As I watch the setting rays smear the sky with hues of gold, red and mauve, the orange sun moves towards the darkness of night. I have been reading about another sky that had lit up with strange vibrant colours under a mushroom cloud to collapse into blackness, wrecking cities and destroying generations of humans. It had happened more than seventy-five years ago, but the residues impact the world and humans to this date. That fateful day, the Little Boy fell from Enola Gay’s womb to bring “peace”. Then, a couple of days later, there was the Fat Man…
I look at the river ripple reflecting shades of the sky and wonder why people miss out on the beauty of life and nature… Were the sky and the water any different that August in 1945? Why would we need nuclear warheads to maintain peace on Earth? Their toxicity destroyed both nature and humans. Was this the ‘peace’ that the last century leadership had brokered for us?
Long ago there lived a man who tried to get justice as a citizen of the British empire for the unjust treatment meted out to Indians in South Africa. He was incredibly spirited. He wanted justice and he had faith in British fair-play. He returned to his own home country, India, with much fanfare for the young barrister had become a politician.
That was in 1915. I read his biography. Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi. He was an ordinary man who became extraordinary to meet his need for a just world, a society where people were treated as equals. He said some good things. But was nationalism one of them? I think he wanted freedom from abuse and exploitation for all mankind.
He popularised Satyagraha. Satyagraha, to my limited understanding, is using truth to overcome violence with non-violence, through peaceful resistance and non-cooperation towards abusive laws.
An exhausted man, unhappy with the use to which his ideas were being misconstrued after his return to India, Gandhi wrote that he had made a “Himalayan miscalculation” in his autobiography, My Experiments with Truth. This is how he described his “Himalayan miscalculation”: “A Satyagrahi obeys the laws of society intelligently and of his own free will, because he considers it to be his second duty to do so. It is only when a person has thus obeyed the laws of society scrupulously that he is in a position to judge as to which particular rules are good and just which are unjust and iniquitous. Only then does the right accrue to him to the civil disobedience of certain laws in well-defined circumstances. My error lay in my failure to observe this necessary limitation. I had called on the people to launch upon civil disobedience before they had qualified themselves for it, and this mistake seems to me to be of Himalayan magnitude.” Can this view be that of a nationalist?
In any case, I do not understand this word – nationalist -- or too many like it for ‘ists’ and ‘isms’ confuse me. I do not know much about Gandhi really or anything else. I am not a specialist. But reading his autobiography, I felt he did not want independence with the terms it was being meted out in the Indian subcontinent. He wanted something different. He wanted welfare of the people. And most of all kindness, love, harmony and the ability to accept diversity. I remember reading of how he went off to villages — Champaran was one — and taught people to keep their village clean.
When I was young, I remember reading a book called Bahuroopee Gandhi in which he was shown in myriad roles — that of a sweeper, a teacher and many more. I think this was about dignity of labour. It showed no task should be under rated or be seen as below one’s dignity. And his autobiography regurgitated what I had read as a child.
He went into villages cleaned and taught. He wrote: “As I gained more experience of Bihar, I became convinced that work of a permanent nature was impossible without proper village education. The ryots’ ignorance was pathetic.”
While we draw rosy pictures of rural life, he wrote the truth in his autobiography that the villages lacked hygiene and were incredibly dirty. He tried to clean them up as he tried to educate people about cleanliness and hygiene across India. He wrote of the appalling bathrooms in the houses of the rich in Bombay.
Why would one bring in bathroom hygiene into a discussion of more eclectic issues? Because dirty bathrooms are not just smelly but spread diseases. Like potable water, it is a basic need for a healthy life. Gandhi knew that. He would start his campaign by cleaning up a village. He did so in Bihar.
He was a strange man. He abstained from giving his sons a proper schooling despite having the means to do so. He wrote: “Had I been without a sense of self-respect and satisfied myself with having for my children the education that other children could not get, I should have deprived them of the object lesson in liberty and self-respect that I gave them at the cost of the literary training.”
But I am deviating. We were talking of living and dying against a sky with mushroom clouds, though cholera or Covid both demand basic hygiene. They declared ‘Nuclear Armistice’ where the fear of being bombed would prevent war. What kind of a life is that? Learning to live in fear? Where is the freedom?
Gandhi had declared: “‘The very frightfulness of the atom bomb will not force non-violence on the world? If all nations are armed with the atom bomb, they will refrain from using it as it will mean absolute destruction for all concerned?’ I am of the opinion that it will not. The violent man’s eye would be lit up with the prospect of the much greater amount of destruction and death which he could now wreak.”
So, what was his solution?
He wrote: “‘What is the antidote? Has it antiquated non-violence?’ No. On the contrary, non-violence is the only thing that is now left in the field. It is the only thing that the atom bomb cannot destroy. I did not move a muscle when I first heard that the atom bomb had wiped out Hiroshima. On the contrary, I said to myself, ‘unless now the world adopts non-violence, it will spell certain suicide for mankind.’”
The sun entered the tomb with stars lighting up a ceiling embedded with a new fledgling of a moon. As the darkest hours are said to be before the onset of dawn, maybe, we are all waiting, sleeping in a foetal position, waiting to be reborn into a world where more are converted than lesser. Long ago, no one had thought of Satyagraha, even though Gandhi called his ideas ‘older than the hills’. The thing is he brought them forward and put them before us. Perhaps, if we take his ideas beyond the pages of old books, notes in our wallets, statues and names of roads and buildings, the sun might emerge out of the tomb of night.
If enough of us believe and speak out the truth — only the truth — nothing but the truth, maybe mankind will wake up to a new dawn and a far better fate than lemmings who are said to commit suicide voluntarily. Research however interprets it as an accidental condition where the mass migration of lemmings leads to their falling into the sea involuntarily. We are humans with brains — not lemmings. Surely at some point, we will just have to wake up as a species to Gandhi’s call, rise above our greed and learn to live by our need.
We are just waiting for that dawn.