Friday, August 22, 2014

Mirror, mirror on the wall. Whose statue is due for a fall?

I’m not much of a “let’s have one more statue” guy, no matter whose or how tall. (In my humble opinion, the proper place for statuary and paintings is a museum.) What intrigues me, though, about Dr Kusoom Vadgama’s objection to one more Gandhi statue in London is the reason she uses as a prop: the inscrutable ol’ man’s obsession with sex and, particularly, his making much younger close relatives of the opposite sex the guinea pigs of his experiment with celibacy. (Once again, in my humble opinion, a simple one-too-many-statues objection would suffice.)

The Gandhian credentials of the currently irascible Kenya-born, Illinois-educated, London-based and musically inclined Optometrist and Historian are impeccable. That she has suddenly woken up to Gandhi’s cryptic sexual behaviour and preference for naked female companionship of young relatives is therefore a bit puzzling. The insensitive, self-righteous, eccentric and erratic old man had no qualms when logging in reports of his experiments in Harijan.

The other thing that intrigues me about the good Doctor is that, in spite of her historian’s insight into the worldwide feminist movement, she merely mentions Gandhi’s use of young women who were close relations as “guinea pigs” in his maha yagna (his fanciful nomenclature for "brahmacharya"/celibacy experiments). Dr Sushila Nayyar, his physician, personal masseur and off-and-on bed sharer, once told Ved Mehta that "brahmacharya" was a latter-day invention of Gandhi to ward off criticism of his interaction with his female intimates. Earlier, before Nayyar in her late teens went to medical school, she used to be his bed mate for reasons of nature cure.

One reason for Gandhi making Manu and Abha his bed mates could be easy accessibility as also their willingness to serve him no matter what. The other, most likely, was the power he knew he had over them as the patriarch of the family. Patriarchy and masculine hegemony, as is well-accepted by now, are the main culprits responsible for the continuing subjugation of women in India. Incest − and paedophilia − are the pathological (deviant) offshoots of patriarchy. Normal men tend to be protectors while deviant men, predators. Sometimes, a patriarch may inadvertently cross the line between the two roles back and forth harbouring ambivalent feelings towards women.

Do read Girja Kumar's BRAHMACHARYA Gandhi & His Women Associates. In this book based mostly on Gandhi’s writings. “… the so-called Mahatma comes out as manipulative, pathologically obsessive about sex and sin as well as power-crazed. His logic sounds circuitous, serpentine and often self-contradictory and specious, at times even inane. He apparently played God with the lives of those close to him. He was too intrusive and interfering.”

I have noticed that when it comes to writing or talking about the Father of the Nation, even normally sane and balanced people lose their nerve. They start to tread overcautiously as it they were walking on eggshells. Finally the ex-Gandhian good Doctor has spoken the so far unspoken. That’s a good beginning, methinks.