"Gandhigiri", Gandhi Statue and Cleveland (Ohio, USA)
Yesterday, I read a article about the commercialisation of "Gandhigiri". I wanted to share it with the forum, but did not, since I did not want members and guests to feel that I was unnecessarily taking up issues with other members, over something that is not even remotely connected to the stated objectives of this forum. After all, we are all here to help each other with RTI.
However, I did send the article to some of my friends. One of them is in Cleveland, Ohio. During a holiday break last year with his family in the US, he introduced me to a lady, who wanted my assistance in shipping a 11 foot bronze statue from Kolkatta to Cleveland, since, neither the sculptor nor she, had any idea about export, documentation, shipping, customs, etc. I did the needful.
On reading my email, this friend emailed back a clipping from a local Cleveland "online newspaper". After reading it, I simply cannot resist posting the original email sent by me and the clipping received in return, even at the risk of exposing myself to flames.
My original email:
In my constant run in, with Indian "Officers" over the last two years, many people have been suggesting to me to use "Gandhigiri", since all else had failed. I used to answer back "You are seeing too many Hindi movies". Maybe, I could not get the point across, because my knowledge about Gandhi and his life was limited and I did not have the strong command over the English language, which this writer has.
Makes interesting reading. Gandhigiri minus Gandhi
Cinema's legendary SS Vasan once told me a successful film should have something for the heart, something for the ears, something for the eyes and a little for the mind. Bengali films flopped, Vasan claimed (this was in the sixties), because there was too much for the brain and not enough to see, hear and feel. Films from Bombay - no Mumbai or even Bollywood then - catered to the heart and even more lavishly for the ears and eyes, but offered little food for thought. If Lage Raho Munnabhai is any guide, the formula hasn't changed.
If "there is no such thing as Gandhism" as the Mahatma himself claimed, how can there be Gandhigiri? Etymological similarity with dadagiri and goondagiri offers an explanation. The craze is an astute creation of commercial salesmanship. A less profiteering form of Gandhigiri among English liberals prompted a verse in that Bible of the fashionable left, the New Statesman and Nation,
"Hitler with his Brown Shirts, riding for a fall Mussolini with his Black Shirts, back against the wall De Valera with his Green Shirts, caring not at all, Three cheers for Mahatma Gandhi, with no shirt at all."
It would be grossly unfair to dismiss the reportedly 43,870 Gandhian groups worldwide as people with an eye on the main chance. But it is entirely appropriate that today's enthusiasts should focus not on Gandhi's concept of the village but on the fun and frolic of a paunchy, ageing bleary-eyed "hero" of the Hindi screen. Rajkumar Hirani's preposterously unreal but hilariously funny fantasia only demonstrates how easily Indians are moved by tear-jerking sentiment amidst the splurge of song, dance and colour that is Bollywood at its best.
The principal characters are brilliant but only as caricatures. Lucky, Circuit and Munna colourfully illustrate the effectiveness of reductio ad absurdum. A phantom Gandhi uttering pieties and platitudes in the quavering voice that Bollywood and TV serials reserve for gurus and godmen has no bearing on Gandhi's known views on modernisation and their relevance to globalising India.
I can think of many significant Gandhian themes. There is his 1909 message that "the railways, telegraphs, hospitals, lawyers, doctors and such like all have to go and the so-called upper classes have to live consciously the simple life of a peasant." There was his rebuke to socialites who rose from "overloaded breakfast tables" in "spacious bungalows" and drove to the poor in "posh cars" dangling "stylish vanity bags". There was the anguished refusal of Ranjit Chetsingh, an Indian Quaker, to participate in the World Pacifist Congress "when that great pacifist Gandhi is exhorting the Indian troops in Kashmir to be prepared to die for their country." Such complexities cannot even be mentioned in the context of a frothy film.
Apparently, that didn't occur to the starstruck Sheila Dikshit whose confusion of medium with message set the Gandhigiri ball rolling. But it has not prompted anyone to knock down statues and put away pictures ("A church does not need a building" Gandhi wrote) and enshrine his memory only in their hearts. The absolving and curative therapy of puja demands deities. Puja is also profit profitable.
The film has rollicking lines. Someone recollects Gandhi only as the five-rupee note wallah. For someone else, he fathered Indira and Rajiv Gandhi. The man himself once pronounces Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi with an amusing "English" twang. Most Indians put on a bit of an accent in a Western milieu. There's no reason to think that the Middle Temple barrister in starched collar and frock coat, the first outstanding NRI, was any different.
Richard Symonds, an English Quaker relief worker in whom Gandhi took an avuncular interest, recalls the "simple and charming scenes taken from Gandhi's autobiography" among the Birla House murals. One showed him wearing a tail-coat and playing a violin; another "dancing with a lady of dubious respectability." They were removed because politicians thought they were disrespectful. "It was sad to see the Mahatma treated with such ponderous lack of imagination", Symonds lamented. Those same people will scream "Sacrilege!" if one says Lage Raho Munnabhai is great entertainment but no more.
Among them might be the "portly visiting businessmen" Symonds encountered at Sabarmati "stoking up secretly behind bushes on biscuits and chocolates sold by cycling pedlars who would also purvey illicit cigarettes" because they found the communal meals too bland. They - or their successors - are busy trotting out the film's benefits.
Sanjay Dutt now understands the "value" of Gandhi Jayanti. Shabana Azmi practised Gandhigiri before it was invented. People are again tying rakhi on a banyan Gandhi planted. A $1 million fund from Switzerland's Volkart Foundation has made khadi stylish. Designers like Rohit Bal and David Abraham and high-flying entrepreneurs like Rajeev Sethi and the princely Martand Singh are promoting fine khadi in rainbow colours to be one of the world's most exclusive - and costly - fabrics. Khadi was not an end in itself for Gandhi but "the first indispensable step towards the discharge of swadeshi dharma towards society." He dismissed "men who wear khadi but in all other things indulge their taste for foreign manufactures with a vengeance," and declared in 1931, "They are simply following fashion." Quality didn't matter. When women complained that it was coarse and unattractive, he replied he had never known a mother throw away her baby because it was ugly.
Gandhi tried to stop the recuperating Symonds - whom he had nursed in Birla House - from returning to Kolkata. Symonds protested that Bengal was his second home. "Exactly," Gandhi replied. "You and your fellow Bengalis will weep over each other, and you will eat too much and have a relapse."
Among the speakers - Lord Mountbatten, Philip Noel Baker, Dame Sybil Thorndike and others - at a meeting in London to observe the centenary of his birth in 1969 was a quiet man who had been the Yeravda jailer. He told us how a paste of a brown powder, milk and water that Gandhi produced cured the severe stomach ailment he was suffering from. When the overjoyed jailer asked what it was, Gandhi was at first reluctant to tell him. Pressed, he finally replied, "It is cow dung."
Gandhi lived and died before the age of designer medicines, designer babies, designer khadi or designer Gandhism. The last is called Gandhigiri, and it's a damn lucrative business.
..Sunanda K Data Ray
In reply I received the following:
Cultural harvest dying on the vine
Thursday, July 05, 2007
Cleveland used to promote itself as a global town.
Now, its leaders promote regionalism.
There was a time when villagers 40 miles from the city's center called themselves Clevelanders. Now, people in the central city speak in survival terms of an amorphous place called Cleveland-plus.
There's a part of Cleveland, however, where the city's former presence on the world's stage remains undisputed.
Rockefeller Park, which contains Cleveland's incomparable Cultural Gardens, is a stunning reminder of how far we've fallen, and how much remains on which to rebuild.
The gardens provide a useful marketing roadmap back to prominence.
The India Garden was simply spectacular on Wednesday.
The base of the 11-foot bronze statue of Mahatma Gandhi was wrapped in red, white, and blue streamers - a festive tribute to America's independence.
Dozens of American flags were planted throughout the garden.
Flowers the color of Old Glory nestled next to the six heritage pillars that represent the culture and history of India. The place provided stunning visual representation of the interlocking of Eastern and Western cultures.
Not a soul was in the place at 8 a.m., but the birthday party was rocking nonetheless. Indians were proudly celebrating the American dream, and their role in it.
The story up the hill was quite a different matter, however.
The American Colonial Garden simply wept.
Lincoln is missing from the park, as are John Jay and Mark Twain. The Gettysburg Address placard - a gift from Chicago in 1909 - is horribly eroded.
Only Booker T. Washington, the noted author and educator, stands sentry. But he looks tired.
The base of his bust is cracked and his pedestal is tilting. It seems only a matter of time before wind, vandals, or dogs send him rolling down onto Martin Luther King Jr. Drive.
We Americans are often said to devalue our history. This particular garden offers sobering testament.
Fortunately, the American Colonial Garden is an anomaly.
At the other end of East Boulevard, the Polish Garden was bursting with colors and life. Ben Stefanski II was working the garden over with a water hose as he does several times a month. He laughed heartily when told about the Indian party down the hill.
"That's great," he said. "Fifty years ago, the Polish Garden would have been decked out with flags on the Fourth. Every ethnic group acts the same as it assimilates."
Thanks to the dedication of a few individuals, the overall state of the gardens appears good. The Italians are working to raise $130,000 for a restoration project, and the Serbs are soon expected to unveil a garden.
The African-American Garden remains puzzling 30 years after its dedication. It is undeveloped. But it continues to hold the promise.
The gardens remain Cleveland's gift to the world. They are just not marketed. We promote our museums, our great orchestra and our Browns. But little is ever made of our culture gardens.
That's inexcusable neglect of an extraordinary asset.