauguration of Banaras Hindu University, I was shocked to see the bedecked princes sitting on the dais, giving me cold looks when I walked up to the stage, almost half- naked.” He again chuckled, looking affectionately at King.
“I gave them a piece of my mind, when they started talking of India’s poverty. Feeling humiliated, some of the princes left the dais.” He added with a naughty grin. King smiled too, with a wistful look in his eyes.
 
“Bapu, you taught me a lot of things; it was because of you that love and forgiveness became the bedrock of my life. It was long back that I had decided that hate was too heavy a burden to carry, so I also stuck to love and tried to spread it, even when the odds were heavily loaded against us.

“You know, when the segregationists bombed my house on January 30, 1956, (Oh, it is quite uncanny – the date is also the date when they had killed you in 1948) almost killing my wife and seven-month-old Yolande, I seethed in rage and the whole night tossed and turned in bed, waiting for the morn, so that I could get a gun permit and kill the person who had tried to destroy my family. The next morning after a lot of mulling over, I had emerged from the dark night, a true Gandhian.”

“Well, you embarrass me, Martin. I did nothing, I still maintain that there is no such thing as Gandhi-ism. Love and Truth are as old as the hills.  Yes, I remember hearing here that when Izola Curry tried to stab you, you forgave her too.”

“Well, she needed the healing touch, Bapu. She was unwell. And this virtue of forgiveness, I always maintain, has been your inspiration. You know, Bapu, it was in the year 1950 that I had been introduced to you — the man Gandhi — by Mordecai Johnson, I was so impressed that I immediately bought half a dozen books on you — you were responsible for removing all the confusion in my mind.”

“Well, I am really touched by your words. You know I was born in India but was made in S Africa. Pietermaritzburg was the turning point in my career. When they hurled me out of the first-class compartment on a very cold day because of my colour, I was devastated by the rampant racism. The conductor called me a coolie.”   

 “When I visited India in 1959, and went to a school in Kerala, the principal introduced me as fellow Dalit from the USA.  For a moment I was flabbergasted, but then realized that is exactly what I was,” grinned Martin.“You know when I put the wreath at your Samadhi* in Rajghat, I had a fuzzy feeling all over.”

“Dalit lives still don’t matter in India. I am indeed devastated.
You know, just the other day, I heard this gut wrenching news of a nineteen year old Dalit girl being gang-raped in Hathras, UP. I am still stunned into speechlessness. I keep hanging my head in shame — alas, this alone is what I can do.”

“This is indeed so heartbreaking. You know, Black lives still don’t matter in the USA. People are brutally kneed into breathlessness. Sitting here I can do nothing but wring my hands in rage. I cannot breathe… I cannot breathe…”

 “It was on 28 August, 1963, that you gave that iconic I have a dream speech at the Lincoln memorial, pleading for an end to racism, but, alas, things still have not changed.”

“Yes, it is so sad. I can still hear the ear-splitting applause as I said, ‘I have a dream that my four little children will one day be known not by the colour of their skin but by the content of their character.’ I am still dreaming –dreaming – dreamingHope someday my dream will be realized.”

“I heard your twelve-year-old granddaughter, Yolande Renee King gave a very powerful speech on August 28, 2020, and many organizations joined forces to March on Washington, in a call for justice. This was indeed commendable. ”

“Well, I am indeed so proud of her, I still maintain that injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere, hope this injustice and unfairness is banished from this earth.” King suddenly wiped a tear which trickled down his cheek as the words, “Papa King, we won’t forget”, fell into his ears.

“I am so proud of my granddaughter Renee. Bapu, isn’t it weird that we were killed because we talked of equality, love and forgiveness?”

“Can love ever be killed? They are deluded if they think so!  Can forgiveness ever be obsolete? NEVER! Hope this vaccine of love is a success. They have no option left, they will have to stick to love, come what may.” 

“I still maintain, over the bleached bones and jumbled remains of civilisations
 are written the words too late- too late – too late
….” Yes, if they don’t follow, love and non-violence, it will be too late …Ah, there comes Coretta*.”

“Ah, I notice she is chatting with Kasturba. What a heartwarming scene!”

Bapu and King were last seen sitting amidst a group of people singing the Ramdhun*, while King tapped his feet, time and again, raising a robust fist, saying, ‘we shall overcome’ and Kasturba and Coretta happily joined the refrain.

The birds and candy floss clouds were in throes of divine ecstasy, excitedly discussing the latest breaking news that the vaccine of love used on the humans down below had been a resounding success.

*Charkha — Spinning Wheel

*Samadhi – Memorial monument

*Ramdhun – Hymns to Rama

*Coretta King – Martin Luther King’s wife

*Kasturba – Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi’s wife

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Dr. Santosh Bakaya is an academician, poet, essayist, novelist, biographer, Ted Speaker and creative writing mentor. She has been critically acclaimed for her poetic biography of Mahatma Gandhi [Ballad of Bapu]. Her Ted Talk on the myth of Writers’ Block is very popular in creative writing Circles . She has more than ten books to her credit , her latest books are a biography of Martin Luther King Jr. (Only in Darkness can you see the Stars) and Songs of Belligerence (poetry). She runs a very popular column Morning meanderings in Learning And Creativity.com.

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PLEASE NOTE: ARTICLES CAN ONLY BE REPRODUCED IN OTHER SITES WITH DUE ACKNOWLEDGEMENT TO BORDERLESS JOURNAL

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Disclaimer: The opinions expressed are solely that of the author.

Categories
Essay

Without Protest : On the meaning of Searching for Truth

By Dustin Pickering

According to the Online Etymology Dictionary, the root of the verb protest is “to make a solemn declaration” or as a noun it refers to a pledge. Throughout The Story of My Experiments with Truth, Mohandas Gandhi notes the oaths he carried with him at various lengths. In Part One: Chapter VIII, he resolves to never steal again after he began atonement and reconciliation with his father. At a young age, he shows devout courtesy to truth. He dedicates experience of life to the pursuit of truth hence the book’s subtitle.

Later he swears an oath to his mother to not consume meat while visiting England. His Hindu faith, of which he claims ignorance, requires vegetarianism. He studies and reads on his visit to learn dietary regulations on his own that keeps his promise. When he returns home, he learns of her passing. Throughout his life he continues a strict diet without meat or milk, and his wife Kasturbabai, is also expected to abide. Even under severe threat of losing her life, Kasturbabai refused the doctor’s advice to have beef broth. Gandhi demonstrates such commitment to his ideals that he writes, “Let no one cavil at this, saying that God can never be partial, and that He has no time to meddle with the humdrum affairs of men.” His abidance to truth and oath seem to uncover God’s existence within the human sphere.

The land of India has not changed much since Gandhi’s protests and life devotions. What then is the purpose of a man of God? Gandhi notes the lack of sanitation and negligence of the poor. He is appalled that Indians would defecate in the sacred of river Ganges. He opposes the caste system and refuses to wear the sacred thread until Hinduism improves and serves the people’s well being. However he is not a bigot as he notes, “In matters of religion beliefs differ, and each one’s supreme in himself.” Gandhi’s dedication to moral improvement becomes a passion he shares with his fellow countrymen by founding schools to eradicate prejudice and ignorance so that the poor can become stronger in their self-reliance. Gandhi is not just a political activist as we understand it, but he is also a moral leader and a clear signal that God indeed exists and is concerned with human affairs.

India’s national life and character may not have improved according to Gandhi’s liking or expectations. He frequently suggests that God allows his efforts to flounder. He cannot explain why but suffers his disappointment gladly. He offers this piece of wisdom that all religions aspire to express, “The salvation of the people depends upon themselves, upon their capacity for suffering and sacrifice.” The people of India have their leader and learned to love him—however, the next important task for them is to learn to reverence each other in their habitude. It is always up to a people to secure their own blessings and reconcile with the Spirit.

Satyagraha, or passive resistance, is not a tool of destruction or self-interest. In the Autobiography, Gandhi expresses that passive resistance intends to improve the enemy’s well-being also. This is a powerful statement of political reality, that to resist you must hold the deepest compassion for the opponent and maintain moral strength and fearlessness. In the world today, such moral sacrifice and leadership appears to be absent.

In the United States, riots and violence broke out in protest of police brutality and racial injustice. The movement Antifa, a decentralised ideology and tool, wages violence with right-wing counter protests in a display of moral cowardice. Without securing blame, these street battles escalate and small businesses are ravaged. Government buildings are burned to the ground. A legal analyst on CNN requested that the viewers not focus on the destruction of property because the pain of the Black community is of greater importance. This response was in reference to the killing of Rayshard Brooks in Atlanta, Georgia. In his drunk fear of being sent back to prison, Brooks stole a taser from police and resisted arrest, eventually being shot by the officer who then tried to administer CPR.

Some scholars of literature compare Black American fiction to dalit fiction. Dalits are the untouchables of the Indian caste system. Gandhi’s social mission was to unify people of all castes, faiths, and walks of life. Frequently meeting with people of different faiths, his life effort was in understanding and showing compassion even to those with whom he disagreed. The caste system was something he wished to see overcome so that Hinduism could bear equal measure to other faiths. As mentioned earlier, he would not wear the sacred thread because he felt it was a symbol of superiority. He disavowed himself of self-righteousness.

His ideal State is one without violence, yet he maintained realistic understanding of the nature of the State. He wrote, “If national life becomes so perfect as to become self-regulated, no representation becomes necessary.” For this writer, such anarchism is the height of mature political ideals. Gandhi served this ideal of a nonviolent state with utmost clarity and dedication.

Finally I must refer to the great statement in the Autobiography on language. As a poet, I am deeply engaged with the thought presented, “Human language can but imperfectly describe God’s ways.” The devotee of Truth must recognize that our world is predicated on falsehood and deceit. Truth, it seems Gandhi suggests, is a lifelong pursuit in virtuous effort and suffering. Sincere willingness to undergo the difficult pursuit of Truth was Gandhi’s mission: however, in no way has he completed it for us. After all, it is our own choice to renounce the world and defy it’s injustices.

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Dustin Pickering is the founder of Transcendent Zero Press and editor-in-chief of Harbinger Asylum. He has authored several poetry collections, a short story collection, and a novella. He is a Pushcart nominee and was a finalist in Adelaide Literary Journal’s short story contest in 2018. He is a former contributor to Huffington Post. 

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PLEASE NOTE: ARTICLES CAN ONLY BE REPRODUCED IN OTHER SITES WITH DUE ACKNOWLEDGEMENT TO BORDERLESS JOURNAL. 

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Disclaimer: The opinions expressed are solely that of the author.

Categories
Interview

In Conversation with Santosh Bakaya

She is vivacious with what she describes as a “whacky” sense of humour and a passion for Gandhi. She has written a ballad on Bapu. You have guessed who she is – Santosh Bakaya. The thing that most impressed me about her was the way her students responded to her – students who are leading lives away from her academic umbrella even to this date. A strong influencer, who helps mould younger minds, she writes books to change her student’s lives and is a writer in her own right. Bakaya is not only an academic but a  poet, essayist, novelist, biographer, editor, TEDx  Speaker, and creative-writing mentor. She has been internationally acclaimed for her poetic biography of Mahatma Gandhi, (Ballad of Bapu). Her Ted Talk on The Myth of Writer’s Block, is very popular in creative writing Circles. 

She has published multiple books of poetry, a novella, essays and biographies. A winner of multiple awards, her long, narrative poem, Oh Hark! which earlier figured in her book, The Significant Anthology, is now a book with illustrations by Avijit Sarkar.

Bakaya has given Borderless an extensive interview on her perception of Gandhi and Gandhism and its relevance in the current crisis filled world, punctuated with snippets of interesting vignettes from her teaching career, confirming well her characteristic of being a strong influencer in her students’ lives. Let us explore her principled, courageous and humorous outlook with her own words.

You have written a whole book and more on Gandhi. What developed your interest in Gandhi?

Gandhi, nay Bapu, was very much a part of my growing up years.  My dad, (a very popular professor of English, in Rajasthan University, Jaipur), when faced by a dilemma, would invariably ask himself, what would Bapu have done in such a situation, and would go on to do what he thought Bapu would have done in that circumstance.

He never asked us to read books on Gandhi, but ignited our interest in this enigmatic man, who seemed to have an answer to everything. Was he a magician, we youngsters wondered! He would get books on Gandhi from the university library, and they would be lying at strategic points in our house; we would quietly start reading, imbibing and asking questions.

Later, it was while taking an MPhil class in the year 2012 that there was a heated discussion in the class on Bapu and his relevance. In a class of twenty students, there was just one girl who was defending the values of Bapu, the others were going all out to denigrate him.

“How much have you read on Gandhi? Can you give me the names of five books about Gandhi that you have read? Have you read his My Experiments with Truth?”

Then one student, who prided himself on being a poet, chipped in, “Madam, why don’t you write a poetic biography of Gandhi? Poetry will appeal more to us.”

This challenge hit me hard, (I am always on the lookout for challenges), but this appeared too difficult a task. Nonetheless, I took the challenge, and began by writing a few verses on the aa-bb-a rhyme scheme and got addicted, so much so that I went on to complete 300 pages of poetry on Gandhi, which was later published by Vitasta Publishers, Delhi, and is now a bestseller, critically acclaimed.   

Gandhi was an ordinary man not without his fears, whims, apprehensions, a boy who was afraid of ghosts, robbers, multiplication tables, who rose above these fears to emerge as a moral icon, gaining an extraordinary status to be revered all over the world.

You wrote another book on Martin Luther King as he was influenced by Gandhi. Can you tell us what led to this book?

This book also was the result of another remark of another of my MPhil students.

Before that, while I was researching for my PhD thesis on Robert Nozick at the American Centre, Delhi. I came across the autobiography of King (edited by Clayborne Carson), I was completely fascinated by his life story and read all the books that I possibly could at the Centre — ignoring Nozick in the bargain. At that point of time, I thought maybe I’ll do my post-doctoral research on Martin Luther King, Jr. some day.

Later it was during another of my Conflict Studies’ lecture that one of my students (not a belligerent one this time) asked me to write a book on King. So that got me thinking and the book happened. It is a year since the book has been published, once again, by Vitasta Publishers, Delhi, (it has one full chapter on his India Connection) and I am happy readers have good words to say about it.

You are a fabulous teacher. Do you think your books made an impact in the way you wanted? Or was it more what you said?

I don’t know if I am a fabulous teacher, but yes, I know I am a very passionate teacher.

Yes, I think so. Let me cite an example. The MPhil student who had nudged  me into writing a poetic biography of Mahatma Gandhi, and who was a great critic of Gandhi, on my insistence, read many books on Gandhi and right now, this critic of Gandhi has become a supporter of Gandhi and has become a lecturer in Political Science, specialising in Gandhian studies.

I was delighted when readers wrote saying that my book impacted them in a positive manner and since it was a poetic biography, they kept going back to it. In fact, Ballad of Bapu received more love than I had anticipated, so much so that I have given a number of talks on the book and conducted many workshops in many educational institutions followed by very fruitful and intellectually stimulating discussions.  

Do you think Gandhi is pertinent in the current world? Why?

Gandhi can never be irrelevant in the world. Gandhi and Gandhism are for all times. He stood for truth and non-violence and truth and non-violence can never be irrelevant.  Martin Luther King Jr. had followed his principles, time and again reiterating, that it was Gandhi who had inspired them during the Montgomery Bus Boycott and even later.

Gandhi was an ordinary man not without his fears, whims, idiosyncrasies and apprehensions, a boy who was afraid of ghosts, robbers, multiplication tables, and who rose above these fears to emerge as a moral icon, gaining an extraordinary status to be revered all over the world.

His values of Truth and Non-violence can never lose their relevance in this topsy-turvy, highly materialistic, self-centred and consumerist world. How can we ignore his supreme humanism, his overpowering love for everyone — even his enemies?

The Dalai Lama very rightly says, “He implemented the very noble philosophy of ahimsa in modern politics and he succeeded. This is a very great thing.” While the other ancient philosophers merely preached the philosophical aspects of Truth and Non-violence, his very life was a series of experiments with truth. He was a man forever evolving, trying to better himself in every way.  Beleaguered humanity desperately needs to rededicate itself to the eternal values of nonviolence, truth, world peace and altruism otherwise, things will continue to be bleak.  

What values of Gandhi do you think are the ones that are most relevant?

Truth, non-violence, love and compassion are values that will always be needed in this bleak world. An eye for an eye, will make the whole world blind, as he so powerfully believed. Why crave for this blindness and hurtle down an abyss?

Such peace revolutionaries like Nelson Mandela, Dalai Lama, Desmond Tutu, and Martin Luther King Jr. wouldn’t have been inspired by Gandhi had his values not been so precious. “If humanity is to progress, Gandhi is inescapable. He lived, thought, and acted, inspired by the vision of humanity evolving toward a world of peace and harmony. We may ignore him at our own risk,” Dr. Martin Luther King Jr had so eloquently said, reiterating time and again that Gandhi taught him his operational technique of fighting for civil rights.

Barack Obama, who holds Gandhi in great esteem had said:“I have always looked to Mahatma Gandhi as an inspiration because he embodies the kind of transformational change that can be made when ordinary people come together to do extraordinary things.”

The co- founder of Apple, Steve Jobs, maintained that Gandhi “showed us the way out of the destructive side of the human nature. Gandhi demonstrated that we can force change and justice through moral acts of aggression, instead of physical acts of aggression. Never has our species needed this wisdom more.”

So, we need the Gandhian wisdom and perception of love, truth, peace, moral acts of aggression and forgiveness, otherwise there is nothing but a grave new dystopian world staring at us.  

Has reading and writing on Gandhi impacted your life?

Yes, it definitely has. In fact, the first Gandhian that I came across was my father. My grandmother was aghast when one day the sweeper had not come, he picked up the broom and cleaned all the toilets in the house. And another day he made him have tea and breakfast with us. My granny was once again indignant, but later many interactions later, she also started subscribing to his point of view and was almost embarrassed of her earlier behaviour and developed a deep love for the underprivileged.

My father’s library was a bibliophilic treasure and I read all the books on Gandhi, later I got books from the school library too. As a collegian, I read many books on Gandhi and they had a great impact on me.

Let me cite an incident from my career. It was my first year as a college lecturer in a post-graduate government college for boys, which was known for its notorious elements. Straight from the university, I was brimming with idealism and Gandhian ideals and fired with an ardent desire to change the world (still am!). During an invigilation, I found a hulk of a boy brazenly cheating, while the senior co-invigilator looked the other way. I dashed towards him and was appalled to find a big knife stuck to his desk. I quickly pulled out the chits from under his answer sheets and raced towards the Principal’s office, his threats following me with a full- throated stridence. Tumko dekh loonga. Mera Career barbaad ker diya [I will teach you a lesson, you spoilt my career].

Later, that evening, I met him at the railway station. He was going to Mathura and I, to Delhi for the weekend. He didn’t recognise me, but I did. I walked up to him and said, you had said, that you would see me – “See me, I am right here. Do you want to beat me up? Come do it?” Dumfounded, he looked at the chit of a girl standing before him, and when he realized who I was, he fell at my feet, apologizing profusely. He now says, that was the turning point in his life.

At the risk of sounding pompous, let me say, that it has become my second nature not to nurse grudges, and I try to spread as much love around me, as possible. Yes, Gandhi and Gandhism have impacted me in a big way.

Do you think Gandhi can impact the younger generation?

Gandhi can definitely impact the younger generation if he is presented to them in a very interesting manner, through role-playing, skits, workshops etc. His values of truth and non-violence transcend all geographical boundaries and time.  Bapu had fought for human rights in South Africa, achieving unprecedented success. He was indeed “a powerful current of fresh air –like a beam of light” as Nehru described him. We need this beam of light, this powerful current of fresh air as never before.

We should not forget that he was an ordinary man who rose above his ordinariness by sheer moral force, even calling off the Non-Cooperation Movement at the height of its popularity, because the violence that was unleashed at Chauri Chaura, on 4 February 1922 (a village in Gorakhpur District of Uttar Pradesh), was not in conformity with his ideology of non-violence, and he did penance for what he saw as his culpability in the bloodshed.  Only a man with great moral fibre could have taken such a decision, fully aware of the criticism that would follow in its wake. Such incidents as these, need to be presented to the youngsters in a proper manner, so that their minds are cleaned of prejudices and misconceptions.

For Gandhi, cleanliness was very important, and who can deny the importance of cleanliness? There was a time when the iconic film Lagey Raho Munna Bhai had created a revolution in young mindsets, I myself being a witness to many such heart-warming scenes. When a parent who had come to drop his daughter to college, aimed tobacco spittle in the college premises, a boy picked up the broom lying nearby and swept it away, to the intense chagrin of the daughter, and the father, realizing his mistake, apologized profusely.

But things are changing fast, so are young mindsets, a sort of skepticism is setting in, so we need to present Gandhi to the younger generation with a conviction which is more robust than before.

Should we be propagating his ideals? If so, what would be the most effective way of doing so?

Of course, Gandhi’s ideals need to be propagated especially in these dark, despairing ages when the forces of fascism are wreaking havoc throughout the world. “Be the change you want to see around you,” Bapu had said, so we should try to be that change, wherever we feel the need for change. Preachy pedagogy can only boomerang, so we should make his principles a way of life, so that the youngsters learn from them. We need to change ourselves first, if we want to spread his principles.
Gandhi had said, “Power is of two kinds. One is obtained by the fear of punishment and the other by acts of love. Power based on love is a thousand times more effective and permanent than the one derived from fear of punishment.” (Young India, January 8, 1925).

To many naysayers, this might smack of naiveté, but no one can deny the fact that love and positivity are the weapons in our hands, which should be amply used to positivize the negative forces around.

As an academic, should Gandhi’s autobiography, My Experiments with Truth, be introduced as part of the school curriculum in India? Do you think that would have a good impact on young minds?

From my experience as an academic, I can say this very confidently that students prefer to crinkle their noses at course books. My Experiments with Truth as part of the syllabus is indeed a great idea as a symbolic gesture venerating the great soul, but what I sincerely feel is that it is the need of the hour to devise such courses where My Experiments with Truth is part of supplementary reading. I believe, students should read it out of curiosity and not out of compulsion. Understanding the essence of Gandhian philosophy should not be forced on young minds. Yes, short-term courses and interestingly designed workshops can go a long way in inculcating the Gandhian spirit in youngsters.

Let me make myself clearer.  Some years back, I was very happy to see youngsters at the Delhi Book Fair flocking to buy My Experiments with Truth.  When asked the reason, they told me they were buying the book because in their first year of under-graduation, it was prescribed as a reference book for a course they were undergoing which, was meant for students of all disciplines. It is heartening to know that My Experiments with Truth continues to be a bestseller. Both the supporters and the detractors, own copies of it.

What do you see as the future of Gandhism in India?

With Gandhi’s assassins being glorified with impunity, and his ideals given lip service to, only during particular days, Gandhism’s future looks bleak. But it is the responsibility of all the right-thinking individuals to pick up cudgels on behalf of this moral icon and disentangle him from the clutches of the naysayers and detractors.
At a time when Gandhi’s killers are being venerated, Gandhi and what he stood for, needs to be revived. Martin Luther King Jr. had been influenced in his crusade for civil rights and non- violence by Bapu; he visited India in 1959, calling his visit a pilgrimage. During his visit he remarked that the spirit of Gandhi was very much alive in India, but alas, we are slowly forgetting the saint in beggar’s garb.
Youngsters have no qualms about heaping venom at Gandhi, forwarding fake WhatsApp messages denigrating him. As I mentioned earlier and I repeat: we should not forget that he was an ordinary man who rose above his ordinariness by sheer moral force, as illustrated in his calling off the Non-Cooperation Movement at the height of its popularity, because the violence that was unleashed at Chauri Chaura, on 4 February 1922. This did exhibit his immense moral fibre.

Who can deny the importance of truth, forgiveness and non-violence in this age of crass materialism and consumerism! Gandhi had said, “Be the change you want to see in the world”, so we have to bring about the revolution within ourselves and change the world for the better, otherwise the world is doomed.  In this context, allow me to quote Martin Luther King Jr, “Over the bleached bones and jumbled residue of numerous civilizations are written the pathetic words, ‘Too Late’”. Why should we wait for it to be ‘Too Late’?

As a teacher I have had the opportunity of interacting both with the millennials and the Generation Z and notice a world of difference between their mindsets.

 I know of many youngsters who are running organizations, the mission of which is to create a more equitable and inclusive society.
I had a very fruitful discussion with a young NRI nephew who was in India six months back and the essence of what he said boiled down to this, “The world is fighting the evils of discrimination, race, gender, and we cannot forget that Gandhi was a pioneering force in this direction.  More and more people should come forward to run programmes which are consistent with his constructive programmes.” He heads one such programme which is very popular.

Then there are some from the hypercognitive Generation z who vociferously argue, “How can the oppressors rid themselves of the guilt of what the guilty have perpetrated in the past — how can they justify their oppression? We need to be proactive — and need to follow Malcom X and Not King or Gandhi.  No more candlelight marches, no more offering of roses to our oppressors! We need to hurl stone for stone. You got your jobs in golden platters, our generation has no jobs, no economic security, no health security, we are surrounded by environmental hazards of all sorts, and we need to do something.”

Well, we cannot save ourselves from the guilt of the devastation that we have wrecked on the young generation but in these crosscurrents of hatred and enmity, it is humanity which is suffering, and needs to be resurrected. No matter what rampant negativities we are surrounded by, I staunchly believe, that the tenets of Gandhism will have to rise from their ashes and come to the rescue of a doddering, staggering humanity. Otherwise we are doomed.

Thanks a ton for this great opportunity, Borderless journal and Mitali Chakravarty.  It was an honor answering these questions.

Thank you for giving us your valuable time, Santosh Bakaya.

This online interview was conducted by Mitali Chakravarty.


PLEASE NOTE: 
ARTICLES CAN ONLY BE REPRODUCED IN OTHER SITES WITH DUE ACKNOWLEDGEMENT TO BORDERLESS JOURNAL.

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Disclaimer: The opinions expressed are solely that of the interviewee.

Categories
Essay

Can Humanism Survive the Onslaught of Hate

By Dr Ram Puniyani

Lately when India has been undergoing the massive crisis of the Corona epidemic and the offshoots of its mishandling, we have also seen the pandemic being used to demonise a particular community in India. These hate mongers, operating through powerful medium of TV, and widespread social media which also has resorted to Fake news has intensified the Hate against religious minority. In this vast phenomenon, it seemed that all is lost as far as amity between people of different religions is concerned. Despite this broad generalisation one feels happy when one comes to know of few incidents where religious communities come forward to help each other.

The most touching such incidence of amity came forward in the form of story of Amrit and Farooq. They were travelling in a truck from Surat to UP. On way Amrit, a worker, fell sick and most other travellers, asked him to leave the truck in the middle of the night. As he was offloaded, he was not alone. His friend Farooq, another worker, also came down with him. Farooq put the sick Amrit in his lap and cried for help which caught the attention of others and an ambulance landed up to take Amrit to hospital!

In another incidence one worker, who had a differently able child, took the bicycle of another person, leaving a touching letter of apology, saying that he was helpless as he has to travel with his children and there is no other means. Many a people reported it as a theft of the bicycle while the owner of the bicycle, Prabhu Dayal took it in a stride. The one who took away the bicycle was Mohammad Iqbal Khan.

In Sewri Mumbai, Pandurang Ubale, a senior citizen died due to age related and other problems. Due to lock down his immediate relative’s could not organize the funeral. His Muslim neighbours came forward and did his last rites as per the Hindu customs. Similar cases are reported from Bangalore and Rajasthan.

In Tihar jail, the Hindu inmates joined the Muslim in keeping the Roza (fasting). While mosque in Pune, (Azam Campus) and a Church in Manipur has been offered as a place for quarantine. In another lovely incident a Muslim girl takes shelter in a Hindu home and the host gets up early in morning to prepare and give her food for Sehri, a pre morning meal before Rosa begins.

One can go on and on. Surely what is reported must be a tip of the iceberg as many such incidents must be going on unnoticed and un reported. The feeling one was getting after the section of media jumped to communalise spread of Corona, coined words like Corona bomb, Corona jihad, one felt the efforts to break the mutual trust between Hindus and Muslims may succeed totally after all. The deeper inherent humanism of communities has ensured that despite the Hate being manufactured and propagated by communal forces for their political agenda, the centuries old amity and the fraternity promoted by freedom movement will sustain itself somewhere, though it is suffering deep wounds due to the religious nationalists.

India’s culture has been inherently syncretic, synthesising the diversity in various forms. The medieval period which is most demonized, and as many of the sectarian ideologues are presenting it as a period of suffering of Hindus, the fact is that it is during this period that Bhakti tradition flourished and literature in Indian languages progressed during this period.

Even Persian, which was used in the court of kings interacted with Awadhi and produced the Urdu, which is an Indian language. It is in this period when the most popular story of Lord Ram was written by Goswami Tulsidas. Tulsidas himself in his autobiography Kavaitavali writes that he sleeps in a mosque. As far literature is concerned many outstanding Muslim poets wrote wonderful poetry in praise of Hindu Gods, one can remember Rahim and Raskhan’s brilliant outpourings in praise of Lord Shri Krishna.

The food habits, the dress habits and social life emerged with components from these two major religions. The sprinkling of Christianity in different aspects of Indian life is as much visible. It was the symbol of deep interaction of Hindus and Muslims that Muslims followed the Bhakti saints like Kabir and many a Hindus visit the Sufi Saint Dargahs (Shrines). This interactive element is vibrantly visible in Hindi films. Here one can see the outstanding devotional songs in praise of Hindu gods composed by Muslims. One of my favourite’s remains, ‘Man Tarpat hari Darshan ko Aaj’ (My soul is longing to see Hari). This song was written by Shakil Badayuni, composed by Naushad Ali and sung by Mohammad Rafi. The latter must have sung innumerable devotional songs.

Our freedom movement, despite the divisive role of British, the Muslim communalists and Hindu communalists, brought together people of all religions, in the struggle against colonial powers. Many a literary people painted the beautiful interaction of diverse communities. During freedom movement, and in the aftermath as communal violence flared up, the likes of Ganesh Shankar Vidyarthi, and towering above all Mahatma Gandhi tried to douse the fire of violence through exemplary efforts, efforts in which Muslims and Hindus both reciprocated despite the hate spread by the communal forces.

One recalls here the efforts of those friends, who laid down their lives to combat the fire of Hate. In Gujarat the names of Vasant Rao Hegiste and Rajab Ali will always be remembered as they laid down their lives, as a team, to restore sanity. This interaction is very deep and the present Government cannot tolerate the impact of Islamic-Muslim component in our culture. That’s precisely the reason that attempts are on to change the names of cities (Faizabad-Ayodhya, Mughal Sarai-Deen dayal Upadhyay etc).

The deeper interaction of communities is present in all facets of our society. The examples during Corona crisis have again brought to fore the fact that Indian culture is essentially a product of synthesis of different aspects of many religions prevalent here.

Dr Ram Puniyani was a professor in biomedical engineering at the Indian Institute of Technology Bombay, and took voluntary retirement in December 2004 to work full time for communal harmony in India. Email: ram.puniyani@gmail.com

This article was first published in Countercurrents.

Categories
Poetry

Black Beauty

By Dr Santosh Bakaya

THE BLACK BEAUTY\ Dr.Santosh Bakaya 

It was just a small thing.
Come to think of it, not actually small,
but pretty big.
Huge and black. A Black Beauty.
A figure stood silhouetted near the window,
watching the beauty in black.
It shimmered and glowed in the noonday sun,
waiting for that touch which would galvanize it into action.
Dreams rippled in the figure’s eyes
Body taut, in an agony of apprehension.
He craved no luxury.
But that car, he did crave,
albeit , a second hand one.
I don’t know whether it was the Hillman minx,
the Hillman Avenger, Hillman Super Minx
or the Hillman Husky.
But it was Hillman, just a car.
A second hand one
standing outside our University quarters,
waiting to be claimed for a paltry sum.
“No , I cannot afford to buy it” , the figure said , casting one last ,
lingering look at the black beauty , and hastened out ,
pinned up his trousers , pulled a hat over his head
and pedaled away towards his department .
From the sun- dappled lawn,
his much loved menagerie of cats and
dogs looked on. Unspeakably sad.
The devoted friends of this hatted, handsome professor.
My dad.
Nissim Ezekiel was to be the guest speaker that day
and he couldn’t afford to be late.
I watched him from the balcony
as he became a speck in the distance.
Yes, a speck. That dream too was a speck,
which remained quiescent in his heart till his last breath.
“It is just a small thing, and this craving for a car,
is so embarrassing, but I don’t know why ,
it keeps coming back.” He would often say.
That towering figure suddenly travelled far
sans car, and became a distant star,
the shards of his broken dream,
well- hidden,
bidding us goodbye,
all of a sudden,
leaving me with this overwhelming feeling of guilt.
This devastatingly destructive guilt.
Many a night, when the clock on the mantelpiece
goes tick tock tick tock and the house resounds with lost echoes,
tiny pigeons venture out of pigeon holes of memories, it is then that
the fossilized monster of guilt also yanks away its shackles
and hurls accusations at me.
I hear the cacophony of the clash of priorities,
our school and College fees, summer holidays clanging against
his dreams and tiny cravings.
I submit to the night’s scrutiny, and ask myself,
if his dream had been bigger,
would my guilt have been bigger, too?
Suddenly, piercing the night, that Black Beauty resurfaces.
Nostalgia gushes through my ruptured wounds,
and I am red all over.

Dr. Santosh Bakaya is an academician, poet, essayist, novelist, biographer, Ted Speaker and creative writing mentor. She has been critically acclaimed for her poetic biography of Mahatma Gandhi
[Ballad of Bapu]. Her Ted Talk on the myth of Writers’ Block is very popular in creative writing Circles . She has more than ten books to her credit , her latest books are a biography of Martin Luther King Jr. (Only in Darkness can you see the Stars) and Songs of Belligerence (poetry). She runs a very popular column Morning meanderings in Learning And Creativity.com.