Guest Editor’s Note: Mahatma Gandhi: Legacy and Relevance

Let me take this opportunity to doff my hat to the exemplary work that Team Setu is doing in the literary field – bringing new writers into the limelight and making commendable innovations by way of video recordings in these despairing times of pandemic and bringing out highly successful guest-edited special issues. Bravo!

It is indeed an honour to be asked to guest edit the special edition on Gandhi for Setu Mahatma Gandhi: Legacy and Relevance, an e-magazine I am very proud to be associated with.

October 2 was the birth anniversary of a moral colossus, who walked this earth, armed with the powerful weapons of truth and nonviolence which, to him were as old as the hills and which he sharpened and honed, treading from Champaran to Kheda, Dandi to Quit India Movement, winning many a difficult battle and vaulting over many an insurmountable hurdle.

The partition of India, against which he fought tooth and nail, had devastated him because for him Hindu- Muslim unity had to be the bedrock of India, an epitome of communal harmony based on a union of hearts. It seemed to be a defeat for all that he stood for, but still, this nonviolent crusader continued using his powerful weapons, his soft, feathery voice shaking many from a comatose stupor, shaming many into guilt and healing hearts, exemplifying Gurudeb Tagore's words:

Trample the thorns under thy tread
And along the blood lined track walk alone

A man who turned General Smuts from an adversary into an admirer, exemplifying the triumph of satyagraha; on his seventieth birthday, Smuts wrote, 'It was my fate to be the antagonist of a man for whom even then I had the highest respect…he never lost his temper or succumbed to hate…' shocked the refined sensibilities of the aristocratic Winston Churchill, who did not hesitate to call him the half-naked- fakir, inspired respect in Judge Broomfield, filled King George Fifth with wrath, negotiated on equal terms with Lord Irwin, mesmerised people with his toothless charm, was an ordinary man who rose above all petty things to emerge as an extraordinary moral monolith, a peace icon who inspired leaders like Martin Luther King Jr and Nelson Mandela.

 

When Obama visited India in 2010, he hailed Gandhi as "a hero not just to India but to the world." In 2015, visiting Rajghat, he again hailed him, "May we always live in this spirit of love and peace - among all people."

We had invited prose and poetry on the theme of Mahatma Gandhi: Legacy and relevance, some broad themes being Satyagraha and Nonviolence, Khadi and Charkha, impact of Gandhian philosophy, his principle of Trusteeship, Sarvodaya Gandhi and youth, women empowerment and Gandhi, and the contemporary relevance of Gandhi. The response to the call was overwhelming, submissions poured in from all over the world, and many praised the very timely theme. So, a thousand thanks to Team Setu for this commendable and much-needed venture in these dark, dismal times where violence has become the new normal, denigrating our esteemed Bapu quite the trend and the arguments of such naysayers corroborated by fake forwards.

This extraordinary man of the unimpressive physique and poor dress sense, invited by King George 5th at Buckingham Place in 1931, during the Round Table Conference was asked, "Do you think you are properly dressed to meet the King?"

He quipped, "Do not worry about my clothes. The King has enough clothes on for both of us." This moral icon contemptuously referred to as a seditious half-naked fakir by the suave, sophisticated Winston Churchill was not half-naked, on the contrary, he was overdressed in the attire of love, forgiveness, non- violence and hues of peace.

Six Nobel Peace Prize winners called him an inspiration for their principles, multitudes ran to do his bidding, and thousands were baffled by this sharp statesman in beggar's garb.

During the farewell, King George 5th warned him curtly, "Remember, Mr. Gandhi, I won't tolerate any attack on my empire." In gentle tones, the half-naked rebel rejoined, "My Majesty, I should not drag myself into a political debate with you after having enjoyed the hospitality of my Highness." And the two took leave of each other amicably. The man knew how to turn enemies into friends long before it had become the trend to write motivational books on the subject!

When I had read George Orwell's famous essay Reflections on Gandhi, [1949] there was one sentence that had stuck to me, "I believe that even Gandhi's worst enemies would admit that he was an interesting and unusual man who enriched the world simply by being alive." And the concluding line of his essay, "how clean a smell he has managed to leave behind." Yes, indeed, it is this clean smell, drenched in love, non-violence, and peace that can erase the all-pervasive stench of vicious hatred and rancour that is destroying a world which was meant to be bright, beautiful, and benevolent. It is high time that we once again feel the overpowering Gandhian smell all around us because that is the only smell that can cleanse the vitiated atmosphere.

There is a very powerful picture of Bapu, taken in 1946 in Poona [now Pune, where he had been imprisoned], by the legendary American photographer Margaret Bourke White. Shot for the now-defunct Time life magazine, it shows the extraordinary man in very ordinary hues- bare-chested, loin- clothed, seated next to a charkha. This spinning wheel which was the bone of contention between Tagore and Bapu, was, for him, a double-edged sword. Through the homespun cotton, Bapu wanted to drive home the point that he was a part of the poor, toiling millions, and secondly, to encourage his countrymen to become self- sufficient by weaving their cloth, and making it a potent tool of passive resistance. Such was his charisma that even the elite classes burnt foreign cloth and voluntarily started wearing coarse khadi.

In her piece, Hema Ravi, one of the earliest contributors, says, "My one qualification to write about the Mahatma is that we, as children have been brought up with Gandhian Values of truthfulness and non-violence in deed and thoughts. We do not use silk sarees (that are made by killing silkworms) and avoid leather to a very large extent."

He was a man who talked in symbols, who lived in symbols, and in his last symbolic gesture, on 13th August 1947, just two days before India got its independence, he moved to the ramshackle Hydari House, owned by a Muslim to try to forge Hindu–Muslim harmony in an atmosphere ruined by the acrid smell of communal hatred.

The haggard but intrepid figure walked on, unfazed by a shower of stones, surrounded by strident cries of hatred. "Why have you come here?" Bellowed the youth.

"I have come to serve Hindus and Muslims alike…you are welcome to turn against me if you wish; I have nearly reached the end of my life's journey. I have not much further to go. But if you again go mad, I will not be a living witness to it."Alas, humanity did go mad, killing, and being killed, but Bapu was not a living witness to it. Hate had gobbled up an icon of love.

In an interactive session just some days back, I was asked, what would Bapu have done in these pandemic times when insensitivity and callousness have become the new normal.

That got me thinking. Maybe, he would have gone from house to house – well-masked, well-sanitised, spreading the message of compassion, sensitivity, and empathy. During the lockdown, maybe he would have fallen in step with the evicted labourers, infusing in them the importance of self-worth. I concluded by saying that maybe we need a pair of his glasses to look at the world around.

A pair of gold-plated glasses owned by Mahatma Gandhi was recently sold in Britain for 260,000 pounds, Gandhi was known for giving out old or unwanted pairs to those in need or those who helped him – 'an incredible result for an incredible item'. The auction house said that Gandhi had given the glasses to the vendor's uncle while he was working for British Petroleum in South Africa during the 1920s or 1930s.

Reading this news item, I fell into a brown study.

If only we could get hold of a pair of his glasses and look at the skewed world through them. There would be nothing but love all around.

We should not forget that Bapu was a human being with his fads, foibles, whims, and eccentricities; a frail boy afraid of snakes, burglars, ghosts and multiplication tables, who, at age twenty-four spent an entire night at the railway platform, mulling over color prejudice and injustice on 7 June 1893 when he was thrown out of his first-class coach at Pietermaritzburg, South Africa for refusing to vacate the compartment which said, "whites only". This night was the beginning of his uncompromising commitment to his principles, which were to make him a moral colossus, a formidable force to reckon with on the world arena.

In her piece, Bapu in 2020, Mitali Chakravarty says,

"You need to be reborn and attune yourself to the modern world to make the changes. Your soul will have the imprint of your last birth and you will be able to find systems that will cure the world of its ills. You will start your journey after your birthday bash in heaven and we will let Kasturba go with you as a bonus! Go invent an out-of-the-box solution!"

Yes, I am robustly convinced that Gandhi and his ideology of nonviolence are the only antidotes to the virus of hatred that has infiltrated the world. No matter what the critics say, Bapu is for all times – love and peace are for all times. He has the resilience to stay, he has the charisma to hold on with his potent weapons of love, forgiveness, and peace. If the disintegration of the world has to be halted, we need Gandhi.

Non-violence was the first article of his faith, let us march towards the future holding aloft the baton of love, nonviolence, and peace, or else be ready to hurtle headlong down an abyss of despair. In the present volatile scenario, his ideology resonates again with great moral fervour, touching on issues of racism, inequality, and totalitarianism.

In the undercurrents of hatred, now is the time to prick our ears to his message of love and remember that an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth will make the whole world blind. Why yearn for this blindness?

As Alicja Kuberska [Poland] in her poem Contemporary Mahatma Gandhi, says,

People as beautiful as diamonds are missing,
They are as hard as Damascus steel
and the Sun lights up the stars in their souls.
It's hard to be like Mahatma Gandhi and burn yourself in the fire of love.

Indeed it is difficult to be extraordinary like him, but we can at least learn the power of love from him.

In her inimitable style, in her poem Gandhi Jayanti???!!! Padmaja Aiyenger – Paddy says, how, we with our myopic outlook, denigrate and belittle Bapu every day, especially on Gandhi Jayanti. In a similar vein, Laxmisree Banerjee in her sensitively written poem, Gandhi’s Tricolour, pours her anguish thus,

As the beggar woman with a weeping, unfed child
Sits just below the pedestal
Of Gandhi's dust-worn statue.

Dr. Anita Nahal in her stunningly powerful prose -poem, Gandhi's Chaadar puts it so succinctly, "My chaadar did not become soiled with blood, bones, skin and tears. Gandhi's did." And yet, we, in our colossal folly and overweening hubris, tend to forget that soiled chaadar and the great sacrifices of this extraordinary man, who is needed now, like never before.

The piece de resistance amongst the submissions is her piece, Mahatma Gandhi and Chaman Nahal's four novels, The Gandhi Quartet. Chaman Nahal, her father, and the Sahitya Akademi Awardee, happens to be the only writer to have written four novels with Mahatma Gandhi as the central figure. Regarding the Quartet, she says, 'it reminds us in unflinching terms of the need to hold fast to the Gandhian ideals in a world torn apart by narrow sectarian and communal considerations."

Kavita Ezekiel Mendonca, in her sensitive poem Spinning Wheel, writes fondly of her father, Nissim Ezekiel,

before washing the kurtas
He washed them in salt water
A symbolic act,
Father was a lover of peace and nonviolence
Just like Gandhi, homespun men of homespun cloth.

Mitali Chakravarty asks through her immensely poignant poem, Bapu

When will they end this rage?
This hate, anguish and bloodshed?

Yes, when indeed?

The eminent historian Romila Thapar, in her new book, Voices of dissent: An Essay [Random House and Seagull Books] says, "We have a long lineage of persons who have argued that love should replace hatred and that compassion should disallow violence in all social behaviour. Today, these have become the voices of dissent. But whatever the future, may these voices continue to be heard." We need to listen to all such voices, especially to that one feathery, soft voice, and revive his message of nonviolence, love, and peace.

The time is now! Or never! As Dr. Vijay Nair says so poignantly in his powerful poem, Ruminations:

But your wheel still turns under a sky
Where our rights are often seen as wrong
Some walking sticks neither fade nor break.

Yes, his walking stick is never going to break, on the contrary, will get a new sure-footedness with every passing day.

Santosh Bakaya
Before I sign off, let me thank all those who sent their wonderful poems and prose pieces for this special issue on Gandhi, which left me highly enriched and intellectually stimulated, also allow me once again to applaud Team Setu for this timely initiative. Hope Setu keeps building bridges, going from strength to strength.

Here is wishing the diligent Setu team all the best for all future endeavours.

Santosh Bakaya
Guest-Editor 
Setu, October 2020 issue   

Bio:  Amazon India. 
 
 
Mahatma Gandhi Legacy and Relevance, Setu Special, October 2020: Authors


8 comments :

  1. Thanks a ton for this wonderful opportunity. I am indeed honoured and humbled.Keep doing the good work , proud of being associated wit so dynamic a team. Kudos.

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  2. This is an amazing issue. I am honoured to be a part of this and getting published with setu is a huge honour. Thankyou so much Santosh mam.

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  3. This is an amazing issue. I am honoured to be a part of this and getting published with setu is a huge honour. Thankyou so much Santosh mam.

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  4. This is an amazing issue. I am honoured to be a part of this and getting published with setu is a huge honour. Thankyou so much Santosh mam.

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  5. Delighted to be a part of this special edition on Mahatma Gandhi published by Setu Bilingual सेतु पत्रिका
    Thank you dear Santosh di for your love, support and encouragement
    Thank you Sunil Sharma ji and Anurag Sharma ji

    This is a fabulous collection
    Would be wonderful to have a printed collection of this great piece of work

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  6. An excellent, comprehensive and insightful editorial, my dear friend Dr. Santosh Bakaya, that has dealt with all aspects of the life and times of the Mahatma! Your words are both thought-provoking and inspiring! Kudos and respects dear Santosh!

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  7. The poems in this special issue of Setu dedicated to Mahatma Gandhi, are great selections by a great editor Dr. Santosh Bakaya! Heartiest congratulations to all the featured poets! And a wonderfully penned editorial, respected Dr. Sunil Sharma ji! Kudos and appreciations for your tireless efforts to make each and every issue of Setu special and highly readable! Above all, providing great learning too!!!

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  8. Wonderful and very comprehensive editorial on special issue on Bapu. Congratulations to all the contributors, congratulations to team Setu. A nice and much needed endeavour to make the world , at least on academic level, a better one with the magazin's thrusts on equality, justice, liberty, indiscrimination. Let's not forget we are HUMAN, and HUMANISM is our core value, and Gandhi and his legacy based on it.


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