Monday, June 20, 2016

A Kaleidoscopic View

Tushar Gandhi, the great-grandson of Mahatma Gandhi talks about his childhood and the state of the country, while on a recent visit to Kochi 

Photo by Ratheesh Sundaram

By Shevlin Sebastian

When Tushar Gandhi steps into a hall at the Museum of Kerala History for a lecture on Gandhi, organised by the Friends of Tibet, at Kochi, on a recent Sunday, people swarm towards him.

That is the impact of being the great-grandson of Mahatma Gandhi. What surprises is his size and girth. And he touches upon this, in his speech, when he recounted an experience in a school at Chennai. “When the teacher introduced me, one Class 6 girl stood up and said, ‘Miss, he cannot be Gandhiji’s great-grandson. I think he is a wrestler’.”
The man himself has a touch of humility. “I consider myself a mediocre person,” he says. “I am here only because of the accident of my birth.”

Nevertheless, Tushar does not consider the Gandhi surname a burden. “In fact, it has always been a blessing,” he says. “But it comes with a responsibility. The people have expectations from us. They don’t understand that the greatness of the man [Gandhiji] was because of his individual achievements. It is not hereditary. Nevertheless, I feel privileged by the respect that I have received, even though it is undeserved.”

Even in school, at Mumbai, he was treated differently. “When the history of the freedom movement would be taught, the whole class looked at me, rather than the blackboard,” says Tushar. “It happened with my children, also.”

But there have been embarrassing moments too. During a debate competition, Tushar said, “India became independent on August 15, 1948.” There was a pin-drop silence in the hall. Then a teacher held him by the ear and took him to the Principal. “When the Principal was told about my mistake, he said, ‘Leave the school and don’t come back’,” says Tushar, with a smile.

At Kochi, he talked about many pressing subjects. “We fool ourselves if we think that as a nation we are united,” he says. “We are only united by the map of India. But, in our hearts, we have caste, religious, and gender-based  divisions. There is a huge rich-poor divide. The most shocking divide is between citizens who enjoy the rights of being one, and those who don’t.”

The disenfranchised have become an invisible population. “They don’t have water, electricity, food or education,” says Tushar. “We are patting ourselves on the back regarding the achievement of sending the Mangalyaan space probe to Mars, but these are pyrrhic achievements. India is No 1 in the world when it comes to malnutrition deaths. In the last few years there have been a record number of farmer-suicides. These things indicate that, as a nation, we are a failure. Our republic is crumbling.”

As for the rise of right-wing forces globally, Tushar says, “It is a cyclical phenomenon. Today, it seems that liberalism and tolerance are receding, while fanatical and chauvinistic forces are becoming rampant.”

But there is a reason for this. “In certain ways, the liberal ideology has failed its people,” says Tushar. “It has become a lip service, rather than an actual way of life. And that is why the extremist elements are able to impose their ideologies in the minds of the people. But I believe that there will be an ebb because people will get tired of the endemic violence which accompanies their campaigns.”

Finally, regarding his views about Tibet, Tushar says, “Tibet has been at the back of the mind of every freedom-loving person. Today, the message that Bapu sent out from Dandi, that he wanted ‘world sympathy, in the battle of right against might’, is represented by Tibet most emphatically. I believe that, one day, the Tibetan people will triumph against the Chinese and get their freedom.” 

(The New Indian Express, Kochi and Thiruvananthapuram) 

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