Last week, I was sitting with a modest tray of coke and french fries at McDonalds, when I overheard a conversation. I had a half read book in my hands and it was raining heavily that day.
“Let’s grab some beer! It’s your birthday for god’s sake!”
“Dude! It’s a dry day.”
“Oh! This Gandhi, I tell you. He did more bad than good for us! Look how he has ruined it forever. You will never have a beer on your birthday.”
Ever since I could comprehend things, I used to hear this word, ‘Gandhi’, its stature always amusing me. From the illiterate farmers in Bihar (where I come from), to the IT professionals of Pune (where I live now), everyone has an opinion about the Mahatma. More importantly, they all have a story about him. Some hate him, some love him, some make fun of him, but no one over the age of ten is apathetic to him.
There were so many who came before him, those who shared his time and thought of an independent India. But for some reason, they could not come out of our history books. Some with a political legacy like Nehru got schools and colleges and hospitals named after him, but even he was not deemed significant enough to get a national holiday of his own or his face on the currency.
I read books, watched documentaries, and they all seemed to answer one central question, ‘Who was Gandhi?’ I was never much interested in that question, though. Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi was a great man. We all have some hypocrisies, certain imperfections, no matter how good we are, and he must have had his own. Perhaps, that is the distinguishing factor between mortal humans and mythical gods. What troubled me was another question. ‘What was Gandhi?’
I found it a little romantic to think that one man could take a country to independence like he did. I always tried to reason that out with what I read, with what I saw, but it didn’t make sense to my so-called rationality. Attempts to freedom were made before him too, but then why did his movement achieve what others couldn’t? This brings me to that half-read book I had with me at McDonalds. It’s a bijou book called ‘Kanthapura’ by Raja Rao.
It tells a story from 1920’s about a small fictional village near Mysore. It is about ‘Gandhi’, the phenomenon that happened at Kanthapura. It is also an interesting take at the Gandhian movement because throughout the entire narrative, Mahatma Gandhi never visits the village nor does he have an interaction with any of the characters. The villagers run their own parallel freedom struggle, led by a young lad, Moorthi, who is a staunch follower of the Gandhian philosophy and a member of the local congress. Villagers see Moorthi as their Gandhi. Then they all start being Gandhi’s of their own. Women, children, shudras, brahmins, everyone rises above their personal prejudices and struggles at their own level. Perhaps, that is what Bapu did to India. He was not a leader. He never asked anyone to follow him. He never asked anyone to die for him or to kill for him. He was an alchemist. An alchemist who could take an ordinary man and turn him into a Gandhi.
He gave India a talisman. He asked Indians to spin their own cotton, cook their own food, and take their own decisions based on their conscience. He knew that only when people became less dependent on others for their needs, India could become independent. Wherever he went, he created a handful of Gandhis. He made sure that even if he was no more someday, he had backup aplenty. When he walked to the Arabian Sea to make salt in 1930, some other Gandhi may have been walking to make salt out of the Bay of Bengal along with a hundred others. He made Indians believe that they didn’t need a Gandhi or a Bose to make things right. And that is where he ceased being a mere human. He became a way of life, a religion. Even today, knowingly or unknowingly, thousands of Gandhis walk on this planet. They are not hard to find, because passively, in our hearts, we are one of them. We might need to rouse those Gandhis in us soon, now that humans have turned into animals, yet again, fighting over cow/beef (whatever you find appropriate). We can use as many Gandhis as we can afford right now.