Saturday, March 7, 2009

Gandhi Memorabilia

So the Indian Government has managed to get its grubby hands on all that Gandhi memorabilia. The Government is happy to show that it still values the Mahatma (never mind the gap between precept and practice). Mr Mallya is happy that he has used his millions to show that he is a true and patriotic Indian. Presumably Mr. Otis is happy and so is the auction house. Even his descendants like Tushar Gandhi are happy. So it's one big happy occasion, like India winning the cricket World Cup.

Without wanting to act as a sourpuss dampener on these Cheeryble brothers, I can't help wondering what Gandhiji would have made of all this. The obvious ironies would not have failed to strike him. We have come a long way from Gandhiji's ideals. Even leaving aside some of his more quaint pronouncements (from celibacy to a village economy) we have even abandoned his universal teachings of love, brotherhood, truthfulness, integrity and non violence. Instead, we fall over ourselves trying to recover some of his material possessions, the last thing that he would have wanted anyone to do, that too with the help of a man who has made his millions selling liquor to the masses (it's unlikely Kingfisher airlines makes any money!). Knowing Gandhiji's views on the consumption of alcohol and on prohibition, this is probably the ultimate absurdity. For a supposedly booming economy, it appears we couldn't afford $ 1.8 million! Unlike many other great men, Gandhiji was well-known for his wry sense of humour. The Mahatma is probably having a hearty chuckle at the antics of fellow citizens of his beloved country, from wherever he is today.

But let's get a bit pragmatic here. Gandhiji led a long and eventful life of 79 years - it's obvious in that time he would have changed his spectacles numerous times (considering the amount of writing he used to do, that itself would have required fresh prescriptions). Despite leading an extremely frugal life, it is also likely that the bowl and plate auctioned were one of many that he used in daily life, to say nothing of the sandals. In other words, most of these belongings are probably one of many that presumably exist either in museums or in homes or have simply disappeared. As a symbol of his simplicity, they already exist in various museums (I have myself seen them in Delhi and Mumbai). What difference would one more or one less make, other than just that feel good factor? Having put him, of all places, on Indian banknotes, we have forgotten both him and his message, well and truly. Why then pretend to worship his bowls and spectacles?

Tailpiece: I can't help thinking that a suitable end to this comedy would be an overzealous customs officer demanding that Mallya pay 200% duty on this import - thereby not only getting the memorabilia into India but adding to the Government coffers in the process :) - didn't something like this happen to the last saga with Tipu Sultan's sword?


AmOK said...

I too was wondering if Gandhiji would have approved. I doubt it very much. In an ultimate move, erhaps Mallya can sell it at a profit to another collector -- say in New Zealand. After the excitement has settled down. Donating a little to charity, he could say "Gandhiji would have wished this sale to share the profits with the poor" and be purified!!!

Anant said...

OLO: you say, ``Why then pretend to worship his bowls and spectacles?'' Surely you have heard of brand-equity? Few things sell better than the name of the Mahatma, and for that matter Mother Teresa. I remember just after that gentle soul passed away, many art-galleries were peddling all sorts of MT images, paintings and the like, with the obvious intention of contributing to charities! Yhs.