By Biswaraj Patnaik in Puri, October 7, 2017: Come October, and Indians wait for stealing a holiday on the 2nd of the month without caring much about Gandhi whose birthday falls on the day. If it’s a Sunday, they curse fate as the bonus gets lost. Some state officials and politicians observe the Mahatma’s birthday just routinely.

Young people including meritorious students wouldn’t give a damn about the contribution the Mahatma made to attain independence for India. Gandhi has long since ceased to inspire the people of India, particularly the insensible, smart phone-crazy youth. No one seems to read and discuss the Mahatma to know how divinely great he was and how piously austere throughout his whole life.

Again on the January 30th, his death anniversary would be observed without much respectful sentiments. But sadly, the government agencies pay tributes to Gandhi by way of advertisement in the media running into crores of rupees from the public exchequer. Most ad contents are drab, dull and repetitively boring.

Sensible souls have started questioning such expenses by the insensible governments in succession across years. The Mahatma is nearly forgotten, and the coming generations, with capitalist ideologies having been hammered into their heads, hate philosophies of ‘austerity, and ‘small is beautiful’ which famous economist Schumacher picked to become world famous.

The inspiring story of the Mahatma be told yet again: Gandhi left South Africa in 1915to begin an organised struggle for independence in India at the request of Gopal Krishna Gokhale. Interestingly, the request note was conveyed to him by C. F. Andrews earlier the same year. Soon Gandhi became famous as a leading nationalist, theorist and community organizer across India and South Africa.

Charles Freer Andrews was a Church of England priest who had come to India as a missionary, educator and social reformer. Gandhi liked his work and both had become great friends. Andrews had identified himself with the cause of India’s independence. Gandhi became a ‘Mahatma’ later as people recognised his most dedicated efforts to inspire people to join him in the struggle for independence.

Gandhi did not compromise on the principles of truth, austerity, patience, perseverance, nonviolence and sacrifice even once. He did not even worry about home or his children. He had four sons- Harilal, Debdas, Ramdas and Manilal who had to fend for themselves. Kasturba, his wife was one year older, but remained glued to him until her death in 1944. Gandhi had neither luxuries in life nor any craving for fame. He was so dedicated to the freedom struggle and in a unique manner that the whole world around him had to be in awe of him. Whatever he preached, he practised to the hilt. His simplest possible ‘Indian attire’ is now a universal trademark and symbol of being divinely good.

Even today, there is dispute as to who first called him a ‘Mahatma’ which means a great, pious soul. It’s popularly known that Rabindranath Tagore first called Gandhi a Mahatma. But the Rajkot District Panchayat Shikshan Samiti, which conducted an exam for the post of Talathi in the Revenue department, hascategorically cited the work of Narayan Desai, son of Gandhi’s secretary Mahadev Desai, to claim that the title was given to Gandhi by an anonymous scribe from Jetpur town.

Narayan Desai, who had spent around 20 years of his early life with Gandhi, had said in his autobiography that a journalist from Saurashtra had called Gandhi so when he was in South Africa. Tagore came to know this and started calling him ‘Mahatma’. Tagore was a celebrity. So he was given the credit of making Gandhi a Mahatma.

Many would not know that Gandhi did not celebrate the moment of Independence on August 15 of 1947. He wasn’t even in Delhi. He didn’t hear Jawaharlal Nehru’s ‘Tryst with Destiny’ speech on radio. He had gone away to fast in Calcutta to stop the intense rioting in both parts of Bengal.

Gandhi was an extremely shy kid. Son to the fourth wife of Karamchand Gandhi, Putlibai, Mohan Gandhi or ‘Moniya’ as he was called by school mates, Gandhi was a very shy kid in the school who used to often run away because he had difficulty talking with fellow mates. Gandhi was a mediocre student, but had high ethics and a good command in English. One of his report cards shows: “good at English, fair in Arithmetic and weak in Geography; conduct very good, bad handwriting”. His bad handwriting is something he despised all his life.

Some of the Mahatma’s great qualities not popularly talked about:

• He walked around 18 km every day, for 40 years!
It is believed that to save money, Gandhi commuted most by walking, throughout the time he worked as a lawyer in England and South Africa. He walked around 79,000 km during his campaign from 1913 to 1938, enough to encompass the Earth-twice!

• Gandhi’s civil disobedience movement was inspired by an American. A book of Henry Salt made a huge impact on Gandhi and proved to be his source of inspiration for his mass civil disobedience movement, later in his life. The book was based on life of philosopher Henry David Thoreau, who lived as a hermit and refused to pay tax for which he was put in jail.

• Gandhi failed as a lawyer. Being shy, Gandhi couldn’t carry on his practice as lawyer in India as he couldn’t cross question his witnesses or put up speeches. In fact, while delivering a speech, his knees and hands would often tremble.

• For a brief period, Gandhi was actually in the British-Indian Army.

• In South Africa, seeing the racial discrimination against Indians, Gandhi started two football clubs to propagate his ideology.

• Poverty in Madurai forced Gandhi to make “dhoti” his permanent attire. In 1921, seeing the astounding poverty in Madurai, where people had no clothes to wear; Gandhi gave up his clothes and decided to make ‘dhoti’ his permanent attire.

• The first & the only Indian to have been accorded the “TIME Person Of The Year” title. 1930, Mohandas Gandhi was named the Man of the Year by TIME Magazine. Now this coveted title is popularly known as the “TIME Person Of The Year”.

• A born journalist, Gandhi wrote around 1 crore words during his 40 years of struggle.

• During his 40 years of struggle in India, Mahatma Gandhi penned around 10 million words- around 700 words everyday- that covered various topics of politics like Independence to social issues like abolition of child-marriage, prohibition of alcohol, untouchability, cleanliness and nation building.

• A day before he died, Gandhi had seriously given a thought to have the Indian National Congress dissolved as some of the front liners had begun showing signs of greed for power. Before Independence, the Indian National Congress was a non-political organisation involved in India’s fight for independence. But after independence, it was decided that the Indian National Congress would be converted into a political party. This obviously irked Gandhi so much that he toyed with the idea of dissolving the organisation.

• Gandhi was nominated for Nobel Peace Prize five times- in 1937, 1938, 1939 and 1947, but he never received the award. Much lesser beings got that. The Nobel committee regrets even today for not having awarded the Prize to the most deserving Indian then.

• Gandhi is the most photographed man of the time even though he did not like his pictures being taken and shown all around. At one time, the world carried his pictures more popularly in newspapers and magazines than the most popular movie stars of the times.

• Netaji conferred the title of ‘The Father of the Nation’ on Gandhi.

• The funeral procession of Gandhi was eight kilometres long. Around that time the population of India was only a little above thirty-five crore. If it had happened today, the same would have stretched between cities.

• Mahatma Gandhi inspired most of leaders of the 20th and the 21st century. Martin Luther King Jr., the Dalai Lama, Nelson Mandela, all have been known to have been highly influenced by Gandhi and his ideologies. In 1989 when the Dalai Lama won the Nobel Peace Prize, he dedicated the award to his mentor Gandhi. Even Steve Jobs is known to have been highly influenced by the Mahatma, his ‘glasses’ being a tribute to the great Indian.

Gandhi is only a name or an image in India today. Sensible people from across the world have been known to comment coldly that Indian politicians use the ‘Gandhi brand’ to escape from being flayed for errors. The rogues present a romantic view of India which lived the Gandhian non-violence- a Utopian dream far from the harsh reality of the everyday life of Indians. The truth is that the majority of Indian youth wouldn’t care about Mahatma Gandhi or his highly proven principles of nation building or humanity.

Gandhi’s approach to politics in terms of “resistance” and “protest” beyond a conception of domination over others provides a potential antidote to the contemporary crisis of democracy. With this in mind, Gandhi can be said to be oriented towards reinventing politics as a capacity for self-realisation and self-transformation of society.

Maybe this is why each time sensitive people read a page of Gandhi, they are tempted to go back to youngsters and ask them to revisit him as an invaluable thinker and moral guide amid the great political problems and the cultural confusions of India and the world in which we live.

Indians today are as violent as any other race and politically corrupt as in any other despicable democracy on the planet.

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