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A eulogy to Gandhi.

"They say Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi was an odd fellow, with a high-pitched, soft, crackly voice- a man who carried volume in his cranium rather than in his diaphragm. A man who would alternately be humorless and prone to childlike giggles at the mundane. Gandhi, it was contended by Guha, was a man with unmatched, empire-shaking power who never acknowledged it in his possession. Gandhi left governance to other, more practical men- but he governed the bigger picture through a kind of leadership India has only seen flickers of in politics since. To another, Gandhi was a strange being, barely Indian. His speech reflected that struggle- the accent of his elite upbringing and English education being suppressed by the humble reality of colonial enslavement. Unlike Nehru or Jinnah, Gandhi was never one to put others at ease. When invited for tea with Viceroy Irwin, he arrived in his khadi dhoti, to the disgust of the British press, who ridiculed the ‘half-naked Fakir’ with indignance. It was in a similar meeting over tea with Irwin that Gandhi allegedly added a pinch of salt to his tea, joking that “this shall remind us of the Boston Tea Party”, triggering a burst of laughter from the Viceroy. In the face of a man who could direct a surgical sense of  measured humour so lethally, I do know this: I certainly would not have liked to be sitting in Lord Irwin’s chair. Then again, Gandhi was his own man until he wasn’t. He, like any other, understood the challenges posed by institutional evils as caste and purdah. It is difficult to believe that a man so well versed in Hindu philosophy would have ignored the tremendously unequal and cruel systems of untouchability, and their importance to the power structure of Indian society- and he did not. But we get a glimpse of what Gandhi would have done had he governed- he chose to grapple with them in private, tactfully, and indirectly. He knew that in his war of ahimsa with the British Empire, he could not afford to lose his people. Seeking to weed out the worst excesses, Gandhi recognized that the ideas that placed them there could not be trifled with. Bear with me- I do believe this was not a mistake, but a task he left to the next generation of free Indians, ready to take on the battles within. Bapu left us signs of where to strike- he called the untouchables Harijans, hailed women as the institutions of tomorrow’s India and the backbone of rural society, lived in villages, drinking dirty water and eating meager fare like the vast majority of Indians at the time. Even in the pits of poverty, he knew he was privileged- he could get out any time. They, his countrywomen and men, could not. We could not expect him to do everything, but like a concerned Indian mother, dedicated to preserving her brood, he tried to cover for us when we shirked our duties. He fasted, quite literally, for our sins while we slaughtered each other in the streets of Calcutta and Lahore. When we refused to open our doors to the poor, he lived as they did. Instead, we glamorized his way of living with the sense of fascination that we’d imbue a street fakir with. “Oh, did you see that Gandhi! What a man- lives like a chamar, wears filthy dhotis, truly a man of God!” No, India. At a time when only those with full bellies had the luxury of independent thought and willpower, we wasted our privilege on admiring him for his sense of fashion, failing to grasp his pleas within that dress and that lifestyle, for us to rise to that mantle. Do not take me for a pessimist who forgets his history- I recall well that there was a time when millions joined hands with the old man in burning their Lancashire clothing and marching with him to Dandi, or without him at Dharasana. That was his miracle- and the reason why we don’t remember him as a lamb of God, but as the father of the nation. It was poetic justice then that a man that commanded international fascination, if not international respect, was victim, like Drona, to his own students. Gandhi’s injection of spirituality in his politics to subdue the worst of colonialism and religion- which he quickly realized were the same- set in motion events beyond his recognition or control. His dying words reflected the didactic personality that would have alienated him from his colleagues had he not been so willing to lose his status for the respect of society. The first time I heard “Hey Ram” was in history in the first grade. The words echoed like a terrifying chant- resounding with morbidity and mortal fear. Growing up, their meaning changed. Gandhi was lamenting- he knew there was nothing else he could have done. His children had run amok, and torn his home to the ground. Gandhi was celebrating- he knew how far he had brought them. Surely his Ram would take them farther, much farther in the years to come, free of the imperialist yoke. Gandhi was acquiescent- this was where he had known it would end. Not from a .308 ACP to the chest, but from the hatred that he knew was endemic in his family, a metastasizing cancer he had tried his best to ignore while operating on the festering surface wound. Gandhi was victorious- dying like this would bring a pause in the slaughter. It would give untold lakhs of families time to get away to safety, perhaps even convince some that India was still alive, and to pick up the charkha once again, knowing that true freedom was yet to come. India is tied to Mohandas. We are tied to him in life, in death, in slavery and freedom. We share the unique bond of the debtor who is also the guru- we have owed him the dakshina of peace, making our debt the biggest non-performing asset till date. Pillbox: In 2019, the three Lok Sabha constituencies that largely correspond to the Chamaparan district was won by margins exceeding 25% by BJP candidates. Champaran was the district of interior Bihar where Gandhi took up the issue of forced Indigo cultivation resulting in famine among farmers."

Source- Stanford Journal.


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