Mahatma Gandhi - The ascetic journey
by Sunit Bezbaroowa
Crash-diet courses and anti-wrinkle treatments are a fad in urban India.
This is the age of Levis 501 jeans, Diet Coke, flat screen televisions
and super-express highways.
So, where does this India fit in Gandhi's vision?
Fifty-four years after Gandhi's death, here I am, all set to write a piece on Gandhi. The task is enormous not because Gandhi does not exist anywhere amongst Diet Cokes and modular kitchens. It's difficult to confine Gandhi to alphabetical expressions.
Albert Einstein had once remarked: "Generations to come... will scarce believe that such a one as this ever... walked upon this earth."
Simple living, high thinking… that's how Gandhi is pictured throughout the world. But what did Gandhi mean by simple living?
"Simple living does not merely mean wearing khadi. It's an overall change," says Dr Y.P. Anand, director, National Gandhi Museum and Library, New Delhi.
He elaborates: "Simple living is an identification with the Indian masses. What Gandhi meant by simple living was using one's resources in the most minimal way so as not to deprive others."
Gandhi had started on a life of ease and comfort. In South Africa, when he was practising law, he was earning well enough to pamper himself with luxuries. South Africa, however, proved to be the ground where the idea of leading a simple life and serving his country kept crossing his mind.
So, in 1906, he took the vow of celibacy. He felt that if he had to devote his services to others he must banish the desire for acquiring children, wealth and other material goods and lead the life of a brahmachari.
Gandhi's style of dressing underwent a drastic change after he adopted celibacy. There came within him an awakening for dignity of labour and a need to be self-reliant.
He decided to cut down on his laundry expenses and started to wash his own clothes. He shed his English clothes. Till his death, a khadi attire, shawl and watch were his only possessions.
More than categorising his life into two words, 'simple living', Gandhi loved to do his own work and even cleaned his own lavatory.
Nirmala Deshpande, an activist of the Bhoodan Movement and an eminent Gandhian, says: "Once, Gandhi's wife Kasturba had gone to visit a remote village in Champaran, Bihar (India). When she asked for water in a hut, a woman's hand reached out and gave a glass of water. The woman did not come out herself as she had no clothes to wear. This incident had a deep impact on Gandhi and he decided that since millions of his countrymen had nothing to wear even he would dress in the minimum."
With the growing simplicity in Gandhi's life, his dislike for medicines grew stronger. Gandhi took refuge in various natural therapies like hip-bath and earth treatment to rid himself of diseases.
Omkar Sharma, a small-scale businessman, clad in khadi and a Gandhi cap who insists on calling himself a Gandhian, comments: "I was in my late 30s when I first saw Gandhi. He looked very simple and I was drawn towards him like a magnet and started living a simple life like him.''
He adds: "Gandhi's words on simple living are highly relevant today. He is as alive today as he was 60-70 years back. To the people for whom he is the Mahatma, he lives on!"
Gandhi's concepts of simple living continue to inspire people. Especially the 11 vows that were formulated by him to regulate the conduct of the members of his Satyagraha ashram. These were: truth, nonviolence, chastity, diet control, non-stealing, non-possession, labour, swadeshi (using only Indian goods), fearlessness, removal of untouchability and tolerance (equality of religions).
But how do the young admirers of Gandhi relate to his simple living?
Arnab Kumar Choudhury, who works for a multinational company, feels: "Gandhi's 'simple living' was nothing more than a political sham. Changing to a 'half-naked fakir' was a shrewd political game plan. Something that endures till today. Any Gandhian worth his salt has to roam around dressed like a tramp."
Anjan Medhi, a student of Geological Information Service course in New Delhi, differs: "Gandhi's ideal of simple life can be as important today without shedding our modern outlook. But more than following his ideology, we are interested in becoming Gandhi's clones, dressing up like him. That would not take us anywhere. "
Perhaps. Perhaps it is time to look back and realise what Gandhi represented. As I stand on the footpath overlooking Bapu's samadhi at Rajghat, a sea of humanity overtakes me. As people in fancy cars zip pass, I wonder how many of them still keep the Mahatma of simple living alive in them!
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