Wednesday, March 11

The Father, Some and the Holy Spirit

My quasi-holiday mood made for a most leisured read of the newspaper today morning. Naturally, the wide latitude catered more to random wanderlust urges than cogent commentary. Much of this was focused around idle journalistic chatter over Elections 2009 and the futile brouhaha over IPL hosting probabilities. What struck me most though was the comedy of vanities over the overhyped 'legacy' of our dear departed Father of the Nation. Truly, a chunk of public discourse in the last couple of weeks has been a build-up of melodramatic emotions and rhetoric over an auction of some his nondescript, historically insignificant items - more worthy of a soap opera than supposed national pride.

Prima facie, the hero's mantle for this episode ought to lie on the unlikely shoulders of Shri Vijay Mallya, liquor baron and prominent specimen of our glorious glitterati. A few of his beer-begot millions and the Mahatma's mundane belongings got added to a collection that boasts of (among other things) an airline company, assorted vintage cars, racing horses and two highly under-performing sporting teams. In keeping with the self-delusional debate on the rectitude of the auction and our apparently overarching claims to the items on offer, Dr Mallya too made suitable noises on the acquisition being driven by patriotic fervour, national duty etc. In any case, given that he pays taxes and (unlike some of his notable contemporaries in the Upper House) has reasonably honest means of earning his bread, or beer, let us steer clear of excessive flagellation of his spending habits or extant motive.

The same can hardly be argued though, for our pseudo-moralistic government. Paying lip service to the Mahatma being a practice perfected by Congressmen and random netas over decades, their aggressive posturing in the days and weeks preceding the auction was par for the course. In fact, some of us would recall a similar episode a couple of years ago when government intervention - at taxpayer expense, of course - 'saved' Gandhiji's heritage from being irrevocably lost. Yet, going so far as to bestow agent status on a protesting Shri Mallya post facto is surely taking things too far. Ambika ji, who can give even the extraordinarily thick skinned Sitaram Yechury a run for the money in the foot-in-the-mouth Hall of Fame, dramatically proclaimed that VJM was but a front for the government as if this were a game-changing event in the annals of the Ministry for Tourism and Culture she lords over!

On cue, this spurred into action the irrepresible Amar Singh who, in a stroke of true Goebbelsian genius, summoned the press corps to tell us how he would have been the pallbearer for the 'legacy' but for his health - a temporary indisposition, since miraculously cured! In either case, he had his hands more than full saving Gandhigiri from an ill-mourned demise through the inspired Samajwadi choice for the Lucknow Lok Sabha seat that counts as its erstwhile occupants a certain AB Vajpayee and Smt Sheila Kaul, amongst others.

All this chicanery is perhaps only symptomatic of the true legacy of the Father of the Nation. After all, it did cost the nation a fortune to keep him in poverty in his lifetime, as the otherwise loyal Sarojini Naidu pithily observed once. Equally, there is a school of thought that traces our personality dominated polity and its marriages of convenience in the name of preserving debatable democratic shibboleths, to some of his actions in the later years of our independence struggle. And then there are some of his ideas on education, public health, poverty alleviation etc that deserve more critical scrutiny than blind acclaim. Yet, at a fundamental level, this is not about calling into question any of those facets of his life and any real or perceived inconsistency in the principles he lived by. It is simply about not letting the very mention of his name elevate the item under discussion to demi-god status, beyond rational debate. Again, this is a reminder of how such ammunition of opprobrium and purported sacrilege can and has often been used by rank opportunists to hijack our sociopolitical framework and use it for partisan agenda, or pure personal gain.

Fact remains too that beyond these battle-lines of reverence, there is scope to introspect in the situation and our collective national response. For instance, check how the items left the family's possession to culminate under the auctioneer's hammer. A related question is if current policy restrictions on private participation in trade of historical objects aids the money value of such items and hence their attraction to the mercenary-minded. Equally, even in this age of Keynesian triumph over Greenspan Capitalism, we must reflect on the extent to which the government is allowed to squander taxpayer money on dubious concerns. Finally, there is the need for us to better define what constitutes national heritage - and if our effort therefore should focus more on, say, preservation of national monuments or cleansing our professedly holy rivers. These have, after all, clearer linkages with culture, and repercussions on tourism, in a fashon that perhaps Ms Ambika Soni can never understand.


Anonymous said...

My friend it's all about Money.. A Royally Challanged team worth some 400 - 450 cr., a string of Islands, and resorts running on them worth some Rs.500 cr., Monte Carlo island worth Rs.750 cr., plus a gigantic Airline, plus the company who's beer we all drink every weekend, plus bla bla bla which adds up to some Billion US$.... no matter what this toad whacks from these big bucks, he still remains to be a part of a country where an 11 year old Girl is beaten up to death by her Teacher, where a 17 year old goes to the school but never comes back because the school couldn't arrange for a doctor when this young Girl was choked to death by an Asthama attack, where a 21 year old is killed in a ragging orgy, where women are shot on road, where on an average 2-3young bikers loose their lives on a jinxed flyover... Pal, next time when you come across a gllitery news in any of our brave newspapers, please do drop in a note. I'm longing to read some dreamlike material, as of late whenever I have attempted to open those sheets all I could find was Blood!

Anonymous said...

Gandhi ji still lives for us and he only got our independence. How people like you can dare to not respect his things. You are nothing but a BJP propoganda as your original link anyways showed. At least Mr. Rahul Gandhi is willing to travel and meet downtroddens and be their voice. Only a few days more and he will be the PM being true owner of Mahatma Gandhi legacy and you will eat your words.

Anonymous said...

"BJP Propaganda"... hallelujah!!! Tried really hard but couldn't smell the "Kamal" anywhere in your write up... people traveling overseas from motherland are getting checked for the "Election Flu" as it’s deadlier than the mighty 'Swine Flu'... wish! we had a vaccine for this too...

aparna said...

Truly in agreement with you.The so called "great"tycoon was simply being an oppurtunist who encashed the whole situation to make a crass display of materialistic power ,it had nothing to do with the finer feelings of patriotism or real respect for the Mahatma because his personal life is colourful enough to negate the complete set of Gandhian ethics.It is obvious that Gandhiji's spectacles and chappals are not worth spending so much,it is better if people follow his ideals!
It should have naturally gone to the national museum and not to Mr. James Witt but due to blundering of the Indian govt.the whole thing became a cheap circus. If gandhi ji has watched the whole show from somewhere,he must have got the jitters ,i'm sure!

Akriti said...

It is interesting that you derive this heading from Christianity... to talk of one that was immersed hopefully in a secular existence - often categorised as more 'Hindu' by many.

The Mahatma may actually be disturbed to see his meager possessions and his ideals reduced in this manner by the State and its citizens.
Similar examples of Che and others who fought for non-franchisement of material goods - have seen the same reduced to huge franchises around the world - by their followers and others who did not truly understand their practices.

A film: "Father, Son and the Holy War" comes to mind where Anand Patwardhan has tried to explain this phenomenon via the connection of masculinity and the misinterpretation of the male testosterone to seek, achieve and give rise to national pride amongst the youth.

It is a shame that we have ended up 'branding' the likes of Che Guevera, Gandhi and now Obama. We continue to miss the point... only to once again conclude that one can still not 'brand' the philosophy only meager possessions!