Gandhi: Mahatma or not?

This post is intended to be a candid confession, not a rant.

As a kid, as most kids in the Indian school system must be, I was progressively made disciple to Gandhi through programmed exposure to his “shining virtues” and “exemplary method of living” throughout my school life. Even before being exposed to Gandhi in school curriculum, I was aware of the throbbing presence of Gandhi in Indian ethos because October 2 and January 30 (two days of the calendar related to events in Gandhi’s personal life are declared dry days) are two prominent national holidays in India, only next in importance to  (or may be even treated equal in importance, by many Indians, to) August 15 and January 26.

Well, academically, my first full-fledged brush with Gandhi happened, as far as I can remember now, in the 8th grade. We had a full textbook on Gandhi’s autobiography, as part of our second language curriculum. In my second language, the autobiography was titled ‘Satya Shodhana” (Translation: Truth Experimentation). So, it being Gandhi’s own account of his life, he had the full liberty to chisel it according to his taste as well as hidden agenda. Back then I failed to realize the beauty of the “free-hand” nature of this account because I was too innocent and too enamored by the illusion of it being a “True and Fair Account” for the book deals with the autobiographer’s relationship with and advocacy of truthfulness itself!

Anyway, having gone through the whole volume, many times over, I was truly star-struck by Gandhi. In school, and at home, I raved and raved, to the point of tears, about his unabashed confessions of his weaknesses and his unassuming method of relation of his own story. ‘Speak the truth’, which was always guiding me, became my renewed guiding principle because Gandhi had said so. My school motto, ‘Seek Truth’, made a thousand times more sense from thereon. I adopted Gandhian way of living, in tiny ways. Like, I started carrying my wristwatch in the pocket of my tunic (school-uniform for girls in my school was a tunic) for I learnt that Gandhi had never worn a wristwatch but carried a pocket-watch tucked into his dhoti. I remember having given up on non-vegetarian food, temporarily, because Gandhi advocated vegetarianism (only after he had experimented with non-vegetarian food, mind you!) Two years down the line, I was so deep down the spiral of obsession that I found it hard to disbelieve that I was Gandhi-reincarnate!

So, since then it took me…let me count the years..close to 10 years to FULLY invert that obsession with Gandhi and the illusion of his “truth”…Today, since I have begun to see Gandhi for what he really was, I am truly on the path of seeking truth.

In the past few days, I have read enough subaltern literature to plant my feet firmly on my new-found path of truth. But, the brainwashed product of Gandhian propaganda that I was for the major part of my life, I struggled with the question of whether it is acceptable to refer to “Mahatma Gandhi” as Mr. Gandhi, or Gandhi, or what. I was afraid if it meant sedition or some such drastic crime against the country to not refer to him as “Mahatma” (,specially in national-level examinations/interviews where I expect my competency would be judged by likely mainstream propagandists). A little more recently, after some more exposure to his unwholesome morality, I came to terms with not calling him ‘Mahatma’ for I could not bring myself to call him so even if I tried. But, I was still jittery about my changing attitude because they were after all my own organically formed thoughts and I needed a higher authority on the subject to confirm the validity of my ideas, head-on.

Today, providentially, I came across a BBC interview recording of Dr B. R. Ambedkar by Francis Watson, on YouTube. The last few words of the interview, spoken by Dr. Ambedkar were these:

“He was never a Mahatma and I refuse to call him a Mahatma. I’ve never in my life called him Mahatma. He doesn’t deserve that title; not even from the point of view of his morality.” ~ Dr. B. R. Ambedkar

And, throughout the interview he referred to Gandhi as Mr. Gandhi.

So, there goes. I am unlearning idols, “truths”, and deceptive titles for my own good. And, the universe is helping me along.

I fondly remember my first Sociology teacher. Thank you, Professor.

Bye bye, Mahatma Gandhi. Hello, Mr. Gandhi.

How I wonder what you are!

… flowers and clouds, and softer things
such tenderness wherewith life begins
in stately dorms or bourgeois homes,
or utterly destitute honeycombs,
and passes from versions of innocence
into states of constant sufferance,
painted with smiles and  laughs at places
also with meaning but only in traces
-in manner of fame and ranks and degrees
or heartbreak, poverty, loss and disease..
With silent craving for deliverance
from here to blissful ignorance…
we drown, float and drift onwards,
packing memories into pictures, songs, written words
– like treasures, reminders and proofs of past
we make them live longer than we last,
so we may go through them in wrinkled skins
when the counting down of days begins
to end ‘up above the world so high
like a diamond in the sky…’