Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Bring Gandhi down from the pedestal

Tamil poet Vairamuthu at a televised Gandhi Jayanti Kaviarangam read out a poem that says the hand watch Gandhi had, like his other wordly possessions, is a prized timepiece that would go for crores at Sothebys and people would line up to acquire it.

"If Gandhi were to be up for sale" asks the poet in the next stanza, "would there be takers?" Kavi Vairamuthu exercised his poetic licence to convey a reality. The things Gandhi owned are collectors' items; the thoughts he held have no takers.

A recent media report said the Bangalore University centre for Gandhian studies has had no students since they set it up. That Gandhi has no takers among today's generation shouldn't surprise us. And the fault need not totally be with the youth. It's probably because old-time Gandhians have failed; worse still, they pooh-poohed attempts to redefine Gandhi. Lage Raho Munnabhai may be dismissed by Gandhians as much too simplistic and masala-driven. But the Bollywood attempt does reflect the need for teachers to relate Gandhi to the nation's current concerns.

The Gandhian Studies Centre at Bangalore University has provision for annual intake of 40 students, is endowed with a Rs.15-lakh annual budget; has built over the years an infrastructure, including a 200-seat auditorium and an open-air theatre. Media report says that the few who applied for the PG diploma course offered by the centre did so to take advantage of free hostel facilities. The authorities who got wise withdrew the facility. The applications for Gandhian Studies dried out. No free hostel, no students.

One has to be naive not to ask why the university authorities would still want to continue with the studentless Gandhian studies centre (now a campus within the univeristy campus). And even if the decision-makers at the university view closure of the studies centre as an option, they couldn't be expected to voice it without risking stiff resistance from flag-waving Gandhians. I mean the type that comes out of woodworks, once a year to garland statues, and pose for media pictures.

The name 'Gandhi' brings to my mind a pedestal bearing a life-size statue, soiled with clotted droppings of a thousand pigeons that use as rest-room the statue's head & shoulders. Once in a long while you see municipal workers putting the statue to a beauty-parlour treatment. Which is when we realise that Oct.2 must be around.

We can’t think of a town in our country without a Gandhi statue. If only a statue can speak, we would probably hear from Gandhi Square in every town a cry of anguish, ‘Hey Ram, what have I done to deserve this?’. When people want to forget someone special, they set him up on a pedestal. And Gandhi is the best-known among the forgotten figures in our recent history, sentenced to a 'pedestal' that is frequented by passing pigeons.

Even during his lifetime, Gandhi proved inconvenient to many of our leaders. Subsequent generations found his socal prescriptions, such as caste equality, communal harmony and corruption-free society, tough to put in practice. Those who put Gandhi on a pedestal are happy keeping him there, for ever. If the statue on our neighbourhood Gandhi Square is allowed to make just one wish, it would be, ‘Bring me down from the pedestal’.

My thought on this Gandhi Jayanti Day is that the father of our nation, who had led a simple life amid ordinary folk, would probably like, more than anything else, a 'parole' from life on the pedestal, so that he could step out on the street and join the never ending public morcha of social activists against the powers that be.

Cross-posted from Desicritic.

No comments: