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Sunday, January 14, 2007

'Gandhi' - book, rock and google sets

Two recent news items within as many weeks and the nation debates on the Mahatma again.

The first is a book by his grandson, in his words, "to bring Gandhi more closer to people" or "humanize him" seems to have created only one central topic of debate - that of Gandhiji's relationship with Saraladevi. Though the author of this book has repeatedly stated, from the time the first interview appeared in the cover page of a popular weekly a few weeks back that, his intention was not to scandalize some hidden secret and thereby gain some popularity, his voice seems to have been overtaken by others' rendering of his work. News items in every corner of the globe have carried this news item in the past week or so and it seems to have been debated much in some television channels in India as well. Even the author's letter of protest regarding the way the initial magazine report was carried was published along with a mocking response from a reporter! Perhaps he didn't have a clue that humanizing of Gandhi meant to reducing him to the taste(lessness) of such persons too! I think it is wonderful to certainly 'humanize' Gandhi, to place him with his limitations and weaknesses certainly brings him down from the high pedestal in which he is often placed making him beyond the reach of the common. However, he did often say that he 'only articulated the feelings that were in the hearts of the millions who couldn't articulate them' and many writers have repeatedly pointed out that the reason he was able to reach out to millions across the country was only because he understood and articulated what the ordinary people felt. So, that makes the job of anyone wanting to 'bring him closer to people' much easier. They just need to point out those aspects of his words / work which struck a chord in people - then and perhaps even now. Just last year, 'Gandhigiri' did it, by appealing to a sense of fairplay and human kindness. These point out the commonality between the ordinary (in the case of Munnabhai, not just ordinary, a goonda at that) and the Mahatma, but, strengthen both the position of Gandhi and the ordinary in the process. Showing some icon as being weak to make him palatable to the weak doesn't seem to be such a good idea. The weak can perhaps use this to justify (and even worse consolidate) their position! Gandhi himself once while he starts to criticize Swami Vivekananda, controls himself and says, 'we should not unnecessarily criticize such great persons, we don't know what it will lead to'! Such responsible communication!

The second reason for the spate of Gandhi pop-ups seem to be an album that seems to have done the rounds in television channels and a web portal in which a rock singer of Indian origin dressed as Gandhi does pole dancing and shoots people with a toy gun. Perhaps he too was wanting to bring Gandhi 'closer to reality of current times'. There is a spate of protests and a protest from the Government of India and this evening there was even a news item that the web portal that carried the image may be banned in India! It seems ironic that the minister has stated the reason that Gandhi is almost worshiped in India as a reason for the protest to the rock album. Such blind worship is what Gandhi's grandson wants to break with his book! Would the minister ban the book by Rajmohan Gandhi on the same grounds?

It is exciting to know that the spirit of Gandhi still haunts this country. You can like him or dislike him, but, cannot ignore him in India. Some time ago a good friend informed us how though many politicians claim to not like Gandhi or his policies when challenged would not dare to say it so in a public gathering for fear of upsetting the ordinary people's sentiments. A scholar or a rock singer don't have to negotiate their position through public validated every five years. So, they can allow their own priorities and creative urges overshadow their responsibility. To be fair to both of them, I have neither read the book nor watched the video.

Something else, perhaps not too unconnected - while looking through recent additions by Google Labs, stumbled on a new program called Google Sets. This is a good tool that provides you with a set of related topics, links, etc. if you type one search topic, word or phrase. For example, typing in one known work of an author could fetch all her other works. I suppose this is fetched through some criteria based search by the web-omniscient Google search. Wanting to test the application, I typed 'Gandhi' and it fetched the following set of words as the result -

Freedom Struggle
Gibran Kahlil
Goldschneider Gary
Goodman Linda
Good Evil
Early Modern
Search Engines
20th Century
19th Century
American Revolution

These are either key words of websites associated with Gandhi or these are titles that people who searched for Gandhi are searching for. Glad to note that the world is not looking for either 'secret love episodes in the life of famous personalities' or 'famous personalities mocked by pop stars' or anything remotely connected to that when they search for Gandhi, the media notwithstanding.

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