Gandhi Lives

Abhijit Ghosh-Dastidar

Gandhi Lives (Hindi/English, colour, 52 mins, Digital, 2012) by Aruna Harprasad, is an urgent call to the memory of political and social history of India. Excerpts from Gandhi’s writings are read out by an off-screen male voice, super-imposed on passing images and enquiries raised by the director, on modern India. The opinions expressed by different people are their own views. Cash, with imprints of Gandhi’s face, is being counted, and quotes from Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi follow. A market scene and girls move briskly. A woman weaves on a Charkha. There are conversations on the Indian freedom movement, ‘Satyagraha’ and non-violence. Gandhi represented an idea, needed currency and a host of symbols, and post concrete action. Postage stamps with Gandhi’s portrait recall memories of the 1950s. A professor explains that there is nil copyright on Gandhi’s writings. They are owned by humanity, but the legal heirs of ‘Bapu’ could have the rights. The director asks of a writer on Gandhi, whether it is a lucrative profession. Black and white still photos of Gandhi flow along.

Gandhi attended to style of dress during Satyagraha. The dresses were more akin to indentured labour in South Africa. Students of the National Fashion Design Institute point out that Gandhi’s clothes had to appeal to masses and classes. Jodhpur trousers and the apparel of Katiabari banyas were adopted in Parsi style. A gentleman interviewed feels Gandhi had to be re-invented to be more acceptable to the younger generation. The man who lived a life of experimentation, would have re-invented himself. Gandhi transformed his own body with rigid personal timings and fastings. Bisleri water bottles circle on a conveyer belt. Gandhi may not have approved the selling of water. Big vegetable shops and restaurants cater to the purchasing capacity of 30% of the population, who are not poor. There are reminders in the dialogue that poverty is not a defining timeless description of India. Gandhi emphasized handicrafts, as there was a time when India manufactured all its needs. Now handicrafts were becoming international, and losing roots. Rural scenes of bullocks plowing, farmers with axes, harvests and tractors and cows glide by. The last drop of milk is extracted from cows and buffalos. Milk co-operatives run on income generated from milk. Milk cans are loaded on trucks. Gandhi had held that milk is not the natural diet of man.

A bachelor in a Tamil Nadu village wants to serve villages. Gandhi wanted to develop villages. Young people spoken to are not interested in Gandhi’s times. Flute and Tabla rhythms are at the backdrop of women working on mechanized charkhas. Gandhi wanted the use of khadi to be obligatory, but fabrics from the west and far east have killed handicrafts. He believed that people must live in villages to attain true freedom. After winter, Kasturba died in 1944, ‘Gandhigram’ was suggested by Gandhi. His aim was to have welfare activities for women and children to be at least seven miles from the nearest town. Variation in camera angles accompany the diverse conversations with different people. Gandhi wanted every village to be self-sufficient. Institutions maintained on public funds are drawn away from public opinion. Women grind rose petal tonics on roof tops. Gandhi’s nature cure was a prescription for the soul of a patient. In a village, women had to leave the village for debts. Now a trust finances packaging of food.

Gandhi’s ‘ahimsa’ would not tolerate idea of giving free meals to a healthy person, who has not earned it by truthful means. The customer is the most important, giving providers an opportunity to serve. The visuals pan on animals and idols. The life of a lamb is no less precious than the life of human being. Gandhi believed that truth is god. The idol in a temple is not god, but since god resides in every atom, he resides in an idol. The camera tracks a procession of idols and candles, with the sound of bhajans. The interior of a church, the flow of traffic, Delhi’s India Gate and Anna Hazare resembling Gandhi move on. Role models emerge from posters of celebrities like Amitava Bacchan, Sachin Tendulkar, Steve Jobs, Mukesh Ambani and Gandhi. In an English medium private school, only two girls are willing to work in villages. Nobody wants to be a politician. Amongst the choice of being rich, happy, famous, hard-working, a larger number of high school children opt for being happy. Legal ‘Samadhan’ centres pursue amicable reconciliation. The true function of a lawyer was to unite parties. A still photo flashes with Gandhi and Nehru marching. Tushar Gandhi, the great grandson agrees that the yarn artisans spin is capable of healing the broken walls of life.

Mr V Kalyanam, the personal secretary had joined Gandhi in May 1944. Gandhi handled independence but died disillusioned. Postage stamps, postcards and old newspapers recall old times. Avoiding audiovisual records, ‘‘Gandhi Lives’’ searches modern India for resonance of Gandhi’s thoughts. Aruna Harprasad’s sharp social observations occasionally edge into a rich sense of contemporary social history.

Vol. 46, No. 20, Nov 24 - 30, 2013

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