Saturday, October 02, 2004

Gandhi day

Driving to office today I felt guiltier than usual about the beggars at the traffic lights. Usually, even as they plead and scrape, shower blessings your way, make a pathetic show of ‘cleaning’ your car window (generally leaving it smudgier than before) there’s a sense that they’re just going through the paces -- not really expecting anything other than apathy. Today was different (or did it just seem that way?) - there was a gleam in their eyes, a purposefulness in their scurrying from car to car that suggested they expected greater yields today, despite the sparseness of vehicles on the road.

It’s Gandhi Day, October 2, and they probably felt sensitivities would be more attuned to them than on other days. I don’t know about how the other cars on the road responded, but I wasn’t much help myself: it was one of those days I didn’t have any change, and so I kept the window rolled up, stared straight ahead and felt bad, as if that helped them.

M K Gandhi and his ideals haven’t had a major personal influence on me -- at best I admire the man and his work in a distanced sort of way. And others more passionate about the subject have written much more -- and more eloquently -- than I can about how the India of today isn’t "his" India. (To an extent, Gandhi was already out of style during his own lifetime. It’s common opinion now that had he lived a few more years, he would have been out of place in the new India of Nehruvian socialism; and that, if he had continued to wield influence, he would likely have been a serious impediment to the country’s development.) But even though he hasn’t touched me in any immediate sense, I still feel uneasy about the idea of an important life being reduced to a clinical annual celebration, the practicalities of his life and example completely disregarded. And it’s sad that the poor of this country have to keep hearing sermons about his contribution to India’s independence when they themselves are no better off today than they would have been if independence had never come.

P.S. Was making our newspaper’s Oped page yesterday. One of the columns, People Like Them, by Geetanjali Krishna (her website is here), has a piece I thought might be of interest. Here's the link.

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