I have to admit, as I write this column, that I’m quivering with fear. Not because what I intend to say is explosive, but because once it goes to press, I will probably be sued for outright plagiarism by my little nephew.
That’s because my nephew’s favourite line when he’s attempted to do something five-year-olds can’t do and obviously failed is: “I twied and I twied and I twied, but I still couldn’t do it.” And I’m going to have to copy him (though without the lisp; will that count in my favour when he hauls me to court?) and say: “I tried and I tried and I tried, but I still can’t come up with a joke”.
It hasn’t been a joke-y week. Though, because the televisions at the office have been on 22/7 since the terrorist attacks, I have occasionally been amused. Such as when the Chief Minister’s post in Maharashtra went to Ashok Chavan and Narayan Rane had a fit then and there, reminding me irresistibly of Lucy from Charles Schulz’s Peanuts comic strips.
But the amusement passed because there it was again. Proof of how politics has nothing to do with people, only power. Proof of how, at heart, no one really believes anything nation-changing will emerge from the anger, grief, rallies, Facebook groups and talk, talk, talk we’re engaged in.
Like everyone else, I’ve been wondering what to do. Some truly appalling suggestions have been doing the email and SMS rounds — don’t vote, don’t pay taxes, abandon democracy, bomb Pakistan. These have nothing positive about them. And it’s disheartening to get into discussions with friends, colleagues and readers who’ve written to me, and still come up with nothing useful.
So I wasn’t in a very attentive frame of mind when I picked up Nayantara Sahgal’s This Time of Morning. In fact, I wondered if I should read the book at all, given that Sahgal, Jawaharlal Nehru’s niece, shows how the idealism that got us Independence vanished into indifference soon after. The book is well written but not very gripping, but when I came to one particular chapter, I had to sit up.
This was a potted history of Mahatma Gandhi, a man I now prefer to think of as Mohandas Gandhi because in deifying him, we’ve forgotten what exactly makes him so inspiring.
He was an ordinary person. A nobody; one of India’s teeming millions, just like you and me. And he did the most extraordinary things in the simplest way. There were certain things he wouldn’t put up with, so he didn’t put up with them. There were certain things he believed in, so he stood up for them. That’s all. Everything else followed.
Mohandas Gandhi’s political tactics certainly won’t work today. It’s a different world, these are different circumstances. But every single one of us needs to know for certain what we believe in and stand up for it, and know what we won’t put up with and not put up with it. That’s the base. Ideas — and action — will follow.