Today is Gandhiji’s birthday.
October 2nd and it would be the 141st anniversary, and 62 years since the man breathed his last. That pretty much means that whoever had the fortune to have lived during his era are now well into their 80’s and beyond. A generation who once rubbed shoulders, read current headliners of happening people who will ultimately become legends is slowly disappearing.
What is left however, is second hand memories, monuments, statues, books and more books filtered down, and sometimes tweaked to reader’s views, interpretations and well, modern day take on the times of yester years.
I suppose we can replace him with any of the more prominent figures in the history of the world, and the result would be the same. A chapter in the history text books, and if one decides to pick up Humanities or Arts, it would be a biography or an autobiography that one would pore over, maybe write a thesis and call it a day.
There would be the commemorative stamp if all red tape could be crossed over, and then a coin. Ultimately, there’s a statue somewhere. To be dusted, washed, a quick rush of potted plants when the said figure’s anniversary warranted a rush of dignitaries for their Kodak moments. Ones that will come in handy for the newspapers just when the faces were beginning to fade from memories. Then there are the numerous roads and highways that could benefit from naming after these folks. At least their names would be said aloud during the day’s motions, and hopefully remembered for that brief moment. It’s legacy.
Martin Luther King Jr, Thomas Jefferson, Mahatma Gandhi , JF Kennedy, Tagore, Einstein and so on, ones with their sheer presence, magnetism and willpower left the world just a slightly different place than when they lived in.
Coming back to Gandhiji, all I remember growing up was that October 2nd was a holiday. Holiday is all that we really cared about. There was always some garlanding somewhere, statues at street corners waring fresh garlands, and then there was candy. I know I read through with great diligence his book “My experiments with Truth” and it was only because there was an exam on it, which would give us a certificate to be filed into that large folder in the dresser, joining other such glorious certificates.
Credentials that wear with age, letters fading as did the memories.
As a teenager I suppose that was the best I could manage. No guilt whatsoever, though I must somehow?
Then I moved to the United States. Had children, who went to school and they were introduced to Gandhi and his principles at school. The system revered the statesman in a way that I shrunk in embarrassment. The students were asked to draw parallels in their life to his, to quote real life incidents where his way could have worked, and imaginary situations drawn up and to project how the man could have handled it. Drawing contrasts and similarities between leaders of those times, and why MLK jr was drawn towards his principles, and to what extent Nelson Mandela drew his inspiration from.
These assignments, I can say with complete honesty, were done solely by my then 12-13 year old kids. I did not, could not would be a precise word, help them with that. What could I bring to the table except for white kurta clad netajis with garlands, hard candy, singing the “Raghupati Raghava Rajaram” in the sun, and the fact that the school I studied in was on Nungambakkam High Rd, which later got changed to Mahatma Gandhi Salai.
What could they take away from what I brought in but just plain facts. Nothing more. Nothing that challenged and fed their brain cells. So, I remained silent, letting them draw form what they read, and how they connected with what the cells were fed.
And so I continue in awe, honored and humbled with the knowledge that one had to step outside to realize the value of where one comes from, to the place we belong to, and to honor the person who did make a difference, regardless of whether this the India of the last 20 years as we know it, needed him to.
Dupont Circle has a wonderful statue of Gandhi, gifted by the State of India to the United States. Located just outside of the Indian Embassy, the location is prominent inside the city itself. Washington DC is the capital, and as one strolls the streets, we come across many a statesman, author, pioneer, of both American and outside origin dot the city. Set beautifully, and at higher ground with a 5 feet border of landscape, one cannot help but stop to gaze at the statue, with reverence, recognition or even wonder, while we read the inscriptions below.
More Gandhijis have been placed across the nation, with 18 states and two more joining this year. Most are located in University libraries, and city centers. The two places where most are on their feet and there is a higher chance of these statues can serve their purpose.
..and so on, we continue, placing on foreign lands, coz for someone as influential as he is, it would be a shame for just one country to own and rever him.