There are things that interest me, the stories of heroic and meaningful lives, the narratives of creative flowerings at certain points of time and in specific places, revolutionary ideas and why human beings, at certain points of time, degenerate into depravity and destroy their own achievements. These interests, as one could tell from my rather straight-jacket life as a business executive, lie outside my work, and only as a pastime. But, such interests are also the essence of my curiosity and creative pursuit, and define who I want to be.
There are times when I take these interests seriously and this is one such indulgent moment. My life is at a crossroad in many a sense, and a systematic enquiry is one way of uplifting myself from the compromises I have to make everyday to make a living and to be fully alive. Hence, the plan - to construct a series of essays on Gandhi - is more about my own life than about its subject.
However, the choice of the subject requires some justification. Gandhi is, in my mind, the epitome of human leadership, an imperfect man on a journey towards truth and perfection, a political philosopher of our time without equal and, at the same time, a man of action full of compromises and flaws. He, already a subject of many studies, is one of those fascinating individuals, whose story, in the end a failure, is both tragic and uplifting, both human and ethereal, both limiting and limitless.
However, there is another start point of my interest in Gandhi, and that lies outside his politics.
It is an Indian idea to treat ones whole life as a debt, to nature, to ones own forefathers, to all who nurtured and even to those who will come later and give meaning to ones own time-limited existence, a debt that gets paid only through ones death and return to the nature. One could say that it is a pessimistic view of existence, which brings the end of life to the fore and steal from us the agency to make life better. Indeed, this may not have any apparent common ground with the currently fashionable, mostly American, striving for a better future, a view informed by the poverty of the present and the meaninglessness of the past, and therefore, as Max Weber would say, it makes for an inactive and irrational world-view. One could, however, contend that this is only a limited understanding of the Indian life-ethic, and the context is subverted by an essential Western obsession, equating better life with more material possessions, even defining happiness with the acquisition of more.
The alternate world-view, where life's meaning is not defined by material possession and happiness is defined by harmony with nature and with others, is at the root of Indian life-ethic, which is neither inactive nor irrational. Inactive it is not, as one would strive to pay one's debt as a responsible man, and it is not irrational because this, contrary to Western beliefs, puts human responsibility at the core, making us more, rather than less, responsible. This conception, rather than putting man at the Center of the universe and constructing an ethics of human exceptionalism, trests man as a social and natural being, and celebrates the unique strength that made humans survive despite all odds and makes it the preeminent species on Earth. Indeed, it replaces the promise of the future with a reverence for the past, and accords greater priority to the known rather than the vast unknown, and therefore, may be accused with some justification, of stealing the agency that enlightenment and scientific revolution afford us. And, precisely this, at least this above all, calls for a re-imagination and a reconciliation with the reality of changing futures even before it arrives. However, the ever-changing future makes the present more, not less, important, impregnating the latter with more possibility than ever before and making us more responsible to those who will come after.
However, I believe this new imagination needs to go beyond the rational-scientific, individualistic conceptions of Weberian world-view. The one or the other, dialectical nature of the ideas and all development, which put the past and the future head to head, and make the present a momentary interlude, can not fully meet the demands of what one should be and how one should be, when the future becomes transient and any morality based on future a suspect. I see Gandhi's life and work as a manifestation of a different ethic of living, and interested particularly in his death, an event which turns the indignity of falling to a bullet into a great moment of clearing ones debt, fully and unequivocally. The allure of Christian imagery is all too tempting in the context, the fallen man redeeming the sins of partition and the violence, a blood-stained homage to those who will come later, us, and the ultimate triumph of the message, of non-violence and peace, that needed to be tested to the very end by the trial of an assassins gun. But, my approach is to steer clear of the idea of a Christian death and the ideal of sacrifice for the future, beautiful as it may be, and treat this end as very Indian, consistent with the setting of a prayer meeting and the last call of invoking a Hindu god, not for forgiveness - whether or not that was intended, we would never know - but of surrender, to the nature and God.
Also, my intent is not to explore Gandhi as some kind of role model to be followed, but an imperfect man searching for an ethic of living through an inflection point in history. My studies are not biographical, but intellectual, and less about Gandhi as the person, though it would seep into everything, but as the idea. As I mentioned, the point of my enquiry is the questions of my own life - is it possible to have a different life-ethic just as we arrive at another, no less pivotal, inflection point in history - and Gandhi, and his quest, presents a very compelling model. Answering some of the questions the way he did unlock a whole new possible life, or, should I say, a vast array of possible lives, outside the existence as a consuming man, which we all are.
Also, it must be said here, Gandhi was not an idealist, but a man of action, someone who got his hand dirty and operated very much within the messy realities of practise. Hence, there is nothing clean and sanitised about Gandhi, no perfect persona only to be known through the words. Rather, he as an imperfect man was always in full public view, going through the chores of life, appearing, from time to time, idiosyncratic, manipulative, attached to his favourites and unkind to some opponents, a fascinating stuff for biographers of all hues. While the temptation to extract the pure Gandhi of ideas is always too great, it is essential to remember that there is no such thing, and that is precisely the point of my endeavour. Gandhi as an idea is the summation of all the lofty aspirations in the muck of practise, the incessant search for truth through the imperfections of daily life, the quest for transcendence through vanities and failures - to climax in one perfect moment, of his death.
So, I shall perhaps start at his death, that essential moment of repayment and redemption, that brought the political and the spiritual (of which he was always accused of) together in perfect harmony. It was an end and the beginning - end of a life that bestowed an identity to a whole nation. It was a triumph, a heroic end that summarise the courage that informed the whole idea of non-violence, and a failure, as the message got lost in the iconography of the emergent state. This poetic but macabre end that set off the debates that still continues, in both poetic and macabre forms, is perhaps a fitting moment to trace the beginning of the Indian Republic, rather than the more officious moments of gaining independence or adopting the constitution, which we celebrate after the Western-style nations. This death was the beginning, and I seek to start my journey to study Gandhi at this point.
Popular posts from this blog
A friend has recently forwarded me a quote from Lord Macaulay's speech in the British Parliament on 2nd February 1835. I reproduce the quote below: "I have traveled across the length and breadth of India and I have not seen one person who is a beggar, who is a thief. Such wealth I have seen in this country, such high moral values, people of such calibre, that I do not think we would ever conquer this country, unless we break the very backbone of this nation, which is her spiritual and cultural heritage, and, therefore, I propose that we replace her old and ancient education system, her culture, for if the Indians think that all that is foreign and English is good and greater than their own, they will lose their self-esteem, their native self-culture and they will become what we want them, a truly dominated nation." The email requested me to forward me to every indian I know. I was tempted, but there were two oddities about this quote. First, the language, which
Nations are ideas. We try to fashion them as territories. But how can a river, a mountain ridge or sometimes an imaginary line in the middle of a field can explain the wide division in the lives, thoughts and futures of the people who live on different sides? Nations are not the people too. Indeed, people build nations and become its body. But the soul of the nation is an idea: People come together on an idea to build a nation. While that's what a modern nation is - an idea - and that way exceptionalism is not an American exception, very few nations are as completely defined by an idea as Pakistan. There was hardly any political, geographic or military rationale of Pakistan other than the idea of an Islamic homeland in South Asia. [In that way, the ideological brother of Pakistan in the family of nations is Israel] This, abated by the short term political calculations of some backroom colonialists, created a modern state which must be solely sustained on that singular idea. Religi
This post is a reaction to Aatish Taseer's evocative obituary of secular India in the Atlantic ( read here ). While I agree with it mostly - and share the reservations about the direction and the future of India - I differ with the author on one key aspect: I do not agree with his portrayal of a resurgent Bharat eating up a secular India. In fact, I believe while Mr Taseer regrets the Indian elite's loss of connection with the realities of day to day life of the country, his very presentation of Bharat and India as oppositional entities stems from that incomprehension. While I understand that he is only using these categories as RSS uses them - to effectively other the English-speaking elites and non-Hindus - I believe it is a mistake to describe the profound changes in contemporary India as the ascendance of Bharat. I grew up in Bharat. I never learnt English until late in life, when I started working. My growing-up world was one of small-town India, vernacu
Today, Helen Goddard, 26, a highly popular music teacher of a City School for Girls, has been sentenced to 15 months in prison. Her crime was to carry out a year long lesbian affair with one of her pupils, who appeared in the court and admitted that the affair was consensual and it was she who pressured Helen into the affair. For Helen, a bright musician and a devout Chistian, this is an extraordinary lapse of judgement. Also, she was teaching in the £13,000 private girls only school in London. She was surely aware what the consequences of her action will be. The fact that she still could not stop herself tells us that lovers do not always act rationally, something we always knew. There is more in this affair than personal tragedies. For a start, this has all the dramatic elements: a bright, beautiful teacher more in Julia Roberts mould [as in Mona Lisa Smile], a stiff upper lip school [not unlike Wellesley] and a story like Notes On A Scandal with an added twist. Indeed, Helen was gui
Introduction : The Business of Gift Giving Business gift giving has always been common and contentious at the same time. Business gifts are usually seen as an ‘advertising, sales promotion and marketing communication medium’ (Cooper et al , 1991). Arunthanes et al (1994) points out that such gifting is practised usually for three reasons: (a) in appreciation for past client relationships, placing a new order, referrals to other clients, etc.; (b) in the hopes of creating a positive, first impression which might help to establish an initial business relationship; and (c) giving may be perceived as a quid Pro quo (i.e. returning a favour or expecting a favour in return for something). The practitioners of gift-giving generally argue that doing business is often an aggregation of personal interactions and relationships, and gift-giving should be seen as a natural way of maintaining and enhancing these relationships. ‘Business gifts, especially one given in the course of the festive s
In most societies today, making profits are accepted as moral, if not especially praiseworthy. This was not as obvious as it appears today – people used to be embarrassed about making a profit not so long ago. Crazy as it seems today, it is worth thinking why it was so. Profits, as economists will put it, is the reward for risk-taking, for putting a business enterprise together in the pursuit of an objective. In this definition, remember, profits are not what it is commonly understood to be – the gross middle-line towards the bottom – but a figure net of entrepreneur’s earning [wages for his labour], dividends and interests on borrowed capital, and provisions for building and other physical assets [a sort of rent, offsetting what these assets could have earned if leased out]. This pure profit – surplus – accrues to a business as a reward to its organisation, for the act of entrepreneurship itself. Economists were divided on how this surplus comes about. The conventional wisdom was, as
A lot of conversations about Kolkata is about its past; I want to talk about its future. Most conversations about Kolkata is about its decline - its golden moments and how times changed; I want to talk about its rise, how its best may lie ahead and how we can change the times. In place of pessimism, I seek optimism; instead of inertia, I am looking for imagination. It is not about catching up, I am arguing; it is about making a new path altogether. It had, indeed it had, a glorious past: One of the first Asian cities to reach a million population, the Capital of British India, the cradle of an Enlightened Age and a new politics of Cosmopolitanism. And, it had stumbled - losing the hinterland that supplied its Jute factories, overwhelmed by the refugees that came after the partition, devoid of its professional class who chose to emigrate - the City's commercial and professional culture evaporated in a generation, and it transformed into a corrupt and inefficien
Introduction: Hastings in the history of Indian Education Whether or not one includes Warren Hastings in the history of Education in India is a matter of perspective. If writing the history of education means writing the history of schools, the impact of Hastings' administration would be quite limited. If anything, the rapid implosion of local rulers in Eastern, Southern and Northern India during Hastings' tenure had meant a bleak period for the indigenous education system, as patronage and funds would have dwindled away for many of them. The Company administration really concerned itself with the schooling of the natives only after 1813, as Nurullah and Naik rightly pointed out ( see my earlier post ) and one can legitimately start the story at this point. However, if history of Education in India is to encompass the transformation of Indian Scholarship, on which foundation the new, colonial, system of Education would be built, the story must start with Warren Hast
Introduction Erna Petri née Kürbs, a farmer’s daughter from Herressen in Thuringia, arrived in Ukraine with her three year old son to join her husband Horst in June 1942. Horst, an SS leader inspired by Nazi ideologue Dr Richard Walter Darré, settled in the plantation of Grzenda, just outside today’s Lviv, to become a German Gentleman-Farmer. Erna saw Horst beating and abusing the workers in the plantation within two days of arriving there, which was, as Horst explained, necessary for establishing authority. Erna joined in enthusiastically, settling into a combination of roles of ‘plantation mistress, prairie Madonna in apron-covered dress lording over slave labourers, infant-carrying, gun-wielding Hausfrau.’  However, there were clear rules in the plantation, and Erna was very much expected to play the woman’s role of being a Cake-and-Coffee hostess. When four Jews were caught in the estate while trying to escape from a transport to a death camp, Horst told Erna and her female
The story of British influence on Indian Education, to which Macaulay's Minutes of 1835 belong, has been told in six distinct phases. Syed Nurullah and J P Naik's very popular and influential History of Indian Education calls these 'six acts' of the drama: From the beginning of Eighteenth Century to 1813 The British East India Company received its charter in 1600 but its activities did not include any Educational engagement till the Charter Act of 1698, which required the Company to maintain priests and schools, for its own staff and their children. And, so it was until the renewal of its charter in 1813, when the evangelical influence led to insistence of expansion of educational activities and allowing priests back into company territory. From 1813 to Wood's Education Despatch of 1854 The renewal of Charter in 1813 re-opened the debate, which seemed to have been settled in the early years of the company administration, between the Orientalis
Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.