Gandhi: Behind the Mask of Divinity.
G. B. Singh
ISBN 1573929980, $32.00 355 pp.
Mud is one of the most plentiful and cheapest of materials on earth and slinging it is one of the easiest of pastimes. It has been said that the success of a man can be measured by the number of his enemies. It may safely be added that the greatness of a man or woman can be gauged by the amount of mud slung at him or her. The truth is that we humans have a propensity to make titans of ordinary men and women and then comes the equal and opposite reaction of tarring and feathering great man or woman. The mud slung at Gandhi by G.B.Singh only adds to the greatness of the Mahatma. (Mahatma means large minded).
I was born into a Catholic family in Kerala on the SW coast of India hardly a month after India gained independence and Godse assassinated Gandhi. The ecclesiastical establishment was not happy about the independence as the Christian community in India was mostly pro-British, pro-Christian West. Gandhi was painted as a diabolic force by my community. Then the India Government propaganda machinery began churning and Gandhi was painted as one of the greatest men of all times, the Mahatma. According to that propaganda Gandhi lived with the untouchables and the scavengers, used the same toilets as they did and even cleaned the toilets. According to the government propaganda this cleaning of toilets was the cause of much friction between him and his wife Kasturba.
I am not a student of history and so am not in a position to give a real picture of Gandhi. But I would like to lay before you some facts I know first hand that might belie much of what Singh has described in his work.
By the time I was six I was put into a primary school run by nuns and subsequently into a high school run by priests. Then I went to a college run by the diocese and last to an engineering college run by the government. All along I had Harijans as classmates. Harijan is a euphemism for the low castes and untouchables and means people of god. This term was coined by Gandhi. They are also called Scheduled castes and scheduled tribes, as there is schedule of such castes and tribes of formerly untouchables. The students belonging to the Scheduled castes and tribes do not have to pay any fees and have special reservation in colleges. Their hostel and food expenses are paid for by the government and they also get a monthly stipend. Once they are through with their education they have special job reservations and get preferential treatment in promotions. All these privileges were there with independence and if Gandhi were casteist as Singh alleges, this would not have come about.
I have also heard it said that before he died he forgave his assassin, Godse. That does not come easy for an ordinary human being. It may also be noted that Godse was a high caste Hindu and bore a grudge against Gandhi for his secularism.
Gandhi could very well have chosen to become India's first ruler. Instead he gave way to Nehru and that too does not come easy for an ordinary human being. If Gandhi had chosen to lead the new government he would have been well protected and he might in all probability have not been assassinated. As a result India would have had Gandhi's grandsons and granddaughters-in-law ruling India instead of Nehru's. By the way, people in the West have the misconception that the Gandhis ruling India today are descendents of the Mahatma Gandhi. Nothing could be farther from the truth. The ruling Gandhis of India are not even remotely related to the Mahatma.
I have read an essay or two by Mahatma Gandhi and there are two quotations attributed to him that I still remember after so many decades. One is 'If you take an eye for an eye, then the whole world will finally go blind' and the second quotation is 'No one can insult you without your permission' Then there are a series of advices attributed to him and displayed at many government offices and businesses across India and these stress the necessity of serving the customers and the people.
He had his faults. He advocated self sufficient villages. This was economic naivete and a pointer to his total ignorance of macro and micro economics.
Khuswant Singh, a turbaned Sikh from the same community as G.B.Singh, has also written a defamatory treatise on Gandhi. In his works he has alleged that the aged Gandhi slept with naked girls on either side to test his self-control. Chairman Mao has also been accused of sleeping with virgins every night. But then Mao had the absolute power to enforce every wish of his. Gandhi had no such power in pre-independent India and if there were even the inkling of such sexual misdemeanor on the part of Gandhi, the English would have been the first to pounce on the opportunity to denigrate Gandhi.
I have seen news reels of Gandhi leaning on the shoulders of young girls as he walked. In my own society it is and was perceived as a misdemeanor. But then I am not in a position to judge Gandhi by the same yardstick, as he belonged a distant society and a distant period from mine. Even if there were misdemeanors and shortcomings on his part they only serve to highlight the greatness of a fallible man.
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|Article Type:||Book Review|
|Date:||Oct 1, 2004|
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