Special Edition: The Legacy and Relevance of Gandhian Philosophy in the New Millennium

Santosh Bakaya
It is indeed an honour to be asked to guest edit the special edition on Gandhi [October issue of Setu, Mahatma Gandhi: Legacy and Relevance], an e-magazine I am very proud to be associated with, which is making immense strides in the literary firmament.

Thanks a ton, Dr. Sunil Sharma and Team Setu for this huge responsibility. I doff my hat to Anurag Sharma, and Dr. Sangeeta Sharma for their indefatigability. 

Immense gratitude to all the forty seven contributors, who have enriched this issue with their hopes, dreams and exhortations.

October 2 is the birth anniversary of a moral colossus, who walked this earth, armed with the powerful weapons of truth and nonviolence which he sharpened and honed, winning many a difficult battle and vaulting over many insurmountable hurdles.  Living a Spartan life, often sleeping in the open, performing hard labour, which left him with blistered feet, walking faster than youngsters, this half-naked fakir of Churchill, the Mickey Mouse of Sarojini Naidu, the Mahatma of Gurudeb turned General Smuts from an adversary into an admirer, exemplifying the triumph of Satyagraha. On Bapu’s 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 ...’

This ordinary man had extraordinary means of communicating with the common people and touching their hearts. He knew how to melt even the hearts of stone-hearted people.
Often, instead of delivering a speech in mass meetings, he would merely sit cross-legged, swaying to the beat of his own inner sublime musicality. Communicating by touching hearts- a soft, feathery voice, a toothless smile, and love–drenched words were the props that he used- and a reverential hush descended on the people.

Often, instead of delivering a speech in mass meetings, he would merely sit cross-legged, swaying to the beat of his own inner sublime musicality. Communicating by touching hearts- a soft, feathery voice, a toothless smile, and love–drenched words were the props that he used- and a reverential hush descended on the people.

Many are the times, I have narrated what prompted me to write Ballad of Bapu, a poetic biography of Bapu.  A student in my M Phil Class had the cheek to use a derogatory word for Bapu, maintaining that Bapu had lost his relevance and the need of the hour was Hitler, not Gandhi.

“Have you read anything about him?” I asked, fuming. 

“No, I don’t want to read anything about him.” He rejoined, almost staggering under the weight of his swagger, cocky air, and WhatsApp rhetoric.

In a slightly apologetic tone, he later added, “I am a poet, why don’t you write a poetic biography of Gandhi?  I promise I will read then.” 

My indignation lessened, but the challenge of the student remained, resulting in Ballad of Bapu- a poetic biography of Bapu. [Vitasta, 2015]

I presented the first copy of the book to this student- and let me confess, I consider it my greatest achievement as a teacher that he is now a lecturer, Gandhian studies, his specialization.

From the Pietermaritzburg incident, which was the turning point in his career, to the Independence of India, this ordinary man made extraordinary strides, inspiring reverence in Judge Broomfield, filling King George Fifth with wrath, negotiating on equal terms with Lord Irwin, bewitching the common folks with his uncommon charisma and toothless charm, emerging as an extraordinary moral monolith, a peace icon who inspired leaders like Martin Luther King Jr, Dalai Lama, and Nelson Mandela.

The Dalai Lama had said, “Many ancient Indian masters have preached ahimsa, non-violence as a philosophy. That was mere philosophical understanding. But, Mahatma Gandhi, produced a very sophisticated approach, because he implemented that very noble philosophy of ahimsa in modern politics, and he succeeded.”

On his India visit, in 2010, Obama 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.”

The partition of India, against which he fought tooth and nail, had devastated him. 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 voice shaking many from a comatose stupor, shaming many into guilt, exemplifying Gurudeb Tagore’s words:  
Trample the thorns under thy tread
And along the blood-lined track walk alone”

As the humanitarian crisis which started on October 7, 2023,   deepens in Gaza, assuming ominous overtones, and images of crowded hospitals, wailing women and children, homeless people seeking shelter in UN-run schools, and a dearth of room in the cemeteries for the newly dead,   are branded on the world conscience, a frail voice throbbing with a robust conviction rises above these grotesqueries, ‘an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth will make the whole world blind ‘. Why yearn for this blindness?

No matter what the critics say, Bapu is for all times – love and peace are for all times.  In the undercurrents of hatred, now is the time to prick our ears to his message of love. The time is now! Or never!

The response to the submission call for the Gandhi issue was overwhelming. 
It was indeed gratifying that there were submissions from USA, Italy, Canada, and Nigeria, and submissions kept pouring in even after the deadline.

It was indeed gratifying that there were submissions from USA, Italy, Canada, and Nigeria, and submissions kept pouring in even after the deadline. Every contributor had something unique to say about this moral icon.

Dr Malashri Lal was gracious enough to submit ‘a poem in the middle of a crisis’ 'because Gandhi ji is such an inspiration for fortitude. I wish to respect my commitment to you.' This was so Gandhian a gesture, each word steeped in the values that Bapu stood for.

The delightfully innovative piece by Anita Nahal shows us Gandhi watching a weird, artificial jungle from the clouds.  ‘Gandhi went visiting in his loved loin cloth carrying an Ahmisa* placard.”

In her poem, Avantika Vijay Singh compares him to the harsinghar flower, “the fragrance of his principles like the Harshringar flower, continue to guide the country's foreign policy and hold immense power’.

For Barbara Di Saco [Italy] he paved the way “To the future Mandela, to the choruses of peace in his footsteps.”

Deepti Menon remembers the time they had visited Pietermaritzburg and pleads that he should not be remembered merely on his birthday.

“For this half-naked fakir, less was more”, Says Dr. Vinita Narula.
 
Sherin Mary Zacharia calls him a ‘model unprecedented’, Geethanjali Dilip says, “He led denizens with his words priceless
Only to utter the words "Hey Ram" in his last breath,
 As bullets etched a martyrdom in his destiny!”

We are witness to a conversation between Bapu’s glasses and stick in Gargi Sarkhel Bagchi’s poem. Hema Ravi’s words, “He fired through his voice, not through the gun” leave a powerful impact.

The two poignant poems of HENRY L. JONES, the Inaugural Poet Laureate of Hendersonville, Tennessee, draw parallels between the struggles for Civil rights in the USA and India’s struggle for independence.

Prof. Dr. Laksmisree Banerjee’s poems are potent poetic punches making one introspect, about the present dismal scenario, where the ‘exultant vulgarity’ of the demagogues and capitalists stands juxtaposed against the ‘statuesque immobility’ of the Mahatma.
In her two poems, Prof Nandini Sahu bemoans the dismal condition of India, stating that freedom lies buried somewhere, ashamed.   

Neelam Saxena Chandra exhorts Indians to rotate the charkha, weaving a new destiny, steering it ‘into the arms of peace!’

With Niharika Chibber Joe we travel to The King Centre:
“Where the King Center stands, I cannot help but spot
The statue of a wiry Indian, staff in hand and a loin cloth
Happy Birthday, Gandhiji! I begin to sing.
As my life comes full circle with the Mahatma and the King.”

In her poem, we find Padmaja Iyengar-Paddy, imagining Bapu turning in his grave, craving for,
“A peaceful India
A casteless India
A nonviolent India
A free and fair India.”

Sangita Kalarickal says that the story of freedom is forgotten
 “Freedom, won not by the swords of kings but on
the bare, lathi bruised, bony backs of the very uncommon commoner
led mostly by the charisma of a very bald, toothless, frail loin -clothed old man.”

In her very in-depth and enriching piece, Satbir Chadha reiterates that Gandhi is a way of life.

In his intellectually stimulating piece, Richard Doiron, [Canada], says, “He would inspire men such as the Dalai Lama and Nelson Mandela, in effect men of vision, such as he had been in his own lifetime, a lifetime steeped in near-impossible obstacles.
 This writer, in far off Canada, has been influenced by him also…”

In Vigil, Dr Sutanuka Ghosh Roy points out that while criminals run amok, in a bruised country,
‘a pair of round glasses
and a lathi watches.’
 
Pearl S Buck had called the killing of Bapu ‘another crucifixion’. Dr. Koshy’s short, succinct piece draws our attention to the fact that the lover of the Cross was himself crucified.

“Till the bewildering crescendo
Of a gunshot penetrated
Deep into his bleeding heart of humanity---“,

Laments Dr. Laksmisree Banerjee.

In touching words, Dr. Meenakshi Mohan maintains, “Bapu is no longer with us, but this enduring light is a message to the world --
Let there be peace, harmony, and unity on the earth.”
In her sestina, Smeetha Bhoumik says “Bapu has gifted us treasures astounding!”
It is important that we cling to these treasures.
 
Allow me, friends, to add my voice to that of Dr. Malashri Lal, who says, “My body may be silenced but not my spirit
 
In the same vein, Dr. Sunil Kaushal pleads for a revival of Gandhian values.
Allow me to exclaim with Dr. Seema Jain, “O Gandhi! How desperately the world needs many more like you.”

How do we fight this darkness that is surrounding us?

To quote Ramendra Kumar, “So how do we fight this ogre?
By discovering the Gandhi in each and every one of us. Bapu stood for the ideals of selflessness, love and contentment. It is these values which will save us. They will lead us from ignorance to knowledge and darkness to light.”

To quote Dilip Mohapatra, ‘this brightest of the flames… is Indistinguishable.’
Indestructible 
Indelible
till all times to come.”

To his detractors, my question is, “Can Truth and Non- violence ever be irrelevant?”
At a time when Gandhi’s killers are being venerated, Gandhi and what he stood for, needs to be revived. Martin Luther King Jr. had been influenced in his crusade for civil rights by Bapu; he visited India in 1959, calling his visit a pilgrimage, remarking that the spirit of Gandhi was very much alive in India, but alas, we are slowly forgetting the saint in beggar’s garb.

At a time when Gandhi’s killers are being venerated, Gandhi and what he stood for, needs to be revived. Martin Luther King Jr. had been influenced in his crusade for civil rights by Bapu; he visited India in 1959, calling his visit a pilgrimage, remarking that the spirit of Gandhi was very much alive in India, but alas, we are slowly forgetting the saint in beggar’s garb.

While I am writing this, I see a tiny five-year-old bounding towards me.

It is the year 2016, and I am in Jamestown Fishing village, Accra, Ghana, holding my book, Ballad of Bapu. The boy takes the book from me, peers closely at the cover, and throws himself at me, hugging me tightly.

I love you, Madam, because you come from the land of Gandhi.”  He gushes in the local dialect, which I can’t understand, but the language of reverence that his eyes speak is easily comprehensible. In the sparkling eloquence of his eyes, I see a world of respect for a remarkable man of peace.

At the three-day BRICS Summit, in Johannesburg, from August 22 - 24, 2023, South African President, Cyril Ramaphosa said, that "Gandhi was strong on resistance. He taught us passive resistance which he perfected and we escalated to various acts of boycott against the apartheid system. Through that, we were able to encourage citizen activism in organizations that were involved in our struggle, like the African National Congress and others."

Let us not confine Bapu to textbooks, let us not remember him only on 2 October, or make him only the theme of international seminars and conferences.

Let us not limit him merely to sloganeering.

Let us make him a way of life by internalizing the values that he stood for.  

Right at this very moment, even in this pathetically materialistic and consumerist world, somewhere, someplace, the name Gandhi-our beloved Bapu, is being uttered in hushed, reverential tones.

He transcends all boundaries. No crinkling of noses, no frothing-at-the-mouth denigration, no false narratives, and no distortion of history, can put a brake on the Movement that is Gandhi.
The mission that is Gandhi.
The Way of Life that is Gandhi. 


Santosh Bakaya


Gandhian Philosophy in the New Millennium: Authors

1 comment :

  1. This is such a well curated special edition. We are currently riding on the waves of violence and chaos, and this edition comes as a timely message. Thank you for putting this together, Setu and Santoshdi!

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