Happy Birthday

02 Oct

There are many reasons to revile Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi – his own words give you a foundation upon which you can build as you go along, depending on your particular brand of politics and beliefs. Equally, there are many reasons to admire Mahatma Gandhi – if you’ve heard his name mentioned at all, it’s fairly impossible for you not to have heard at least a couple of them.

The reason why I admire the man is simple: I could never have done what he did.

I don’t mean his national movements (although, yeah, I wouldn’t know where to begin on that either – would this blog do?) but his philosophy of nonviolence. To bear that which is unbearable. To turn the other cheek. To exhibit one’s humanity so blatantly yet passively.

He makes me wish I was a better person.


Posted by on October 2, 2008 in Celebrity, Life, Personal, Politics


9 responses to “Happy Birthday

  1. Pitu

    October 2, 2008 at 8:30 pm

    No offense but I don’t see why that makes him a better person. Turning the other cheek is so not my idea of ‘wisdom’ or even ‘goodness’. Give me a Lokmanya Tilak any day! My own family has produced freedom fighters who actually ‘fought’ for their freedom. Hubby’s grandfather was in prison for arms smuggling against the Brits. It’s what I would have done. And that- being imprisoned in Andaman-Nicobar, wondering how your wife and children will survive, being reviled and treated like shit by the Brits and STILL saying with Tilak “Swaraj is my birthright and I shall have it” – to me THAT’S a great human being and I hope I could have been as courageous.

  2. naren

    October 3, 2008 at 12:54 am

    He was definitely good. Here in Mumbai it is very popular to deride Mahatma Gandhi and his non violence. In fact, when you are forced to do something against your better judgment, you say, sardonically “Majboori ka naam Mahatma Gandhi”. Which means Mahatma Gandhi did what he did because he had no alternative.

    But non-violence is a powerful weapon. I’d say, offhand, that the Palestinians would do a lot better to have passive sit-ins and mass protests than sniping and suicide bombing. It takes serious guts to accept punishment passively. Hitting back makes you feel good about it, and lets you bear your oppression. But it does nothing to end the oppression. Infact it just tells the oppressor he is right.

    Of course, these are deep waters for a habitual bufoon, I should stick to making jokes. But I agree with you. The guy deserves respect. Which of us could turn the other cheek? Not me.

  3. Smoke Screen

    October 3, 2008 at 4:38 am


    Putting it that way – turning the other cheek – makes it sound like passivity, and somehow takes away from the concept as Gandhi practiced it. I believe it’s a very powerful form of protest, of challenging, confronting injustice through the force of your convictions rather than the force of violence. That as a nation we haven’t understood it is evident in the mockery we make of Ahimsa and Satyagraha in our meaningless bandhs, protests and fasts.

    The reason I admire the man is something else he stood for – self-respect, in the sense of respecting yourself for what you are, and the dignity that goes with it.

  4. Shubhendu Trivedi

    October 3, 2008 at 4:52 am

    What is the whole point of comparing like that?
    Comparisons are pointless almost always.

  5. Hades

    October 3, 2008 at 11:38 am

    I’m afraid this post would get a lot of comments that disagree with you. In what could only be an exercise in pointlessness let me try and silo the dissenters.

    1)The right-winger who thinks Gandhi gave too much to “them”. He will point to Partition and Gandhi’s fast to ostensibly make Nehru relent and give Pakistan the money that India “owed” it after partition.

    2)The ultra left-winger who thinks that Gandhi sold out to the British. He will point to Gandhi’s frequent “capitulations” before the British, raising incident like Chauri Chaura. He will also point out that the nature of the India state remained more or less intact even after the British left–“Yeh Aazadi jhooti hai” and other such slogans. He might even raise Bhagat Singh/Lord Irwin.

    3)The fundamentalist Muslim view or the League’s view before partition: “Gandhi is a cunning ol’ Bania out to screw us.”

    There of course will be other views, but these, I think would cover a large number. Or so I feel.

    My own personal view? Well, I feel putting Gandhi on a pedestal, you know the whole sobriquet of the Mahatma, is a bit too much, although the practice is quite an old one–Jinnah was once booed off the stage at a Congress session for refusing to address Gandhi as Mahatma, preferring to call him Mr. Gandhi instead.

    But then again, the way he opposed the British was quite brilliant, often beating then at their own game. If we erase Partition from the death toll, the Indian Independence movement was remarkably peaceful for the results it delivered.

  6. Amrita

    October 3, 2008 at 1:44 pm

    Pitu – none taken 🙂 Of course that’s what everybody hopes they can do if they were in that position but look at it this way: in such a situation, people react in one of two ways – they either put up or they put up a fight. What Gandhi did was revolutionary – he put up a fight by not “fighting”. And then he got millions to do the same. Somebody once said that the real revolution in the world is peace and love because it runs so contrary to our natural response (I’m paraphrasing).

    Naren / Hades – I don’t know about putting him on a pedestal (my own view has always been that Gandhi is all the more interesting because he was a mortal the same as all of us) but the older I get, the more admiration I have for him. It came to me the other day that what’s so fascinating about his philosophy is the time in which he preached it – he wasn’t just protesting British rule but he was also forcing the British to look at Indians as something more than the subhuman natives they considered us. By refusing to let (very justifiable) anger rule the day, he basically knocked the theory that we were a bunch of maddened animals out to get the white man out of the water. Which is fucking brilliant and thoroughly devious.

    Smoke Screen – oh that’s not what I meant at all so I’m sorry if my words made it sound that way. You put it very well.

    Shubhendu – well, everybody did their share 🙂

  7. Kanan

    October 3, 2008 at 2:25 pm

    Happy birthday to Bapu. 🙂

    I’m all for his satya and ahimsa rules. Wish I could be more like him.

  8. sachita

    October 3, 2008 at 3:59 pm

    Showing the other cheek might eventually stop the violence and prevent us from ending up in the hospital ward, but I wonder if all that supressed emotion will land me in a psychiatric couch some day!

    That apart, I am extremely fascinated by this man, to be that good and still have millions of people sway by your thoughts to me is unbelievable.(i ahve a theory that, general tendency of people is to follow evilness a.ka hitler). i just wish I would have gotten an opportunity to study him further rather than the usual “Gandhi’s birthdate, parents, birth place”, kind of lessons.

  9. bollyviewer

    October 3, 2008 at 4:26 pm

    The more I hear about the Mahatma‘s life, the more he grows into an unpleasant person to know! There is no denying what he did for the freedom movement, though. Before him, it was mostly the Indian elite who were involved in the freedom struggle. It was he who galvanized the masses and his non-cooperation movement was a stroke of genius. Pitu, “fighting” for freedom may be a more satisfactory way (who doesnt like revenge on an oppressor) but it inevitably garners bad publicity in the enemy camp. Nobody in the British Raj could accuse Gandhi of “terrorism” and the British were wary of suppressing an essentially peaceful movement as it would reflect badly on them – something that didnt bother them in the case of Azad and Bhagat Singh, for e.g. Non-violence in my opinion is very good politics and a lot more effective than violence, in the long run.

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