Monday, May 31, 2010

Category error.

Something is categorically amiss – nay, noxiously rotten – in the erstwhile State of Porbandar. That, by the way, was the principality where the grandfather as well as the father of the Father of the Nation did duty as Dewan or Prime Minister once upon a time and where the latter was born. Porbandar, on the nose of the uniquely shaped landmass of Kutch and west of Ahmedabad and Sabarmati Ashram, was categorically not on the Dandi March route. That salt-bound trail of 241 miles wound its way southwards along the mainland coast.

But that’s neither here nor there. Except perhaps for the fact that the 241 miles that Gandhi and his 79 Satyagrahi followers covered in 24 days inspired Montblanc of Germany to launch a limited edition of 241 hand-crafted Gandhi fountain pens. Tushar Gandhi, MK’s great grandson, found nothing wrong with the idea. According to BBC “[h]is charitable foundation has already received a donation of $145,000 from Montblanc and will receive between $200 and $1,000 for each pen sold.” Tushar, I reckon, thinks like the bania that he is and his great grandfather was.

Banias are from the trader/merchant stock. According to Jafar Mahmΰd (Mahatma Gandhi: A Multifaceted Person, page 53), Gandhi once admitted that he was a bania and there was no limit to his greed. On page 64 of the same book, there’s an account of how he was not averse to raising money by auctioning the gifts he received. A lime went for Rs.10/-; a cotton garland for Rs.201/-; a golden takli (drop spindle) for Rs.5000/-; a thrice-auctioned ring worth Rs.30/- for Rs.445/-; a casket for Rs.1000/-. Imagine what these bids would be worth at the 21st century prices. When it came to raising funds for his causes, Gandhi was also a shameless beggar.

Dijo Kappen of the Centre for Consumer Education, Kerala, does not agree with Tushar Gandhi’s bania logic. The Centre stopped the sale of the Montblanc product by filing a suit in the Kerala High Court evoking a 1950 Indian law prohibiting the improper use of emblems and names. “It is a mockery of the great man and … an insult to the nation … to use him as a poster boy,” argued Kappen. Are there haves and have-nots among NGOs and are there internecine rivalries and jealousies out there too, one wonders.

The text on the Montblanc website clearly says that the $25,000 (£16,000) gold and silver limited edition pen is homage to the 241 miles travelled by Gandhi on the Salt March from Ahmedabad to the coast.

Is there what is known in philosophy and semantics as “category error” lurking here?

I’m reminded of my mythical friend Henry Root’s daughter, Doreen, a student of philosophy and sociology at the University of Exeter in the sober seventies when Mrs Thatcher ruled the roost in Britain. Young Doreen used to be rather adept at spotting logical faux pas.

She would probably have posed the question in the present case as follows.

Can a profit-making product pass off as homage to a man who made a fetish out of living in poverty although it took a lot of money to keep him there, said Sarojini Naidu?

Or, can a self-serving act pose as homage to a selfless person?