About Mahatma Gandhi by Ramchandra Guha

Thank goodness I don’t drive a car else my shopping would never know any bounds – currently I am restricted by the weight of shopping bags that I can carry myself.
Leaving my shopaholicness aside, I’ll journalize what I’ve been upto in the first 15 days of the new year.
First of all, I tried my hand at making BabaGanoush – turned out pretty well. Don’t know what was preventing me all these days from making it – considering that I’ve seen my mom making “Baingan ka Bhartaa” (mashed eggplants) ever since I can remember..

Then we had an eminent historian Ramchandra Guha in our midst at my office. He gave a discourse on Mahtama Gandhi – giving us details on the lesser known facts about the Mahatma, his admirers, his critics, his work, his literary works, and later answering questions from the audience.
One of the most interesting aspects of Gandhiji’s life that he mentioned was that he held four professions (if we go by the definition of professions by Kishore Biyani, who wrote in his book “It happened in India” – we come to this world to pass time and what we do to do that, we call it our profession”.)
While most of us think of profession as the source of livelihood and on those lines, we’d say Gandhiji was a lawyer by profession. But what Guha said, made me realize the width of this word – the four professions that he mentioned were – freedom fighter, social reformer, futurist and an environmentalist. On top of all this, he was also a writer!

I’ll give one anecdote that he mentioned from his experiences at the Berkley university where he was a visiting professor for a semester. He said that before the start of session, he was warned by the university that what he selected as his course – Arguments with Gandhi – would have few takers. Probably some ABCDs (American Born Confused Desis) would join and even in those, most of them would be ABCDEFGs (American Born Confused Desis Emigrated From Gujarat!). Quite accidentally, two days before the start of semester, he laid his hands on the Bay Area News newspaper which had an advertisement of a photo studio. It said something like – “No-one else apart from us knows the meaning of “Fast” as Gandhi. Delivery of photos in 10 minutes!” The pun on the word “Fast” and Gandhijis name being mentioned quelled all his doubts on who would join his course and who wouldn’t. That’s the reach of Gandhi!
One of the interesting things that he told us was how Gandhiji used to collect the donations for the various social causes. He first would give a thought evoking lecture and those whose souls were stirred by that, they’d willingly donate. Thereafter, he’d declare that he’d hand out some of his autographed pictures in lieu of money. After exhausting his own pictures, he’d start with auctions of autographed pictures of J.L Nehru, Maulana Azaad and so on! I was quite impressed by this practical approach (which Guha stated, tongue in cheek, because of Gandhiji being a “Baniya” , at which I felt a sense of pride 🙂  ).

Guha also brought our attention to the fact that Gandhi was one of the most admired and simultaneously most controversial figures of the 20th century. He was quite right when he mentioned that one can say anything about Gandhi and continue to live on as he wants, but dare criticize any other political leader and his followers would make your life hell! That by itself speaks about the greatness of this leader – not only while alive did he practiced tolerance, even in death, he is inspiring his followers in believing in the same philosophy! It’s really hard to believe that such a man walked on this earth (quoting Einstein here).
Another thing that he pointed out was that India and Britain are the only colonized and colonizer pair, who are on amicable terms with each other! Every other such pair, almost hates each other!
All in all, it was a thought provoking session. I don’t know if coming centuries would produce another such global figure who would be so admired, hated, revered, criticized – all at the same time, as Gandhiji.

Wait for me to document my experience with an interesting book I got my hands-on, in an unrelated context, but which felt like to me like a sequel to the thoughts that were coming to mind after this session !

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