Categories
The Literary Fictionist

Bapu, Denied

By Sunil Sharma

The City of Concrete (CC) was all excited and discussing the new viral video of a man claiming to be the “Real Gandhi”.

The middle class hardly cared for surnames but anything viral got them talking. And this real vs. fake debate always made them social– quick WhatsApp exchanges of videos and messages, that is all of it, then moved on for other limited conversations, mainly digital.

In fact, the City did not care about history and heritage and trifles got them interested– who is eating what, how and where? Or wearing what and where? Or dating whom or where?

The CC grew inward-looking and obsessed with tech gadgets.

Smart phones were their portals to instant nirvana.

And viral videos, their mainstay of an urban narrow existence cramped in few hundreds of square meters in the vertical cages!

So, on a crisp morning of a holiday, the City got jolted by the new sensation of a man claiming to be authentic Gandhi left them intrigued.

But who is Gandhi, dude?

Here was this video of a somber old man with a magnetic persona– yes, you could feel the electrifying currents across the small mobile-phone- screens that affected you directly– the high-energy field, halo around the man that left you in thrall.

Incredible!

Within an hour, it was the top trending topic.

As per the recording, the man in round glasses and loin cloth, told some slum children that he was India’s Bapu.

The folks were initially dismissive and some die-hard skeptics openly cynical of this grandfatherly, scantily clad man, and told him rudely to go some other place and let them enjoy the off day.

The man was quite understanding and patient and asked them, “What day is this?”

An out-of-job guy replied gruffly, “October 2nd.”

The visitor persisted, “Why is it declared a national holiday?”

The folks, gathered under the bronze statue of a man with round glasses and walking stick, had no answer.

Then a child finally replied, “Wait! It is the birthday of the ‘Father of the Nation’.”

The stranger smiled, “Yes, son, you are right! It is my birthday.”

Thereupon, the wide-eyed child asked, “Are you that iconic Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi who delivered us from slavery to the wily British through your philosophy of non-violence and satyagrah ?”

The old man smiled and said, “Yes, I am that Mohandas, an ordinary son of motherland, who was lucky enough to serve my country in most humble manner, with the loving support of my country.”

The child beamed and shouted, “Lucky me! Meeting the Apostle in person! My dream has come true!”

The child raised voice: “Mahatma Gandhi zindabad !”

Children of the poor neighbourhood repeated it as a feisty slogan.

The old man smiled and kept on walking fast across the broken city.

The children followed — and soon others joined the long procession.

It was huge!

People clicked the man who seemed to be walking on another fresh mission.

Soon the news spread.

Citizens came out of their customary slumber and started following the kind old man who, a bit pale, still retained a strange luminosity and a hypnotic pull over his simple beholders. The moment he had stepped into their middle from nowhere, the whole space was lit in a strange way. There was a certain spring in his gait and his walking stick shone like some royal emblem. His watch had an unearthly chime—mesmerizing!

His voice was strong, eyes steady, gait firm.

This dimension collapsing into the other dimension; this reality fused into that reality– that kind of thing!

History was coming alive — in an unpredictable way! A professor wrote.

A sole surviving freedom fighter remarked, the visitor reminded them of the aura of Mahatma Gandhi, in an odd way.

This Gandhi looked other worldly, ethereal but inspired confidence—and faith!

Bapu’s smile was pure and eyes and tone, gentle.

The CC got enthralled by the heavenly presence of Gandhi and the residents went wherever this person went.

The fever spread further.

The WhatsApp exchanges galvanized the sleepy city, and it turned into a mass event.

There were the loud and regular chants of “Bapu! Bapu! Bapu is back for his country—again! We love you, Bapu!”

People got hysterical at the sight of the frail man. Many openly wept and said, “We need you Bapu, in our empty lives as mere consumers. You have made us whole!”

The freedom fighter cried, “Bapu! Nobody cares for us here!”

Bapu smiled: “They will. Follow the moral compass. The world will listen.”

The freedom fighter said, “Yes, Bapu. I will teach students your philosophy.”

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The City of Concrete was on fire.

A real hero had emerged from the darkness.

Everybody talked of Mahatma Gandhi only.

An antidote to the global doctrine of hate.

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The municipal corporation was busy celebrating the birthday of the ‘Father of the Nation’ via sterile speeches and garlanding.

Initially the corporators thought that he was another look-alike walking the narrow streets this morning, an annual practice for few models but when apprised of his increasing popularity, the bunch of the city fathers grew apprehensive of a new threat to their base.

By mid-morning, the national media grew aware of a new sensation. A man who called himself the original Gandhi and was visiting the CC for a reality check.

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Of course, the new-millennial young crowd had never bothered about history or India, and they were least interested in searching for a name and legacy that no longer resonated within a geography being redone for the malls and foreign outlets of food, clothes and entertainment. Plugged into their iPhones, the cool set ate burgers and pizza and sang Western songs, wearing baseball caps turned around, dressed up in sneakers and cotton-Ts and cargo pants, tattooed up and ears, pierced.

What hooked them was the unusual sight of a bare-chested man radiating terrific energy and calmness, kind of raw star power unseen so far in a media culture and thinking of the possibility of the 5-second fame in the clutter, the teens and young adults raced to the spot where Bapu was talking to the masses. They wanted to join the trending hash tag: #Seen with our Beloved Bapu! The crowds from outside CC kept on joining that famous historical frail figure full of steely resolve and power.

Meanwhile, media arrived in big numbers and the circus started. The loud reporters asked questions about this phenomenon, without a match. One teen said he saw the statue of Gandhi in the garden coming alive; another claimed he saw the statue walking down the street in animated condition, while other versions spoke of witnessing Gandhi floating on a cloud or descending from the air! The viral videos flooded the cyber space, and the world began reacting to another trend: #Bapu, Alive!

#New Messiah of Love! Another trended.

Love Triumphs Finally! Wrote another on her blog: Young Nation.

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The local leaders got unduly alarmed: Who is this pop figure? His minute-by-minute-increasing fandom and heavenly persona posed a problem. The cops were dispatched.

Bapu was brought before the Wise Council.

One of the senior leaders asked: “How can you be Bapu?”

Bapu asked calmly: “And why can’t be I?”

Leader: “Because you died many years ago…”

Bapu: “When did I die? I never did. Hatred can never win. I live on…”

The leader fumbled: “But, we are told you died, years ago. How can you be re-born?”

“Ideas never die. They live on. Faith revived me.”

The leader nodded.

Bapu smiled: “Do you really know me?”

“Yes, Bapu.”

“Any idea about the incident at Pietermaritzburg station? The year 1893? June 7?”

The leader did not know anything. He looked like an idiot.

Bapu said calmly: “A leader must know the history of their nation. Lead by example. By honesty. Simplicity. Ethically. Remain connected to the fellow citizens. Create a legacy of love and ahimsa! Understand?”

The leader nodded again, crestfallen before this luminous being, beyond the pale of death.

Bapu left smiling. Huge crowds waited outside.

“Gandhi is alive!” They shouted. “He has come back for his children!”

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The Great Leader was woken up.

The media in-charge, a seasoned man handling information technology cell of the party, reported the developments that could cast a shadow on the Tall Leader.

The Great Leader replied: “Do not worry!”

“But Saab!” croaked the sycophant.

“Listen!” commanded the Tall Leader.

“Yes, sir!”

“The surest way to neutralize is to institutionalize them.”

“Sir!”

“Ritualize their memory!”

“Sir!”

“And re-write history.”

“Sir.”

“And…”

“And? Sir?”

“The best way is to erase history by making it ugly, unreadable and unproductive!”

The Tall Leader chuckled and disconnected.

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Glossary:
Satyagrah — Using truth to non-violently resist abuse

Zindabad — Long live

Ahimsa — Non-violence

Sunil Sharma is an academic and writer with 22 books published—some solo and joint. Edits the online monthly journal Setu.

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

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.