Sunday, June 9, 2013

From ‘Goodbye to Gandhi. Travels in the New India’ by Bernard Imhasly

….statement voiced by the German nuclear physicist Werner Heisenberg: ‘In the West we have built a big and beautiful ship. It has all the possible comforts, yet something is missing: it has no compass and doesn’t know where it is heading. Men like Tagore and Gandhi have found it. Why cant we install this compass in our ship, so that both may find their ultimate purpose?’

Gandhi …..The Jain concept of anekantavad was equally important to him. ‘I very much like this doctrine of many-ness of reality. It is this doctrine that has taught me to judge a Muslim from his own standpoint and a Christian from his….’

….Shiva temple of Somnath ….. the list of prohibited items put up near the entrance …… it said in Gujarati, Hindi and English,‘No mobile phones,’ and, more bizarrely: ‘No coconuts and revolvers.’

The struggle against the British had not been Gandhi’s only concern. His strategy of non-violence went hand in hand with his personal quest for truth, wherein he constantly questioned his own motives. Satyagraha, ‘holding on to truth’, was not only intended to banish the evil in the other – be it political and racist repression of religious and social discrimination – but, in the process, to cleanse the self too.

… his obsession with cleanliness and hygiene, as well as in his insistence on punctuality, he was a constant critic of his people.

Ela Bhatt …. SEWA ….. I kept hearing comments like “when men see money, something happens in their heads”. Women are certainly less corrupt. They can look into the future, I don’t know why. Perhaps it has to do with biological factors. What is certain is that they are better at planning, at saving. And since they look ahead, they have developed survival strategies, which are not based on exclusion and violence, but on non-violence and integration.’

Rajasthan … a local saying: ‘When the rains fail, only three living beings survive: the Brahmin, the goat and the camel.’ …. Udayvilas Resort ….. a 100,000 litres of water are used every day for tending to the extravagant Mughal gardens and swimming pools for each of the resort’s bungalows. This massive daily consumption puts the ecological benefits of tourism in perspective: the average Rajasthani family consumes as much water in three-and-a-half years.

Rajiv Gandhi ….. Of hundred rupees, just about fifteen reached the beneficiaries; the rest was lost in the gigantic net of corruption that had grown around the anti-poverty schemes.

Aruna Roy told me ….that India today has ‘the most liberal law in the world to disclose official information’.

Indians are talkative people, and they cant wait until they have extracted each and every personal detail from strangers

‘Kidnapping in Bihar is a sophisticated business,’ the documentary filmmaker Prakash Jha would tell me later, ‘You can hire kidnapping specialists, and the victim’s families can hire people who specialize in their release. If you are willing to pay, you can get better treatment for a victim, better food as well. And when it comes to paying the ransom, the “client” can choose from several alternatives, even credit cards!’

Gandhi had walked the sixteen kilometres from Narkatiaganj to Bhitiwarwa. In contrast to the modern ‘parachute Gandhians’, he could thus actually witness the poverty from close quarters …… We drove alongside a canal in which children, shouting happily, were splashing about. Buffaloes were standing in the water and did not seem to mind being used as diving boards or as gleaming black slides over which the children glided into the water, arms and legs up in the air. Nearby, women had begun transplanting the paddy; their bright red saris were visible from a distance. On coming closer, we heard their rhythmic singing as they pressed the plants into the water. The Arcadian beauty of the scene made me momentarily forget that this was backbreaking work and that the saris the women wore were probably the only ones they possessed.

….. Primary Health Centre (PHC) in the nearby village of Amalwa. ….the administrator ….When I inquired about the poor attendance, he said that nobody came for treatment, and he listed the reasons: the medical worker had died in 2001 and had not been replaced; the doctor had been transferred in 2003. He had not been replaced either. Only a midwife and he were still in service.

I could see with my own eyes why nobody wanted to come here. In a corner of the operating theatre was a jumble of metal rods, the leftovers of a taping table and a stretcher. And as I tried to open the medicine closet, the official rushed in to stop me, but too late – a swarm of bees came flying out. How did she manage deliveries under these conditions, I asked the nurse. She shrugged. The women just had to give birth on the floor, she said

Manipur, a state half the size of Switzerland with a third of its population, has twenty-six underground organizations to its thirty-five ethnic groups. …. In Manipur alone, with a military strength of 44,320 soldiers, there is one serviceman to every fifty-six inhabitants – almost seven times the figure of Germany.

I recalled the notorious quote by M.S. Golwalkar, Hedgewar’s successor as RSS chief, who in 1939 had written in We, or Our Nationhood Defined: ‘…. the foreign races in Hindusthan must either adopt the Hindu culture and language, must learn to respect Hindu religion’, or they will have to live ‘in the country, wholly subordinated to the Hindu nation, claiming nothing, deserving no privileges ….not even citizen’s rights.’

….just as Gandhi did not want to be in the city, Ambedkar did not want to be in the village. His blue suit and red tie, a copy of the Constitution in the left hand, sends out a message not only as clear as that of Gandhi’s symbols, but also clearly the opposite. The outstretched right hand points to the distance and tells Dalits: ‘Your future lies not in the village and in tradition, but in the modernity of the city, the universities and factories.’

These differences in body language and mode of dress, as depicted by their iconic statues, tell us that Ambedkar and Gandhi looked for different ways not only out of the caste system, but also out of poverty. Contact with the West and ‘industrialism’ had convinced Gandhi that the economic well-being of India’s 650,000 villages did not lie in industrialization and urbanization but in the rural subsistence economy, in which everyone had enough for his own needs, and no more, In his view, industry would in the long run not create jobs, but destroy them. Ambedkar, in contrast, also with a western education behind him, saw the village as nothing more than the ‘cesspool’ hindering all economic progress, precisely because it stifled the free development of all social groups.

Gandhi ….. ‘The test of orderliness in a country is not the number of millionaires it owns, but the absence of starvation among its masses.’

There are 1.2 million NGOs here, engaging and employing seven million people. The entire sector has a turnover of 190 billion rupees…. Yet, 75 per cent of all NGOs are one-man outfits. Hundreds of thousands of them work in isolation, without synergies or networks.

…..Tamil saying: ‘He who is born in fire, is not burnt by the sun’.

Gandhi …. ‘… he played a vital role in giving the people of this country the feeling of belonging to a national community’. …..John Stratchey….acting Viceroy had said in 1888: ‘There is not and never was an Indian or even any country of India, possessing any sort of unity, physical, political, social or religious.’ And Churchill had famously – and with a snigge – compared India to the Equator. It was precisely the opposite which Gandhi had achieved …. Millions of people have identified with him, rich and poor, Hindus and Muslims. From him they acquired a feeling of being part of a community’.

The poet Nirmal Verma had ….in a diary entry from 1986: ‘If I think of Gandhi, what is the first image that appears? Something akin to a flame: a light in the darkness, hardly occupying any space; weak, but without trembling, it rests in itself, wide awake; yet it burns, so quietly, one doesn’t even notice that it burns’.

Gandhi represents for me something of the immense diversity of India, in this potpourri of paradoxes which are compressed into this one person and this single biography: earthiness and spirituality, simplicity and elegance, steadfastness and pragmatism, tolerance and fierceness, rusticality and universality….

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