Month ago, a senior government officer visited Sabarmati Ashram and explained me that how much it is difficult to understand Gandhi and complex thoughts, approaches and methods of him. Today i came across similar thoughts in article titled The missingness of Gandhi by Shiv Visvanathan.
Instead of editing/commenting his thoughts or text; I simply felt to reproduce it here, because it exactly fits into my thoughts and feelings about usages of "Gandhi" in my age...
...as Shiv Visvanathan says....
I must confess I am an old-fashioned man. I feel out of place and even out of time. I belonged to an age which honoured the self and not the selfie. Yet I feel strangely relevant as I realise my anger and my memories, my sense of classic and craft has something to say. I have stories that are still worth listening to, yet I feel sad when I look around me.
I know my world has shrunk. My icons do not make sense. People have not heard of them. Some even call them my collection of eccentrics. But I want to talk about them. For all of them the hero was Gandhi. Nehru was the future, as deputy. I remember an old wag telling me Nehru dreamed and Gandhi prayed and it was Gandhi's dreams that came true. There were like two octaves in an invisible music we kept hearing. The last years of nationalism had a cornucopia of heroes. What was beautiful is that these ideals were also lived out in the first decade of Independence.
Joy of memories
Today people say the Nehru or Gandhi era is over. The obituaries sound like celebrations and I admit my nostalgia sounds like hypochondria. When I talk Nehru or Gandhi, or of all my other heroes, I sound like a list of ailments, their missingness seems part of a strange disease. There is not an Alzheimer's of forgetfulness, mine is the pain and joy of living so many memories.
Of late I have been reading pieces about Gandhi. He is called the first corporate Guru. Some would even say he is the original pioneer of CSR. But Gandhi never outsourced ethics. He dreamt it, lived it in the rhythms of the day. Ethics was not an extracurricular activity, a piece of social work to compensate for corporate antics. Gandhi is also attacked for not being as radical as Ambedkar. Ambedkar is promoted as this week's flavour by politically correct radicals without understanding the matrix, the quarrel and the complementarity between the two. So from corporate don, he becomes a lesser Ambedkar. Then the RSS which faded away after assassinating Gandhi, says India needs a statue of Godse. Godse, to them, was not an epitome of hate but a service boy. Gandhi got in the way of the logic of the nation-state and had to be dispatched. Godse to the RSS excelled in the line of duty and therefore needed to be redeemed. His assassination was a clerical act and Godse, a mere functionary.
Distortions of Gandhi
To this regime of forgetfulness and critique, we can add the obscene appropriation of Gandhi by Modi and his regime. Modi epitomises the violence of hate and the instrumentalism of development, where there is no ethics of means and ends. Yet all these distortions of Gandhi are fashionable today.
Recently I saw Attenborough's film on Gandhi and fell asleep. I used to celebrate it and yet it failed to echo with resonances today. It sounded too much like a white man's idea of Gandhi, a Gandhi made easy for the West. I realise there is no easy access to Gandhi. He is eminently quotable but there is no catechism of Gandhi. He is a continuous series of thought experiments. He refuses replication. He wants you to invent your own ethical world.
Yet the complex simplicity of the man, who allows no simplification, is seductive.
Gandhi to me is both craft and classic. He knew his Gita and his Ruskin. He knew the power of the book but understood that the life of the book and the book of life could not be separated. His sense of civilisation covered both canon and folklore, the text and the orality of memory around text. To the over-literate Indian who read a hundred books, his answer was my literacy consists in reading the same book a hundred times. Exploring a book a hundred time is not repetition. It is reinvention and discovery. It is an act of pilgrimage discovering or renewing the sources of the sacred Out of this reading comes a strange book, Hind Swaraj.
We have to stop reading Hind Swaraj as an eccentricity. It is a manifesto and has to be read along with other manifestoes like Discourses on Irregularity, Rights of Man or Marx-Engel's The Communist Manifesto. It is as relevant, as important, and as incomplete as any of them. Gandhi's silent message is to tell the reader to write or live out the rest. Each man or woman has to write his or her own Hind Swaraj like UR Ananthamurthy did in his last book, or Ela Bhatt has done in her 100 miles thesis.
Absorbing the world
Between Swadeshi and Swaraj you absorb the world. No Gandhian would say: “Climate change is not our problem.” To claim it is a problem of developed countries is to be global. To insist it is a problem for everyman is to be planetary. Swaraj was planetary. The last man is not just a putty, a piece of suffering. For all his vulnerability he owns up to the world. For Gandhi, a pascalian wager is not enough. A Gandhian wager goes beyond goodness has to outinvent evil. Gandhi would not want a justice where the Third World would say to the first, it is our turn to destroy the world. The new consumerism cannibalised the world. Remember Gandhi in his Hind Swaraj wanted to rescue the West from its violence. The new Hind Swaraj would include a critique of climate change. As CV Sheshadri would say Gandhian truth should combine thermodynamic truth, that is, climate change would include life, lifestyle, livelihood, life cycle, life chances in one set. Here the technical, the ethical, the political, the cultural are not separated. A classic is a way of keeping things together and connected.
But Gandhi was perpetually for experiment. Walking, fasting, wearing, printing, cooking, protesting were all experiments. Morality was experimental because ethics needed to constantly transform itself, work within a range of contexts. Ethics and craft had a lot in common. One had to craft an ethics and make sure it never gets outdated. In that sense everyman becomes a craftsmen responsible for his world. The idea of rethinking waste, repair, fasting are ways of dealing with the world. There are no throwaway cultures or human beings. Healing, caring and working are seamless. Craft as ethics has rigour and style and most of all the inventiveness of diversity. For Gandhi, ethics as craft has to be inventive enough to challenge the new inventiveness of evil. Today genocide, the death of a waterfall or a mountain, the displacement of a people, the disappearance of culture are new forms of evil, where violence is seen as inevitable and death, mass death has no rituals of mourning. Gandhi did not live to link nuclear war to ordinary violence, genocide to murder, or technology to the military industrial complex. In fact, in his way if Gandhi were asked, “What do you think of modern ethics”? He would have said, “It would be a good idea.”
For Gandhi, ethics could not be extracurricular. It had to be every day. Protest had to link to lifestyle, caring to livelihood, passion to humour so that nothing got dogmatic. The body was the site of ethics and the ethics of the body provided the framework for an ethics of the body politic. The body becoming the tuning fork of a complex world and its problems. Non-violence for Gandhi was not something you associate with war, non-violence was something you brought in to mitigate your war with the world, the violence of everydayness. In that sense ethics gave you agency, not just the concrete, the face to face with your children, strangers, it gave you agency against abstract systems where cause originated somewhere and consequence emerged somewhere else. What we need today is a Gandhi of the concrete combining with the Gandhi fighting abstract systems, complexities which often make an individual feel fragile, futile and helpless.
In an odd way for Gandhi charity began with the world and public policy at home. The body set the rhythms of the body politic. Ethics set the tone for self-discipline and self-reliance and therefore eliminated mass discipline and surveillance. If you had the conscience, the panopticon as a centralised system of management was unnecessary. The citizen is never passive and pacifism has nothing passive about it. A pacifist like Thoreau was constantly reinventing society. In that sense civil disobedience was an attempt to restore civility and civic duty . The human conscience is the greatest cybernetic mechanism invented.
Owning up to mistakes
One has to notice that ethics is not only experimental but full of mistakes and ethics begins by redeeming mistakes. In owning up to the mistake, you own up to self and world. A mistake is an incomplete conversation with the world. Mistakes, the relation between ends and means, the connectivity between life and livelihood, show a new ecology of ethics where the body as biology, as person, as symbol becomes the theatre for truth. There is fragility and strength here as one discovers in vulnerability, the power of resistance. Many students confronting water cannons for the first time during the Nirbhaya protest felt empowered in their moment of vulnerability because they understood the brutality of the state. One wished they would have continued their resistance because protest would have gone beyond mere protest to a deeper sense of alternatives. Years ago, Walt Whitman, the great American poet claimed he sang “The body electric". Our protestors similarly could have claimed, “I sing the body satyagrahic”, if they had addressed both violence and truth of what causes violence Here in lies the challenge of Satyagraha today.
It has to challenge large systems twice, first in the locality and then as a planetary idea. Even in battling or creating work one must have an emerging theory of peace. Satyagraha cannot be sequestered as an applied social work project because ethics has to be political responding to wider issues.
One must remember that Gandhi's satyagrahi was an imagination. Gandhi's ashrams were laboratories where one invented alternative possibilities while the world slept. It was the one place where everydayness as invention as rhythm talked to the future. Gandhi was no luddite. William Shirer in his biography of Gandhi narrates that the loud speaker was introduced for the first time in a rally addressed by Gandhi. His charkha was not a traditional tool but something reinvented several times. But Gandhi's craft like his ethics followed a linguistic rather than a techno-innovative model. He was sensitive to displacement, waste, obsolescence. His technology spoke dialects rather than attempt to create standardised forms. In fact, it challenged us to return to ethics, he wanted ethics to be more inventive than mere techniques. His creativity demanded that innovation should be more than instrumental. Every man than becomes a craftsmen creating a new commons of ideas to be shared. There is none of the hypocrisy of intellectual property rights which confuses need and greed.
Such a world goes beyond the make-in-India model which only wants to manufacture but fails to ask ethical, ecological questions, where productivity displaces justice. A cosmetic Gandhi threatens India twice, first as a farce and second as a tragedy.
The man haunts me. His experiments fascinate me. He demands the storyteller. I feel his magic. He made mistakes. He knew it. He did not ask us to repeat it. His leadership appealed to the ethics of my generation. I feel it is time to reinvent it. One senses a world ready for the poetry of it. This essay is a prayer for that other world.