Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Mr MK Gandhi, Esquire: Hyde side showing. Oops-a-daisy!

Believe it or not, Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi started his adult life − with his own willing consent − as a “Man Friday” of the British Empire. You  remember the British colonizer-hero’s “savage” companion from Daniel DeFoe’s  Robinson Crusoe whom he taught English, converted to Christianity and “civilized”, don’t you?

Jog your memory a tad bit more and you’ll recall two distinguishing features of Crusoe’s colonial rule explicitly laid down by him: (1) “the whole country was my property … [with] an undoubted right of dominion” and (2) “my people were perfectly subjected – I was absolutely lord and lawgiver…” (Daniel DeFoe, Robinson Crusoe, Barnes & Noble Classics, p.236).

His Majesty’s Most Obedient Servant. In the very next paragraph, Crusoe dubbed Friday “my interpreter” between himself and his subjects (Friday’s father and the Spaniard both of whom he had rescued from the cannibals). Curiously, Macaulay too used the very same word in his famous Minutes on Indian Education (02 February 1833) in which he proposed “to form a class who may be interpreters between us and the millions whom we govern; a class of persons, Indian in blood and colour, but English in taste, in opinions, in morals, and in intellect.” http://bit.ly/1j6DNa6 Unwittingly, he was suggesting the unleashing of a powerful tool to create in perpetuity a legion of “colonial mimics” or VS Naipaul’s “mimic men” intended to serve the British Empire.

Homi K Bhabha, the renowned cultural and postcolonial theorist of Indian origin currently heading the Mahindra Humanities Center at Harvard University, called the outcome of this process “hybridization”. Because the colonial mimic could only be an imperfect clone: “almost there but not quite” as he quaintly phrased it. In the context of what happened later to Gandhi, this observation of Bhabha is undoubtedly noteworthy.

The burden a colonial mimic carries. Gandhi was – surprise, surprise! − a product of Maculay’s far-sighted and astute education policy. “... at the start, Gandhi was an excellent colonial mimic. He took his degree from the Inns of Court in London, and when he arrived in South Africa in 1893 to practice law, he looked every inch an Englishman,” writes Richard Schechner in Performance Studies: An Introduction (Routledge, 2012). http://bit.ly/1amBCO0 Remember what Frantz Fanon, the French psychiatrist and Marxist of Creole origin, wrote in Black skin, White Masks? “To speak a language is to take on a world, a culture.” (p.38, Grove Press, 1967)

I’m okay. You’re a Kaffir. During his political stint in South Africa, while Gandhi fought to get a better treatment for his fellow-Indians, he also organized “medical orderlies and other noncombatant contributors for a punitive war against the Zulus” and hardly paid heed to “the treatment of black Africans in South Africa, alluding to them in print as ‘kaffirs’”. http://bit.ly/1birTcH In its original Arabic sense, “kaffir” means “infidel”. At the time of Gandhi’s South African sojourn, it was the standard handle used by the Whites to address the Black South Africans. By adopting the established usage of the ruling class, Gandhi displayed what V S Naipaul considers an exclusively Hindu trait: a total unconcern for others who are not like oneself, their viewpoint, their situation.

Still ensconced in his colonial mimic mode, Gandhi supported the British Empire in World War I enthusiastically − perhaps a bit more so than he had during the Boer and Zulu Wars. (Gandhi had won the British Empire’s War Medal for meritorious service as the second-in-command of the Indian Volunteer Corps in the Zulu War.)

Right reason. Wrong cause. The end of the Great War came on 11 November 1918. Germany, Austria and Turkey were vanquished. The British and their allies imprisoned the Ottoman Sultan, Turkey’s ruler, successor to the Prophet and the leader of the Muslim world known as “Caliph”/”Khalif”. Indian Muslims were incensed by his incarceration. Their brethren in Arabia and Turkey were quite pleased by the turn of events. As was his wont, Gandhi – and the Congress Party − backed the Khilafat agitation in order to win over the Indian Muslims, paying no heed whatsoever to the Arabian and Turkish Muslims’ viewpoint. The Holy Mule had blundered again!
As we saw earlier, till the end of the Great War, Gandhi had been a loyal fan and follower of the British Empire. However, he found the Crown Emperor offering him and His Majesty’s Indian subjects nothing in return, not even “the rights of Englishmen” − Gandhi was even at that time a colonial mimic − let alone swaraj or home rule within the Commonwealth. The colonial mask then gradually started crumbling. Barely two years down the line, his inner voice prompted him to declaim: “The British empire today represents Satanism, and they who love God can afford to have no love for Satan.” By the time World War II arrived, Gandhi had become an enemy of the Empire, demanding complete independence for his country.

Jekyll & Hyde. In February 1944, Kasturba contacted bronchial pneumonia in Aga Khan Palace where she had been imprisoned along with her husband. When she failed to respond to Ayurvedic medicines, British doctors suggested penicillin injections as the last resort. But Gandhi, the perennial Nature Cure faddist, refused to allow them to administer the antibiotic and she breathed her last on 19 February. Six weeks later, though, when he got an attack of malaria, he did not refuse the quinine prescribed by the doctor. Earlier, in 1924, he had also allowed an emergency appendectomy to be performed on himself.

Girl friends galore. Gandhi’s detractors also point to the long list of his intimate associates of the opposite sex to question his brahmacharya claims. Mille Polak, a colleague’s spouse in South Africa, smitten by him as she was, opposed his outlandish dietary notions and his insistence on chastity of his coworkers. Millie’s sister-in-law, Maude, working as his personal secretary, also fell under Gandhi’s spell. Esther Faering, a Danish missionary, was his next serious involvement. The next in the queue was Sarla Choudhuri, his “spiritual wife” after “an intellectual wedding” bit.ly/17jKVk0 who did not bow down to his authority despite her feelings for him. Among his brahmacharya bedmates at various junctures in his life were Rajkumari Amrita Kaur, Sushila Nayar, Lilavati Asar, Sharada Parnekar,  Prabhavat Narayan (Jayaprakash Narayan’s wife), Sucheta Kriplani, Abha Gandhi, Kanchan Shah and last though not the least, Manu Gandhi who was his great grand-niece and who considered him “her mother”. His female care givers had in their numbers Prema Kantak, Mirabehn (Madeleine Slade), Sushila Nayar in her capacity as his personal physician and masseur, Lilavati Asar qua his personal masseur, Sharada Parnekar, Rajkumari Amrita Kaur, Prabhavat Narayan, Sucheta Kriplani and Abha Gandhi.

The last straw. Apropos of his brahmacharya experiments with female subjects (later grandiosely rechristened mahayagna by him), his long-time associate, Dr Sushila Nayar, told Ved Mehta that "… long before Manu came into the picture, I used to sleep with him just as I would with my mother. . . . In the early days there was no question of calling this a brahmacharya experiment. It was just part of a nature cure. Later on, when people started asking questions about his physical contact with women, the idea of brahmacharya experiments was developed." Even Gandhi himself had doubts about his own motives: “I feel my action was impelled by vanity and jealousy. If my experiment was dangerous, I should not have undertaken it. And if it was worth trying, I should have encouraged my co-workers to undertake it on my conditions. My experiment was a violation of the establishment norms of brahmacharya. Such a right can be enjoyed only by a saint like Shukadevji who can remain pure in thought, word and deed at all times of day.” http://bit.ly/LDnmJf Gandhi was surprisingly insensitive to Manu whom he used as a subject in his “experiment”. Once during his epic peace march in Naukhali, he compelled her to trudge a long way through riot-infested territory merely to retrieve a pumice stone that she had forgotten at their previous campsite. Also, when Manu requested the discontinuance of the nightly practice, he brazenly blamed the abrupt stoppage on her inexperience thereby absolving himself of responsibility. Girja Kumar (Brahmacharya: Gandhi and His Women Associates, Vitasta, p. 331) writes: "Just five days before Gandhiji was assassinated, he charged her with failing to realize the potential of mahayajna.” She was the culprit – not he. He was the Mahatma, all said and done, was he not?