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Peace angel speaks again

The single most important factor in the likely triumph of the Congress Party will be its claim to be the sole beneficiary of Gandhi’s legacy, writes Khushwant Singh.
None | By Khushwant Singh
UPDATED ON OCT 05, 2007 11:06 PM IST

On October 2, we celebrated Mahatma Gandhi’s birth anniversary. It would be appropriate to ponder over what remains of his legacy and who can justifiably claim to be its beneficiaries.

There can be little doubt that we have frittered away much that he bequeathed to us. Apart from paying him lip homage on his birthdays and anniversaries of his martyrdom by singing his favourite bhajans, we have rubbed out much of his message from our memories. However, a little bit of what he taught us lingered in our minds: though the flame he lit often flickered in the winds of hate that blew across our country, it did not die out. He taught us that hate kills the man who hates.

Ultimately, truth and love which appear feeble in comparison to hate win the battle of life. There is reliable evidence indicating that Gandhi’s voice is being heard again. One was the enormous success of the film Lagey Raho Munnahai in which Sanjay Dutt played the leading role. It gave birth to a new word Gandhigiri — the path of Gandhi.

More convincing were recent public opinion polls showing decline in popularity of political parties which had distanced themselves from Gandhian traditions and resurgence of the Indian National Congress whose mainstay have been names of Gandhi and Nehru. Gandhi stood for freedom of faith and equitable treatment of religious communities. He disapproved of community-based parties like the BJP, Vishwa Hindu Parishad, Akali Dal, Muslim League, Shiv Sena, Bajrang Dal and the RSS.

Socialists and Communists never invoked Gandhi’s name to gain political advancement. If the trend continues, it is likely that in the next general election, the Congress Party will increase its strength and will be able to form a government without seeking allies while other parties suffer losses.

The single most important factor in the likely triumph of the Congress Party will be its claim to be the sole beneficiary of Gandhi’s legacy. The fact that Sonia, though no relation of the Bapu, bears the name Gandhi will, in no small measure, add to her acceptance as the leader of the Party and her son Rahul will greatly benefit by it.

Poetry and Revolution

Can poetry bring about radical changes in a person’s way of thinking and behaviour the same way as well-reasoned treatise on need for social and political change? My initial reaction was to answer ‘no’. I read a lot of poetry in Urdu and English, a little in Hindi and Pubjabi as well.

I do it primarily to enjoy the music or words, outpourings, for love of nature, beautiful women and praise of wine. I concede some patriotic and revolutionary poetry did influence people but it is not usually highly rated by critics.

Recently I read a longish profile of Percy Bysshe Shelley (1792-1822 in Paul Johnson’s remarkable compilation Intellectuals (Harper Row). He rates Shelley as the true intellectual successor to Rousseau as a political and social reformer, and a unique example of one who puts across the ideas through poems. In 1821 Shelley wrote and essay A Defence of Poetry in which he argued that “poetry was more than a display of verbal ingenuity, a more amusement. It has the most serious aim of any kind of writing.

It is prophecy, law and knowledge. Social progress can be achieved only if it is guided by an ethical sensibility.

The churches ought to have supplied this, but failed. Science cannot supply it. Nor can a rationalism alone produce moral purpose…. Poetry awakens and enlarges the mind…. Poetry lifts the veil of hidden beauty of the world.” And so on. I wonder if this applies to Indian poetry. I have passing acquaintance of some poetry of northern Indian languages: Urdu, Punjabi and Hindi. Our earlier poets were largely religion-oriented. Bhakti poets like Kabir, Mirabai, Tukaram, Namdev, Nanak, Arjun and Tegh Bahadur restricted themselves to search for truth within oneself. They preached brotherhood of mankind shorn of caste, distinctions. And that kind of things.

Later poets, like Bhai Vir Singh toed their line. Our revolutionary poets were a phenomenon of the British Raj and the post-colonial period. They had powerful impact on the freedom movement. Bankim Chandra’s Vande Matram, Bismil’s Sar Faroshi Ki tamanna ab hammarey dil mein hai are two examples of the call to raise in revolt against British Rule.

Tagore’s Where the mind is without Fear and Ekla Chalo are gentler calls to achieve the same goal. Iqbal’s Sarey Jahaan say achha Hindustan Hamaraa which continue to be the preferred anthem to Jana Gana Mana in northern India made a singular contribution to national consciousness.

His call for a total revolution of the social set up voiced powerfully in Utho meyree duniya kay gareebon ko Jaga do did not have the same impact. The only example I can think of a poet who called for an overhaul of the political and social system was Faiz Ahmed Faiz in his stirring poem Ham bhee Deykhenygay. When sung, it was repeatedly applauded with loud cries of Pakistan Zindabad by audiences fed up with successive military despotic regimes in their country. Shelley was born in a aristocratic family.

He renounced his inherited title as well as laws of primogeniture prevalent in England. Nevertheless, he was a congenital sponger and seldom repaid his debts or even paid his servants’ wages. He was an atheist and denounced the church. He narrowly escaped arrest on charges of blasphemy and spent long periods living in France and Italy where he befriended the like-minded Lord Byron.

He fathered seven children through three wives but never bothered to look after them. He also had many extra-marital affairs. His personal life would have put him out of reckoning as a teacher in tradition-ridden countries like India, Pakistan and Bangladesh.

This was of little consequence in Europe where people regarded others’ personal lives as their own business and paid more attention to what they had to say for the betterment of their lives. Consequently, when Shelley drowned off the coast of Italy on July 8, 1822, his sins were forgotten, his message lived on after him.

Speed ahead

Teacher: I want you to move ahead in life with a firm commitment. Do not allow any distraction or obstacle to slow you down. Keep on going forward with ruthless determination.

Student: Sir, you want us to become Blueline bus drivers ?

(Contributed by Rajeshwari Singh,Delhi)

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