23 October, 2017

Gandhi In Asterix Land, A Story For These Times!

By Ravi Perera

Ravi Perera

Ravi Perera

“When Gandhi was studying law at the University College of London, there was
a professor, whose last name was Peters, who felt animosity for Gandhi, and
because Gandhi never lowered his head towards him, their “arguments” were
very common.

One day, Mr. Peters was having lunch at the dining room of the University
and Gandhi came along with his tray and sat next to the professor. The
professor, in his arrogance, said, “Mr. Gandhi: you do not understand… a
pig and a bird do not sit together to eat “, to which Gandhi replies, “You
do not worry professor, I’ll fly away “, and he went and sat at another
table.

Mr. Peters, green of rage, decides to take revenge on the next test, but
Gandhi responds brilliantly to all questions. Then, Mr. Peters asked him the
following question, “Mr. Gandhi, if you are walking down the street and find
a package, and within it there is a bag of wisdom and another bag with a lot
of money; which one will you take?”

Without hesitating, Gandhi responded, “the one with the money, of course”.
Mr. Peters, smiling, said, “I, in your place, would have taken the wisdom,
don’t you think?”  “Each one take what one doesn’t have”, responded Gandhi indifferently.
Mr. Peters, already hysteric, writes on the exam sheet the word “idiot” and
gives it to Gandhi. Gandhi takes the exam sheet and sits down. A few minutes
later, Gandhi goes to the professor and says, “Mr. Peters, you signed the sheet, but you did not give me the grade.”

I received the above story through an email; the sender had merely forwarded the mail he had received from another source. Like so many of such stories doing the rounds electronically, the authorship of the story is anonymous, with no references whatsoever as to its origin. And like other similar stories, this too attempts to make certain points in an obvious but humorous way. A heroic and verbally sharp freedom fighter (to be)pitted against the buffoonery of a racist white is almost cartoon like, a story  told in one snap-shot. All the heroism, humour and intelligence are on one side, the other, lacking  them altogether. The story may mock the reader’s ability to assess and judge, but it is the telling that matters not the substance.

And of course this story of the young Gandhi is nonsense.

Mahatma Gandhi, as student Gandhi of the above story later became, found time in the midst of his gigantic and history defining struggle against the largest empire of the world, to write an autobiography. Written piecemeal between 1925 and 1929 in the Gujarati language it was published in English under the title “The Story of My Experiments with Truth”. Initially when pushed by fellow freedom fighters to write his life story Gandhi was reluctant. Mulling over the idea he acknowledged “writing autobiographies is a western practice, something nobody does in the East…”

Gandhi_and_MountbaHTMtten_drink_teaMohandas Karamchand Gandhi was born in October 1869 in Porbanda, North-West India. His father Karamchand Gandhi was a petty local politician in the area. Gandhi’s mother Putlibai was his fourth wife, the other three apparently dying in child birth. She was illiterate but devout. As tradition dictated Gandhi was married at the age of only thirteen to Kasturbai, who was also illiterate. When Karamchand Gandhi died in 1885 the young Gandhi had to take over the role of the head of family. Although not wealthy, the Gandhis were reasonably well placed by Indian standards. At this stage Gandhi decided that before he assumes his father’s responsibilities he should proceed to the UK in order to study law. In 1888, at the age of 19, when Gandhi took a ship from Bombay to Southampton he was already a father, his first son Harilal being born only three months before.

It was not an easy trip. No one from his caste had been to England before, where the danger of “contamination” was ever present. To please his mother Gandhi took a vow not to touch wine, women or meat while there. But this did not satisfy all, a section of his caste formally declared Gandhi an outcaste for his defiance. But the young man, although timid, was obstinate. Even though up to this time he had not even read a newspaper, Gandhi was determined to set sail to England.

In his autobiography he describes some of the experiences on board the ship “ I was innocent of the use of knives and forks…I therefore never took meals at the table but always had them in my cabin, and they consisted principally  of sweets and fruits I had brought with me. On the boat I had worn a black suit. The white flannel suit, which my friends had got me, was kept specially for wearing when I landed. When I stepped ashore in my white flannel suit, it were the last days of September, and I was the only person wearing such clothes”

He spent just three years in England, passed out from the Inner Temple, was called to the bar on 10th June 1891, enrolled on 11th June and immediately after, on the 12th of June sailed for home.

Several commentators have noted the scantiness in his descriptions of England and the English. The contrast between Gandhi’s India and that of London which was then virtually the capital of the world could not have been more striking.  But in his narration there are no comments about the climate or the seasons of England which would have been so different to Gujarat.  Nor is there any attempt at describing the streets, buildings, crowds or public conveyance of what would have been such a strange place for a man from a small Indian town. However, there are short descriptions of his attempts at dressing correctly, learning English manners and problems with the food, while meetings with Theosophists, vegetarians etc, are dealt with at some length. Gandhi apparently took lessons   in violin, French and dancing. There is a distinct sense of a young man of fierce inward concentration, all but completely absorbed in a private world on which London had no pull.

Back in India, Gandhi soon lost his enthusiasm for the practice of the law. This complex personality, shy, retiring and at the same time of heightened moral and social consciousness found the rampant corruption, bullying and bluffing in the Indian courts distasteful. Fundamentally a man of unbending integrity, after a mere two years in India, decided to find employment in another country, South Africa, with an Indian Muslim firm. Originally the intention was to stay for only one year but Gandhi went on to live in South Africa for twenty long years. And in those long years a struggle was waged against oppression of a people which were to transform him, eventually becoming Mahatma Gandhi, the great soul, one of the greatest human beings to have walked the earth.

It is pretty obvious that Gandhi was not born with some spiritual halo or that every step of the way he took on the mighty British empire as our story at the beginning implies. It is extremely unlikely that the story has even a semblance of truth, given the man, considering the times. Mahatma Gandhi’s greatness is not based on the falsities of much smaller men, however flattering.

The reason that I take this somewhat lengthy objection to a story which after all is not even serious history is that similar myth making has now become common place in our daily discourses.  In many of our beliefs, assumptions and thoughts there is a clear inclination towards the make believe, sheer fantasy.  Some of the stories being offered to the public as the truth are irrational if not bordering on the lunatic. Only the other day in one of the so called history programmes on a local TV Channel a “learned” participant suggested that during the times of the mythical King Ravana (of course no time period is given for this era of milk and honey) the Lankans had mastered the art of flying and even went so far as advancing a hypothesis that Ravana’s air force carried out bombing raids in Persia! We were conquerors, fierce warriors, and brilliant inventors but above all were possessed of high spiritual values says this “educational” programme. Since there is no satisfaction today in comparing this country with the rest, we have a comforting unction in the unknowable yesterdays.

Did Gandhi really challenge his teacher, a revered figure in general Indian thought, in that manner? It does not matter, we will argue, as long as the political point is made. Gandhi was good and sharp, the teacher was bad and foolish, and that is all that matters.

Inspired by such logic some fantastic things are being said of even the leaders of today. That the country is small, relatively underdeveloped and its economy barely the size of a large multinational is not relevant. A comparison with the market capitalization of companies like the computer giant Apple or Exxon Mobil will be a sobering experience. According to the story tellers our leaders are superlative in every aspect. Kotalawela did this; Bandaranaike said that, Jayewardene thought of that, Rajapaksa is like this, it goes on. This need to exaggerate even goes to their less honorable activities. It is not sufficient to call a corrupt leader so; he must be named one of Asia’s richest! No bribe is in the thousands but only in millions of dollars in these stories implying  that the bribe is larger than the value of the  project concerned!

This unrealism seems to underlie every discourse both for the local consumption as well as foreign audiences.

The prevailing culture is very similar to that of the fictional village in old Gaul wherein the famous French duo Goscinny and Uderzo of the comic book series placed their hero Asterix. As we all know in actuality the legions of Julius Ceaser and other Roman leaders conquered Gaul in brutal campaigns during which certain Gaulish tribes were completely annihilated. But in the popular comic book series Asterix and his friend Obelix reverse known history not only by out-witting them with clever verbal banter and repartee, but also by beating the living day lights out of the hapless Romans who come in their way. Of course Goscinny and Uderzo being intelligent men provide an explanation for their “revised” history. Asterix and Obelix are armed with a “magic potion” made by the village druid, making them invincible!

Many of the stories we hear, historical as well as of the present, could have come straight from the quills of Goscinny and Uderzo, when slightly inebriated. But there is no one enlightening us on the source from where our leaders, both past and present, got their magic potion!

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Latest comments

  • 1
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    the ‘stories’ given at the commencement of your article-emcounter with a prof. not found in mahathma’ autobiography. it is some imagination of a clever person. moreover as pointed out by you he never spoke about the matters you have mentioned. and, i think nothing much about his studies or university experience in england either.
    -sundaram

  • 1
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    Thank you for writing these reflections on our disease – harmless looking in each individual case but pernicious in its totality.

    Your contribution is a delightful contrast to the “learned” stuff we are dealt by many in these columns.

    Please share more of your thoughts with us.

  • 0
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    MAGIC POTION comes from discipline, dedication and commitment. Not from a druids pot !

    I doubt than even falling into the pot could save any of our politicians.

  • 0
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    what is the point of this harangue . ? . Did or did not Gandhi do it perera has no clue . He most lilely did because the story is not only told by Indians but Englishmen of his time .

    What did Perera do ? nobody knows .

    Cheers

    Abhaya

    • 0
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      Abhaya, obviously you have not heard of the saying “THROWING PEARLS BEFORE SWINE”. Now back to your wallowing!

      • 1
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        Not being a swine I have no experience . but how did you perceive those said pearls Navin

        Cheers

        Abhaya

      • 0
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        Navin,
        THIS ABHAYA is a born swine in human clothing.
        He is so stinky as Rajapakshes have been.
        Having lived on the west, he seems to have learnt nothing but continue licking mode towards Rajapakshes. Everything is to support born criminals is the nature of abaya

  • 2
    1

    Another good post. When small minds begin to interpret history and current events, the results at best could be comical and at worst, disastrous. In Sri Lanka the preoccupation with history and its interpretation by charlatans has destroyed our national soul and made as cretins. We could have been a small island but a great nation. However, the small island has been made a cretin of a nation that refuses to grow.

    Those who quote or interpret Gandhi, do not understand his experiments and struggles to find the truth. He struggled to not only discover the truth, but also to prove it to himself. His words came from the depth of truth as he knew it. As he struggled to continuously seek the truth, his opinions changed frequently. His words were not repartee, but had a sharp edge because they were the truth. This truth disarmed those he had to oppose, because they understood he had reasons to oppose them and the truth was on his side.

    The photograph demonstrates clearly what Gandhi was. He represented the multitude in India, from the North to South
    and East to West, in appearance and soul. He was India. He could sit at ease with the highest in any land and yet exude dignity and poise. His strength was his soul, which exuded truth.

    Thanks for making me to think of the Mahatma, while reading your blog and penning this comment.

    Dr,Rajasingham Narendran

    • 1
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      Naked Fakir’s first job with a Muslim in SA & he stuck there laughing- while at the same time we had Swami Vivekananda.
      Another Jimmy Savile to be exhumed and castigated- that is where Modi is threading now (38 million on a new statue of Patel and Congress is threading on hot bricks- the lie is being exposed to Indians by Indians. Remember it was the RSS priest who got rid of the naked fakir at Nagpur- Om Tat Sat. Oh the English loved him for his weakness so they had the camels paw on his head baptised him and hunted Subashchandra Bose.

      If London wasn’t blitzed and east india company bombed beyond all recognition by Japenese/Germans and above all the Indians now had the guns there would never have been an Independence partition or Ceylonese misery- 2 million Indians dead fighting as slaves from Brussels to Burma. The golden handshake approved by the naked fakir was another 1.5 million unarmed unwilling to fight murdered by Islamist- the mass fuckushima.
      Even great empires have fallen on its own- live the life la vida in lanka.
      Passa only fears the sky may fall on him like Asterix.

  • 0
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    This is a article that opens our mind to the fundamental problem that we face. A culture with a certain attitude and way of thinking trying to adjust to realities of another . Unless we realize the basic weaknesses of this and acccept that we have to move to the 21 century we will always be a backward nation. If we look around us can we say we respect the rule of law, individual freedom or even treating each other with respect ? The Rajapakse government will trample all this in order to stay in power. Even at an individual level we see little respect or dignity. Thank you Ravi Perera for a refeshing analysis of the Indian struggle without any of the morbid sentimentality. We need more intellectuals of your calibre.

  • 2
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    Most people praises Gandhi but he is also subject to severe criticism. He fought for Freedom for India but did he really fight to eradicate the caste system from Hinduism and India?. He did not, he knows without Caste System the Hinduism will not survive. Without Hinduism India cannot be a united Country.

    Gandi Disagreed with Ambedkar’s views. Gandi has claimed that “CASTE HAS SAVED HINDUISM FROM DISINTEGRATION”

    Gandi has also argued the four divisions of Varnas;
    Brahmins
    Kshatriyas
    Vaishyas and
    Shudras
    ARE FUNDAMENTAL, NATURAL AND ESSENTIAL.

    How ugly thing it is? A person fighting for freedom for the country denies freedom for its own people (denies social freedom).

    The cruel thing is as per Varnas, the Dalits are totally excluded from the caste system as they were UNTOUCHABLES and considered not to be humans!

    If you dig more about Gandi’s views about caste system, You will start to realise his ugly side and will start to hate him. And also learn something what did happen inside his Achirama in the name of EXPERIMENTS!

  • 2
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    In 1932, Gandi staged a fast to block an affirmative action planned by the British Government in favour of the outcasters – Untouchables.

  • 2
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    There is another betrayal by Gandhi and Congress to Non Hindi speaking communities in India. Both Gandhi and Jawaharlal Nehru were supporters of Hindi and wanted to propagate the learning of Hindi in non-Hindi speaking Provinces of India. Another Tamil betrayer Rajaji also supported this move.

    However, EV Ramasamy (Periyar)and Justice party defeated this move by staging protests for more than three years. This may be the reason why North Indians do not consider Tamilnadu as Part of India.

  • 0
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    In what is called Hinduism today, the Varnas- Brahmin, Kshatriya, Vaisya and Sudra- described human nature and classified people by their nature. Each one according to his/her nature was the theme. Unfortunately, the Varnas became with time entrenched as castes. Even within castes today you will find the four Varnas. They can be found among all peoples in this world. What is wrong is not the classification but its ossification into a brutal caste system. The classification was brilliant, but the ossification is disgraceful.

    Dr.Rajasingham a Narendran

  • 0
    0

    great
    Gandhi the Father of Nation
    respected worldwide but some indians of New generation hate him due to less knowledge.
    nice blog

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