Happy Birthday Gandhiji!

October 2nd was Mahatma Gandhi's birthday. In India, we used to look forward to this day mainly because it was a government holiday. Schools, banks, post offices all closed down. There'd be ceremonies everywhere - serious looking politicos would garland Gandhi photos, prayer songs would be sung. If your parents were like mine, they'd sit you down in front of the telly and make you watch Attenborough's Gandhi for the 418th time in your life.

Then, there was that adolescent phase of the late eighties and early nineties when all around us was tumult - Tiananmen had just occurred, India was burning with anti-reservation protests following the Mandal commission reports (reservation is India's quota based affirmative action program), Indira Gandhi and Rajiv her son (no relation to the Mahatma) had been assassinated in the span of seven years. Suddenly it seemed as if Gandhian principles such as satya (truth) and ahimsa (non-violence) had no relevance in modern India.

Sayesha, an Indian blogger who lives in Singapore perfectly catches this:

In one of the seven schools I studied in, there was one that had a debating competition on Gandhi Jayanti every year. And the topic too was the same every year - Are Gandhian principles relevant and applicable in modern times?

My teachers picked two students to represent our school in the competition. A draw of lots was done to decide who would argue for and who against. I ended up with the 'for' chit of paper.

Oh man. I was screwed.


Me - "Dad, I'm taking part in the inter-school debating competition, and the topic is "Are Gandhian principles relevant and applicable in modern times?"

Dad - Hmmm... and?

Me - I need help. There was a draw of lots and I am supposed to defend the topic. And I don't know what to say.

Dad - Why not??

Me - Because I don't quite believe in it?

Dad - So you don't actually believe in Gandhian principles but you're supposed to talk about them in a positive light?

Me - Exactly.

Dad - So tell me, why don't you believe in Gandhian principles?

Me - Hmmm... I guess it's kinda uncool to be Gandhian these days. In fact, when someone is too goody-goody, we call him Gandhiji. It's not a compliment. I mean, now we gotta be more assertive and all that. If someone slaps you, you can't really offer the other cheek. You gotta kick his ass.

As a country, we've debated ourselves sick over this question - hoe relevant is Gandhian thought in modern day India. But suddenly these days, being a Gandhian is back in vogue. And it's all thanks to one Bollywood film - Lage Raho Munna Bhai -a cheeky, irreverent film that couches Gandhian philosophy in slick Bombaiyya tapori language.

Blogger Ash on DesiPundit likens it to a Jesus Christ Super Star moment for Gandhi:

Mahatma Gandhi is back in the public consciousness – and right in time for his “Happy Birthday”, as Circuit (the character played by Arshad Warsi) describes October 2. It’s that irreverence, perhaps, that’s made us buy into Bapu again – just as Andrew Lloyd Webber’s cheeky recasting of the founder of Christianity as a rock-star god made Jesus Christ a superstar for the seventies – because this is a fun Bapu, a cool Bapu, Bapu as Best Buddy and not Bapu as Finger-wagging Deliverer of High-minded Sermons to Better Ourselves.

If blogs and reviews are anything to go by, it looks like Gandhigiri might just stage a comeback.

Contributing Editor Priya Ramachandran always thought Gandhian philosophy kicked ass (except for a short spell in her adolescent life she owned up to above). She has never really been able to live it in her daily life but will try very hard.


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