Saturday, January 21, 2017

Jottings - slice of life - 89 ( Gandhi behind the charka , and Modi’s identity)

Jottings - slice of life - 89 ( Gandhi behind the charka , and Modi’s identity)
It is dangerous to tamper with deep rooted symbols, especially , if those symbols are emblematic of man's attachment and veneration of an ideal beyond himself. More so ,if millions look up to that symbol as an expression of something deep and transformatory, or is reminder of an historical event that forever changed the way they lived. Why is the cross so very special to Christians, or the linga to the Hindus, or the swastika was to the germans?. Those are portent symbols which evoked powerful responses from people.
Swami Vivekananda was once asked by a king why he encouraged idol worship when he was a committed advaitin ( non- duality) himself. Vivekananda looked at him with his beautiful lotus shaped eyes and took the king by his hand to a huge portrait of the king’s father hanging in his lavish hall. Pointing his finger towards it he asked
“ Who is this on the wall ?”.
The king said “ My father Swami, who passed away a few years ago”
“Can you spit on this picture?”
The king was alarmed. “How can I Swami?, it is my father’s memory”
Vivekananda smiled and said “ Similarly idols are memories or remembrances of something divine and deep within man. As long as the symbol serves the purpose, there is no need to discard or change it..”
The symbolic picture then of a contemplative Gandhi behind the charka (hand loom), spinning Khadi is an iconic one. It represents the angst, the glory, the calm repose, poise and the message of non-violence - all rolled into one - of one of the greatest philosopher-politicians of the twentieth century, or perhaps in record human history. There are only few names which are instantly recognizable almost anywhere in the globe, and Gandhi is certainly one among them. His political ideals, vision of Independent India and choice of leadership during its formative years may be argued and debated, but none can question his personal integrity and the kind of reverence he holds in peoples minds and hearts. To most Indians, he is the man who bought them independence; he is the man who singlehandedly broke the high-chinned arrogance of the British, he is the man with feet firmly on Indian soil and defiantly represented the inner resilience of Indian civilization against the exploiting imperialism of the west. Khadi was his tool to attach himself to the common man. His symbolic picture in cross legged pose weaving Khadi as a daily ritual in Sabarmati ashram between 4 AM each day was his prayer, consecration and commitment to the cause of ancient Indian psyche, its indigenous culture and material welfare. He himself wore the simplest of khadi attire, a cloth wound around his puny legs, and a shawl that casually draped his shoulders. In this threadbare attire, he walked not only the length and breadth of India, but the chilly corridors of Westmininster hall and England. “Who is the this half naked Fakir ? “ was how Winston Churchill could describe the man who was rocking British rule to its very foundations. Khadi was his weapon - both Material, spiritual and pure. And After independence, the image of Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi behind the charka was etched into Indian psyche as an integral part of its collective consciousness symbolizing its identity, struggle and triumphs despite the vicissitudes that tore at its body social, political, moral and cultural over the centuries of successive foreign dominions . Generations of great leaders sought inspiration , solace and vision from that one iconic picture. Nelson Mandela, Martin Luther King Jr grafted the fire lighted by Gandhi to their nations and struggles in their own way, and both of them had a picture of Gandhi behind the charka in the corner of their study rooms, silently emulating and receiving his benediction.
in 1946, Margaret white Bourke, the acclaimed British photographer journalist spent some weeks in Sabarmati ashram understanding and profiling Gandhi. She took this iconic picture during her stay. When Life magazine, published it in 1948, after Gandhi’s assassination, it became one of the most striking images ever taken of a political leader, at the the height of civil disobedience, reading with mystic composure a herbal magazine with the Khadi charka in the foreground. It epitomized the man, his struggle and his tremendous inner conviction.
It is this symbol that Prime minister Narendra Modi has attempted to replace in the annual calendar that Khadi Gramudyog bhawan releases each year. By itself, it is an innocuous act of childish self identity, but when you think of it as manipulating a national symbol then it begins to assume different connotations. In the flurry of activity surrounding Jallikattu ( bull fighting) , many seem to have ignored this transgression or else not paid enough attention to it. Hardcore supporters of Modi may argue that Modi is more than competent to replace Gandhi’s traditional presence in an annual calendar event, because he wears Khadi himself, and is a genuine representative of Hindutva. But, a little thought will explain how hollow and misplaced that explanation will sound to their own ears. To issue a separate calendar with prime minister Modi clad in finest Khadi is fine, but to change or replace what is symbolic and existing for decades is not in good taste or principle. That calendar with Gandhi on it has a meaning, a relevance that goes beyond the days and months it captures. To change that is to violate a sacred place within. Perhaps, Modi is good at what he is doing. One of the fears when he came to power was his incessant hankering after self image, especially that of Hindu India, and how he could go any distance to make sure that his persona reflects what he believes to be true India. These pictures in the calendar may be his way of slowly making that happen. The last few months have been particularly hard on him. His demonization program has not been a smooth sail. Riddled with administrative problems, it is a miracle (largely due to the generous and patient cooperation of an entire nation) that his reform even managed to go through without a bloody civil war. If such a shoddy implementation was ever attempted in the west, the President or the man in charge would have been impeached and made accountable for bringing the economic wheels almost to a standstill.
Dont get me wrong. I like Modi’s approach to prime minister-ship. He has bought dynamism, energy and authority to that chair. But it is very important, that he stays focussed on things that are important for the nation, and not allow his own personal identity to usurp national priorities. The replacement of Gandhi’s pictures may be forgotten in the din and roar of time. but the intention of such acts throws up few questions, the answers to which may hold a key to something deeper, wider and sectarian - which does not augur well for the nation as a whole.
God bless…
yours in mortality,

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