Sunday, October 01, 2006

On Gandhi

"One sticks one's finger into the soil to tell by the smell in what land one is : I stick my finger into existence - it smells of nothing"
--- Soren Kierkegaard

First things first.Dear Mohan, Wishing you a very happy b'day.

Perception is a very dicey thing. But, how many different perceptions of Gandhi are there? A Marxist's perception of Gandhi is different from the Socialist's perception of Gandhi, which is again different from the Dalitstan's perception of the man. Infact, a Gandhian's perception of Gandhi is drastically different from another Gandhian's. Martin Luther King's Gandhi is different from JC Kumarappa's Gandhi. E.F. Schumacher's Gandhi is different from Meera Ben's Gandhi.Very few individuals can leave behind such a diverse imagery of themselves. Beyond all those visible imageries might lie something which could be the essence of the person. But instead of moving beyond the man, instead of understanding his essence, we either deify him or spit on him. Or do both, simultaneously.

Whenever I think of Gandhi, almost immediately, involuntarily, I start thinking of Tolstoy. Tolstoy resurrected as Gandhi. Jesus resurrected as Tolstoy. Soon, their individual figures and images fade away. What I see is the silhouette of a person. A very tortured man. With so many idiosyncrasies. The biggest challenge they faced, the *one* thing which made a motley fool out of their otherwise extraordinary personna is Sex. Whatever little fulfillment Tolstoy got out of his writing, out of his spirituality, he lost it to sex. Atlast, he ended up seducing his wife's sister. And we are all aware of Gandhi's repulsion towards sex after his father's death. Yes, that's understandable. His almost lunatic faith in Chastity etc. A bit kiddish, maybe. But whatever he did to Meera Ben? Unacceptable. But beyond these little falls, beyond these oddities, or rather, along with all these oddities put together lies the greatness of the man.

To me, Gandhi is not about Ahimsa. He is not about Brahmacharya or vegetarianism. He is not about Salt Satyagraha. He is not about Quit India movement or Non Cooperation movement. My Gandhi is not about any freedom struggle or any movement.

My Gandhi is a political seer. An economist, to be precise. When Nehru and Patel looked at the world from an arbitary vantage point, he walked into the forests and went into the huts of the villages. His understanding of human problem is much more deeper than that of these Cambridge educated pandits.

When Nehru focussed on solving the problem of production, Gandhi focussed on the problem of consumption. This, to me is the single-most differentiating factor between the two men. To put it very simplistically, to produce something you need raw materials. And for this, you need capital. And using the capital you invest, you buy raw materials, set up your factory and start producing. Sometimes, the market controls your production and sometimes, you manipulate the market by playing around the demand-supply eqns. And you start making some income. But you make sure that the capital you invested intially is intact. Once the income is eating up your capital, it is no income at all. So any businessman always try to separate his income from the capital.

So, once we produce more, the problem of production will be solved. There will be no scarcity etc.. and everyone is happy. The producer. The consumer. The merchant. Everyone. That's the way it looks from the outside. But there is one little assumption we make here. An assumption which could be understoood and decoded only by a pure, unassuming soul like Gandhi. The assumtion is, when you invest captial to buy raw materials, what you actually buy is Nature's irreplacable capital. And when you end up producing more, by investing more capital, which is again used up to buy this irreplacable capital of Mother earth, you end up eating a large part of this irreplacable capital, which no one takes into account. Afterall, Man does not experience himself as a part of Nature, but as a conqueror of it. And end up consuming a major portion of this irreplacable capital. Remember, an income which ends up eating your capital is no income at all. In this case, it is not *your* capital that your income is eating up. Instead, this capital belongs to each and every person residing in this planet.

To him, Civilization is not in the maniacal increase in the *wants* but in acheiving fulfillment in whatever little we have.Gandhi's idea of self-containment sounded so moronic a few years back. Post-modern times, those. emphasizing on little celebrations. about free flowing beer and vodka and finger fish. about the circulation of money etherizing one another. But the essential difference between a Philosopher and a Visionary seer lies here. A visionary looks beyond his time and looks directly into the root cause rather than staring at the cosmetic cause and ending up with a quirky solution. A visionary seeks permenance.

United States, with almost 1/4th of our population consumes as much as four or five times more energy than we do. And most part of it is not consumption is not industrial in nature. Blame it on their Dishwashers and X-Boxes. A few years back, I could during college I could sleep very well in my sweaty, heat-dripping room. And them I bought an A.C. And now I could never imagine sleeping without turning the A.C. on. This body is so self-sustaining, when left to the basics. But when we start appeasing towards pleasure, things turn weird. I just don't have an answer. I am just another victim of these huge economic cycles of time.

What I love about Gandhi is in the way the looked at 'work'. When Nehru was so obsessed with the Russian model of development, Gandhi said it would never work. Any system which dehumanizes work will never work in the long run. Dehumanizing work is not related to machinization or industrial revolution. Gandhi liked the tractor. Though it is a machine, it is used as a tool by a farmer.The farmer uses the tractor and ploughs using the tractor. At any point of time, the tractor never controlls the farmer.
Fulfillment is the word. An ordinary man seeks fulfillment through his work. His work is his spirituality. He finds himself and the world through his work , which consuumes major portion of his life. This form of fulfillment is possible only if the machine's we use is compatible with the man's need for creativity. By this way, he seeks fulfillment. Gandhi saw work as a form of direct communion with God. He saw it as a way of enriching one's soul. And if one is fulfilled and satisfied with the work he does, then his mind is not preoccupied with other evil thoughts. So he was against any form of work which dehumanizes men.
Gandhi believed that in any large system, in any large factory or corporate, the people who are at the bottom most will be crushed with such dehumanizing work, which would make them handicapped, both figuratively or otherwise, for ever.
Today we see that happenning. Slowly. Inch by inch.Every passing day we move further away from the man. The soul-crunching, spirit crushing work we are doing nowadays in the form of selling insurance and credit cards to old retired granny's in the US. bug fixing and customer support. The depressed insomaniac call centre agent. The eternally pissed off Software developer. And their un-ending tea time discussions about office politics, bad bosses etc.. Project Mayhem. All these, leading to dumb calculating attitude towards life.
This vision of forecasting things, this deep love and care towards the enrichment of an individual is what makes Gandhi a Seer among the Statesmen.
We speak of Gandhi-giri and its relevance today. I see young and yipeee journos deconstructing Gandhi and his values. They rate him as a failure. 'His Quit India movement was a failure, his round table conference failed, his talks to avoid the partition failed, he failed as a father and as a husband . And his philosophy is too impractical', they say.
I don't know. All I can say is that one cannot rate him through these absolute terms of success and failure. Maybe he failed. Even Jesus Christ failed. But what a worthy failure they all were.
And whenever I see Tyler Durden shouting, 'Advertising has us chasing cars and clothes, working jobs we hate so we can buy shit we don't need. We're the middle children of history, man. No purpose or place....', I am reminded of that *half-naked fakir* spinning his wheel in peace.


pilgrimhawk said...

Goodness... Aravind, that was a real discovery - your blog.

there is such forcefulness in your writing..and some of the snaps are brilliant...keep writing...
just finished reading your blog "on gandhi"....i feel that you will enjoy reading Nikos Kazantzaki's "The Last Temptation of Christ"...

Unknown said...

Ajai, thnx.
i read your blog.
i wanted to write to you for a long time but dunno why i never did tht. keep walkin!