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Sunday, September 03, 2006

Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi: A Saint With Warts

Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi (Porbander, October 2, 1869 - New Delhi, January 30, 1948) may qualify as the most visible invisible Indian in India. The journey has been an eclectic one, from a founding father to an icon on the currency notes to a figure relegated to the dusty bookshelves. He is remembered officially a few times a year, his portrait adorns government buildings and his face on the bills surreptitiously exchanged in payola daily.

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Other than that Bapu's three principles of satyagraha, ahimsa and tapasiya are lost in the maze of hazy fog of an undisturbed past.

Rama Luxmi wrote about the "frail, half-naked ascetic" who is the main attraction at an interactive multi-media museum in New Delhi.

This is the same exhibition Desicritic Kim had written a photo essay about earlier.

Sacred World Foundation the creators of this interactive museum have this to say about the exhibits:

A language...derived from classical symbols of the spinning wheel, turning of the prayer wheels, touching symbolic pillars, the act of hands touching sacred objects...the touching and rotating of prayer beads. These tradition-based interactions inspire a rich panorama...that allow people to access the multimedia imagery and multidimensional mind of Gandhiji.

Gandhi's statues adorn London, Toronto, Winnipeg, San Francisco, New York City, Atlanta, Chicago, Houston, Washington, DC, Pietermaritzburg, Moscow, Paris, Amsterdam, Barcelona, Lisbon, Canberra, Santiago de Chile, Mexico City, Port of Spain and San Fernando.

"Gandhiji's image has definitely changed since when I was growing up. Then he was a symbol of all that was good and pure, reflected in the oft-heard plaintive wail, Bapu kya ho gayaa tere desh ka (roughly- what have they done to your country, oh father?). No doubt, this holier-than-thou image was attributable to decades of Congress rule and the accompanying whitewashing of history books.

But some things endure- his commitment to the truth at all costs, his brutal honesty, his devotion to his principles and his undoubted contribution in securing the nation's independence. At the end of the day, despite the barbs and the derision heaped on him by no end of detractors, he remains a real man, the greatest to emerge from India and one of the world's most influential people. That, along with his face on every currency note printed in India, is his enduring legacy," wrote a writer friend from Bangalore.

Another friend echoed, "The world changed before he could achieve his goals. He allowed his personal feelings to cloud his better judgement, and used emotional appeal like few politicians to get his way, but he had the country's best interests at heart."

Ironically, a man so revered world over is relegated to ceremonial platitudes in his own country. While some still hate him bitterly, the majority is ambivalent.

One Indian mother says, "I read somewhere that Gandhi was irrelevant to today's India because today's India is very different from the India of fifty to hundred years ago. I would argue that historical figures never become irrelevant. Obviously his way of life, his thoughts and ideas, and the way he fashioned his revolt against British oppression had a positive impact on India's Independence Movement."

Gandhi was a saint with blemishes and warts. That his legacy survives his eccentricities and human frailties is a tribute to his greatness. He has inspired an array of world leaders including the likes of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

His dream of eradication of caste discrimination remains largely unfulfilled. One can scan the matrimonial ads in Indian newspapers and web sites for this manifestation. Gandhi's other dream, freedom from the colonial yoke is a reality. His India is racing to claim its rightful place as the First Nations of this world before the end of this century.

The Washington Post article quoting Savita Singh, director of the Eternal Gandhi museum and memorial. concludes: "Gandhi can be discovered in many ways, this is just one," she says. "What makes his message eternal are not these computers anyway."

What the world needs today is more Gandhis and Mandelas. I hope this Museum tours North America. And I hope it is opened by Nelson Mandela.


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