My Experiments with the Youth and Bapu: Santosh Bakaya

Santosh Bakaya

My MPhil class was in full swing. I was going full throttle talking about Gandhi, Satyagraha, civil disobedience and non- violence.    
“We don’t need Gandhi. Gandhi has lost his relevance. Hitler is the need of the hour. Madam, don’t keep harping on Gandhi. He was responsible for the partition of the country. He was partial towards the Muslims, he was a casteist …”
Before the vain student, sheathed in an aura of unshakeable arrogance,  could hurl more he was-es at me and use more derogatory words, I asked him:
“Have you read My Experiments with Truth?”
“No.” A vigorous shaking of head.
“Have you read Hind Swaraj?” 
“No.” More vigorous shaking of head.
“Have you read Mein Kamph?”
Mein Kamph, what, madam?”
“What do you know about Hitler?”  
“He was great.”  A glow on the young face. 
“Really?  Any great deeds you know of?”
“Well, he was brave.” The face sparkled.
“Brave! Was he?”
A vehement nodding of the head.
“You patronize the WhatsApp University, cannot differentiate between fake news and the truth, go hoarse in the throats discussing photo-shopped pictures of Gandhi, I am not sitting here listening to your vile words. If you have to criticize someone, first read about them and then criticize. ” Saying this, I left the class, fuming in rage.
 If I had eyes behind my back, I would have noticed twenty young faces running the whole gamut of emotions- bewilderment, confusion, anger and indignation.
As I raced out of the classroom, I could also hear a babel of voices behind me.
Strident. Shrill. Satirical. Squeaky.  An admixture of good and bad.

“How can Gandhi be relevant in this new age of computers, mobiles, and social media?”  
How could his charkha spinning solve our problems ?”
“How would he have dealt with all this violence all around us?”
 
“He was idiosyncratic.”
Do you even know the spelling of this word? Had he been around, he wouldn’t have allowed us to mutate into robots.”
This was the voice of a girl who was holding her own against the nineteen other naysaying students.   
  
I was in no mood to give my rejoinders to them, so I did the next best thing – kept silent- with the intention of coming back later with my robust counter- arguments.

 Deep in my heart I felt, it was my responsibility as a teacher to make Gandhi and his simple philosophy simpler to the confused students, who were inadvertently reading complexities in his simplicities.      
On my way back to the staff room, there was a churning in my head. There is a plethora of Gandhian Studies Centers, where, Gandhian scholars are invited to deliver lectures on different aspects of Gandhism, where I have seen the audience, not just students, but also teachers, waiting desperately for the tea break.  It is indeed a paradox that the more books are written on the moral icon, more and more cynics and naysayers are born.
“Gandhi is dead, why revive him?”   Boom the detractors.
In thoroughly researched papers, in international and national conferences on Gandhi, highly erudite scholars reiterate the relevance of Gandhi, frothing at the mouth, using complicated and convoluted vocabulary for the ideology of a simple man, who listened to his inner voice, was perennially experimenting, candidly confessing his mistakes, and evolving every day.

 
“ When Martin Luther King Jr, American Civil rights leader visited India [10 February – 10 March 1959] after the enormous success of the Montgomery Bus Boycott, which had been inspired by Gandhi, he famously said, ‘to other countries I may go as a tourist, but to India I come as a pilgrim’.
Really, madam?” One of the students asked me when I said this in another of my talks.
“Can you tell us something about The Montgomery Bus Boycott and his India Visit?”
“If I tell you everything, what will YOU tell me? I am also a student, on a perennial quest.” The student looked askance at me for some time, and then smiled.
 When he met me again after some days, I was pleasantly surprised that he had not only read everything about the Montgomery Bus Boycott, but could also draw similarities between the Dandi March and the Montgomery Bus Boycott.

“The Montgomery Bus Boycott was the first large scale demonstration against racial segregation in the USA; it started the Civil Rights Movement in the United States. They said that the great man, Gandhi had inspired them.” He talked on and on, his eyes beaming.  
 
Agreed, Gandhi had some quirks, he could be idiosyncratic, fastidious, and obstinate – but we shouldn’t forget that he was an ordinary man who rose above the ordinary, through his moral gumption.
I remember telling one of my students, not very long back:
“You are obsessed with the latest brands, try becoming obsessed with the Gandhi brand- the brand of truth and nonviolence.”   
He looked at me as though I had gone insane. It is not easy for a student of the present capitalistic, brand -conscious society to find some commonalities with Brand Gandhi.  How to identify with the soul- force that he so soulfully talked of?
Gandhi walked the talk. But, we, teachers just talk. And talk.
All of us know that he was a great walker and even laughed at the youngsters who felt exhausted after walking a little. But he was always trying to learn from his mistakes, trying to become a better version of himself by walking the talk.  
“You know the Salt march appealed to everyone. During the march, many had blistered feet, many became tired, but not the sixty one year old Gandhi who, considered walking twelve kilometers child’s play.
I told some school students in a talk on Gandhi one day.  
“Did this really happen?”
“Leaning on a lacquered bamboo staff, he and his seventy -eight followers walked two hundred miles in twenty four days, treading on winding dirt roads, uneven terrain, peasants kneeled by the roadside as the pilgrims passed, during the Dandi March.”  
“ Is this true or just heresy?”
“Why did he choose salt as a mode of protest? Salt is such a small thing. ” One youngster wanted to know, his curiosity triggered.
 “You know, Subhash Chandra Bose compared the Dandi March to Napoleon’s March to Paris on his return from Elba.” 
“But wasn’t he Gandhi’s staunch critic?”
“Read for yourself and find out. You need to know things on your own, so Read a lot.  If you read you will come to know many things.” Things grew curiouser and curiuoser for them.
Then they tried to satisfy their curiosity- by reading and reading.   
What the students are in dire need of,  is not scholarly essays, but random  incidents from his life narrated to them with a raconteur’s delight, in a way which makes them yearn to know more. In many workshops in schools and colleges, I have related incidents from his life, and made the students perform skits based on those incidents.  They later told me that they would never forget those incidents, because by enacting them, they had become a part of them. Some youngsters even called me later to inform me that they were reading more and more books on Gandhi, and many cobwebs had been removed from their minds.

I believe that we, the teachers need not have stiff upper lips while discussing Gandhi with students. Getting our papers published in reputed UGC approved journals is only going to add to our academic achievements; the students will not even read them, unless they are in their syllabus.   I am speaking from experience.

Believe me, I have seen students arguing against the idiosyncratic man, and then the same students arguing in favour of the magician in loincloth.  I always tell my students that we should not put him on a pedestal, because like all of us, he was not without his fads and foibles. Many were the times that his best friends bantered with him regarding his points of view which they found naïve and impractical.
 It was Gurudeb Tagore, who conferred the title of the Mahatma on him. Both respected each other tremendously, but also differed on many ideological issues. Tagore penned the essay The Cult of the Charkha, [an essay by Tagore, September 1925, Modern Review] critiquing the importance of the charkha, but nonetheless was firmly convinced of the authority of the moral colossus, considering him the very embodiment of Shakti.

Sarojini Naidu once quipped, “Do you know how much it costs every day to keep you in poverty?” Undoubtedly, a tongue- in- cheek remark by his feisty, frank friend, which was taken seriously by his detractors. It was this spunky friend who remarked ‘Hail Deliverer’, when on 6 April, 1930, at 8. 30 AM, Gandhi picked up a piece of salt in the coastal town of Dandi left by the waves of the Arabian Sea,   breaking the British law which made the possession of salt, not made by the British, a punishable crime. It marked the beginning of the civil disobedience Movement, dealing a blow to the ‘nefarious monopoly’ of the British to make salt.

No amount of Gandhi- bashing, effigy- burning, mud- slinging, idol desecrating, assassin- glorifying, murder- glorification, can bash or burn or desecrate the values which Bapu stood for. It is time to remember the words of Martin Luther King Jr. ‘Over the bleached bones and jumbled remains of numerous civilizations are written the pathetic words ‘too late’. We still have a choice today, nonviolent co- existence or violent co- annihilation.”
If we do not uphold the principles of truth and nonviolence, the day is not far when humanity will find itself hurtling down an abyss, and it will be too late then.
Why should we wait for it to be so late, when hatred, bigotry and intolerance sharpen their claws to attack the vestiges of humanism and love is gobbled up by the capacious mouth of hate? Reminds me of what a thirteen year old, his face wreathed in utter perplexity, asked me in a workshop on Gandhi,
“Madam, itni saari nafrat aati kahaan sey hai? [What is the root of all this hatred?]
Yes, exactly - From where? And why?
On King’s death, The New York Times said, “A man of peace, he died violently. A man of love, he died hated by many.”  The same can be said about our Bapu.

Peeping from the sepia- tinted pages of history, we can still see images of the Dandi Marchers, led by a frail figure, leaning on a staff, walking briskly, giving the youngsters a complex,  rousing a comatose nation out of its centennial stupor, casting his hypnotic spell on his awestruck disciples, the champion spinner, spinning and smiling toothlessly, people running pell- mell to catch a glimpse of this extraordinary man, the half- naked fakir of Churchill, lying on the funeral pyre fully clothed in the garment of love, compassion and non- violence, while devastated people hung from precariously creaking branches to catch the final glimpse of a man, the likes of which visit the earth just once.


5 comments :

  1. An excellent article. Tells a lot about what the misguided youth thinks about Gandhi. It sends the message that Babu can never be forgotten.

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  2. It is interesting how so many classes with innumerable students have the same questions. Thank you for keeping the flag up. Pranam!

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  3. Santosh ji has pinpointed the absolute truth about the perception of the youth. We as teachers and parents need to retell the stories of this great soul that walked for the good of humanity!
    Love her writing each time I read it
    Nivedita

    ReplyDelete

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