Monday, October 13, 2008

Celebrity revisited.

Celebrity is sexy. Fame is sexy. Brawn is sexy. Brainy is sexier, though. When did you find out this secret, Mr Gandhi? Was it on 13 January 1897 as you stepped down at 5 p.m. on to the quay at Durban from the quarantined SS Courtland? To face, as it turned out, the mob waiting to nab the defender of the immigrants on board? "Let us teach the bloody coolie a lesson he won't forget in a hurry," they were shouting. Your arrival in their midst was greeted by a volley of abuse, bricks, stones, rotten tomatoes and eggs, yes? Your back to the railing literally, you escaped by the skin of your teeth, thanks to the brainy Mrs Alexander, the Police Superintendent's spouse, who showed great presence of mind and exceptional skill at wielding an open parasol while her honourable husband distracted the rioters by his passionate rendition of the then top o' the pops: "Hang ol' Ghandy on the sour apple tree". Mrs Alexander's resourceful husband once again saved the day and your life, didn't he, God bless his ever lovin' soul!, when you were besieged in the house of the excellent Mr Rustomjee later on in the evening? On 22 January, you sent a personal note of thanks and a gift in appreciation of the kindness shown by the couple, didn't you? Barely two days later, you magnanimously declined to prosecute your persecutors saying you wanted the matter to be dropped. Good ol' Ghandy ain't so bad, after all. Mahatmahood is sexy, eh, Mr Gandhi? (32, pages 50 - 51, The Last Gandhi Movie)

"I read a newspaper cutting sent by a correspondence to the effect that a temple has been erected where my image is being worshipped," wrote Gandhi. "This I consider to be a gross form of idolatry." Funny remark to come from a man who opened on 8 May 1913 a Hindu temple in Verulam, South Africa, and defended idols in an argument with Tagore much later in the presence of Andrews, an old associate from the South African days. Gandhi's argument was that the masses were not capable of absorbing abstractions. Tagore was opposed to the condescending attitude that grown-ups should be treated as children in the matter of mental age. Gandhi illustrated his point by citing the flag as an example, saying that it gave a concrete shape to a concept like nation and that great things had been achieved in Europe by so doing. Gandhi did prove his point by becoming a much worshipped idol in India. Why the protest then, Mr Gandhi, when it was too late to undo the harm? (42, page 68, The Last Gandhi Movie)

When did Gandhi become 'Mahatma'? Maybe, the first time he was so described was at a reception accorded to him in his native Kathiawar in January 1915. A month later, Tagore so addressed him in a letter. By the time Nehru met him for the first time in 1916, the halo was firmly in place. It took another five years, though, for him to exchange his Kathiawari cloak and turban for his trademark loincloth which he did in holy Varanasi. He had vowed in the last lap of his South African sojourn, to remain celibate for life in 1906 when he was thirty seven. At about the same time, his ideas about satyagraha (firmness for a good cause) were firming up while he was grappling with the South African crisis. It was also around this time that Gandhi decided that he must embrace voluntary poverty apart from celibacy. He wrote to his elder brother, Laxmidas, saying he was no more interested in worldly possessions. Mahatmahood was already creeping up on him stealthily. Later on, when he visited Europe and called on King George V, George Bernard Shaw, Charlie Chaplin and Romain Rolland, Gandhi impishly remarked: "You people wear plus-fours, mine are minus-fours." He was in his loincloth, it goes without saying. And, there was a twinkle in his eye and not an iota of malice in his heart. (38, pages 61 - 62, The Last Gandhi Movie)

Related posts: The Mind of MK Gandhi
The more, the less sexier.