Forty years ago, illustrator Biman Mullick designed an image that has been branded on India’s popular imagination indelibly. It was the smiling face of an old Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi. The original work was done for the British Post Office, which issued a stamp commemorating Bapu’s birth centennary in 1969. Then the image made its way to India.
Now, decades after Mullick’s work, the Father of the Nation, famous for his frugal lifestyle, is also a bestselling ‘brand’. And at the heart of the phenomenon is that image. Versions of Mullick’s rendition are to be found everywhere today — from t-shirts and coffee mugs to keychains and pens.
Take a stroll around the city and you will find Gandhi paraphernalia all around. From roadside stores on Janpath to luxe brand stores in tonier shopping districts, several shelves are filled with the image. It’s perhaps not out of reverence for the Mahatma — but because sporting Gandhi is cool.
Sagar Sharma, a 26-year-old software engineer based in Noida, loves to have in his wardrobe t-shirts with leaders’ faces emblazoned on them. “I have one of Che, one of Martin Luther and a couple of Gandhi ones.”
And entrepreneurs have wisened up to the fad. Kaushal Saxena of People Tree makes sure they stock up on Gandhi shirts. “They are in demand all round the year, but we are usually overwhelmed around October 2,” he says. Apart from shirts, you can buy hand-painted Gandhi greetings and postcards with quotes by the Mahatma.
A short walk away on Janpath, S. Paul and Bros sells a variety of t-shirts with sketched monochrome images printed on the front.
The National Gandhi Museum at Rajghat sells some novelty items such as key-chains and figurines. There is also an intriguing mug that slowly shows up the Mahatma’s face as you fill it up with any hot liquid. “I’m buying a lot of books about Gandhiji,” says Lukas Meuller from Berlin, a visitor at the museum. “But I’m taking a few key chains as souvenirs for my two teens back home,” he smiles. “I hope to inspire them by the life and thoughts of the Mahatma.”
Lukas is not the only German to be inspired by Bapu. Germany-based pen-maker Mont Blanc has recently launched a set of premium ‘Mahatma Gandhi Limited Edition 241’ pens at a princely price of Rs 11.3 lakh each. The series commemorates Mahatma Gandhi’s Dandi march against the British salt tax in 1930. The ‘241’ marks the miles Bapu covered in the march from Ahmedabad to the Gujarat coast— and also the number of pens to be produced globally.
The pen has a gold wire entwined around the middle of each pen that represents the roughly-wound yarn on the spindle that Gandhi spun everyday. It sports a hand-crafted rhodium-plated 18-carat gold nib depicting Gandhiji holding his trademark lathi.
For those not feeling all that extravagant in these tough times, there’s also the Mahatma Gandhi Limited Edition 3000, a series that will sell 3,000 fountain pens at Rs 1.7 lakh each and 3,000 rollerballs for Rs 1.5 lakh each.
Other international brands, too, are cashing in. Lladro, the Spanish manufacturer of high-quality porcelain figurines, has created an astonishingly life-like one of Gandhiji. Standing 31 cm tall with his lathi, it will set you back by Rs 40,000.
All this is quite ironic, considering what a Spartan lifestyle the man himself chose to lead. But then, as someone once exclaimed: “You have no idea what it costs to keep that old man in poverty!”