(This article was first published on 20 July 2017. It has been reposted from The Quint’s archives on the occasion of Gandhi Jayanti.)
Year 2011. I was working as a lecturer in London when I found myself face-to-face with the most challenging situations in my life. Bent on turning things around, I started reading stories of world leaders and how they faced personal and professional dilemmas to rise above the rest.
It was at this time that I came across a quote by Mahatma Gandhi: “Be the change that you wish to see in the world.”
To this day I cannot forget how quickly I scribbled it down on a drawing sheet and stuck it on the wall of my room. My life has never been the same again, and even now – while I am in India and pursuing my passion of writing novels – if ever I find myself stuck, all I have to do is revisit that quote and it changes my entire perspective on things.
“The Two Years That I Lived With Bapuji Were Important”
Interestingly, Mahatma Gandhi’s principles are as relevant to life’s puniest problems as they are to solving global issues of hatred and violence.
And shedding new light on how these can – and must – be applied to today’s concerns is a book by his grandson, Arun Gandhi, titled, The Gift of Anger. Living in an apartheid-ridden South Africa of the early 90’s, young Arun often faced flak from white people – for not being white enough, and from black people – for not being black enough. These encounters left him mentally bruised, making him aggressive and angry all the time – until his parents left him with his grandfather at his iconic ashram in Wardha.
“The two years that I lived with Bapuji were an important time for both of us,” Arun writes of his stay at Sevagram. “As he (Bapuji) made changes on the world stage, I learned to make changes in myself, overcoming my own, often unwieldy emotions and discovering how to fulfil my potential and see the world through new eyes.”
The book crystallises 10 spiritual lessons that young Arun learnt from his grandfather – and though, “none of his philosophy made sense (to me) at the time, it was wisdom with age,” he reveals to me in an email.
As I start reading the book, I realise that – much in the style of his grandfather – Arun does not use clever wordplay and complicated numbers to drive his message home. His language is simple and his ability to elucidate each life lesson with interesting (often delightful!) anecdotes makes the book extremely relevant.
“Sometimes it is tempting to think, ‘I am just one of the 7 billion people. What difference can I make?’” he asks, and reiterating one of his grandfather’s quotes: Be the change you wish to see in the world – exhorts people to take a stand in case they don’t approve of something. “From the smallest act to the largest, what we do in our own lives becomes a mirror for what the greater world will look like,” he says.
Gandhiji’s philosophies were a product of his time – a time when there were no cell phones and social media – and as I read the book, I do stop to wonder if he would have used these mediums to influence public opinion.
I know my grandfather would have used Twitter and Facebook… just as he used radio broadcasts to communicate his message in his day. But we can’t change the world by hitting ‘like’ on a post. Social media is useful only if it arouses people to real action.Arun Gandhi
He adds that social media gives us friends and followers, yet our connections are often flimsier than we realise.
We can’t turn for comfort or help to the ‘friends’ we know only as a Facebook photo, and it is unlikely we will convince people about an important issue like discrimination or tolerance if we make our case in a tweet. Scattered relationships don’t add up to a cohesive society.
True that, we say!
Possible to Build a Political System Based on Gandhian Principles?
The Gift of Anger is as stimulating as it is thought-provoking, and all through the book, Arun implores his readers to find out what matters to them and stand up for it. “Bapuji didn’t care about party politics or always needing to be right. He…tested new ideas every day and constantly questioned those he held dear,” Arun says in the book, chastising people who ‘like’ and ‘follow’ each other without a thought – especially politicians.
Many politicians now follow opinion polls before taking a stand on issues, and speak out only when it will serve their own interests.
His assertion prompts me to ask him my next question –
Is it possible to build a political system that is based on the Gandhian principles of truth and honesty?
It is not impossible, but not too easy, either – or that is what I gather from his response and I quote him here:
Gandhiji said materialism and morality have an inverse relationship. The more materialism thrives, the less morality is practised. We see this today. For money we will all do whatever is asked. If we lack moral compass in society, it is reflected in politics and other public affairs. Politicians are not aliens – they are from society and reflect the decay in it.
To some, the book may sound overly simplistic in its approach – for how could nonviolence, kindness, love, truth, compassion and peace be a solution to complicated problems of terrorism and ISIS, for instance?
However, Arun’s answer remains an emphatic ‘Yes’.
Just as you cannot combat hate with hate, you cannot put down violence with more violence. Nonviolence seeks to create better relationships between people of different races and religions so that senseless violence does not take place.
Thought-provoking, like I said!
(Vani has worked as a business journalist and is the author of ‘The Recession Groom’. She can be reached @Vani_Author)