Over the past few days there has been a big hullabaloo raised over the sales of some of the items belonging to Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi, more popularly known as Mahatma Gandhi or just Bapu. It so happens that an ingenious American (the Americans are very ingenious in things like this) named James Otis over the years put together a rather impressive collection of Gandhian memorabilia that has things like Bapu’s specs, sandals, bowl and plate, watches, blood report and other such mundane stuff.
No one knows for sure as to how Mr. Otis got hold of such stuff and how much did he spend. Considering the way, we Indians treat our heritage, it should not have been difficult or costly either. Check any Christie or Sotheby catalog and you are sure to spot hundred of temple idols and paintings that have been sourced from some obscure part of India for some few USD and sold for millions abroad. Mr. Otis, simply put, has done the same with Bapu. And though, he might paint his motive with a shade of nobility, the fact is that he intends to make a few easy millions through the sale. Simple business, what Americans are best at.
But, here in India, everyone is going berserk on the sale. All hell is being raised at such a blatant sale of our nation’s heritage, news channels are running scores of programs with all these experts and high-profile people talking about what Indian government needs to do. There are these grand daughters and the great grandsons of Gandhi coming on TV making an emotional plea for the items to be brought back. Then, newspapers are full of stories on how Bapu saw a vision of modern India through those specs.
In between officials from the ministry of culture, MEA, PMO, all are running helter-skelter to either stop the auction or negotiate with Mr. Otis. I am sure, at this very moment, there must be a team of high profile Babus out there in the US, trying to work out an amenable solution. Even stinking rich NRIs are being courted and asked to buy the items and gift them to India. And finally, no less the PM of India has raised the bar by sending out a poignant plea ‘do everything to get hold of Bapu’s stuff’. Unnecessary emotions, what Indians are best at.
In all this theatrics of the absurd, one small point is being missed, by all this dramatics and stuff, we are really walking into Mr. Otis’s trap. He must be so much gleefully rubbing his hands at the moment. Over the past few days, the reserve price for the stuff has gone up by a few hundred thousand Dolllars, and it all goes into his account. So why the hell are we going crazy over it?
Finally, Bapu was a man who cared little for his belongings, he lived in a loin cloth and owned precious more. He espoused a philosophy of meager living and lofty thinking. Imagine, making a money circus out of a man who cared little for money and ensured that his near and dear ones did not either. Bapu was not a person, he was an embodiment of a thought or philosophy that we Indians have been thought through the ages but cared little for, things like satya, ahimsa, and santosh. Rather unfortunately, we seem to have forgotten the ideals and are now running behind a mirage of materialism, something that Bapu tried to save us from.
Our true homage to Bapu can only be through walking his path not owning his sandals, watch or specs. No hammer in the world can auction Bapu. Thus, let’s applaud and congratulate Mr. Otis for his ingenuity and raising the issue of Gandhi in some odd way. And for Bapu’s sake not waste money on these material things. Rather than spending some half a million Dollars on these items, I would request the government and the NRIs to sponsor a few schools in some remote location. What good will these goods bring, when Gandhi lives on in the currency notes statues and not in our hearts. So dear Indians relax, Bapu should be in your heart and actions and not in a museum.
P.S. Some days back in one of those emotional moments, I had shot of an email to James Otis (getting his email from one of his interviews) congratulating him. Of course, he did not reply and frankly I did not expect any. This is what I wrote:
Namashkaar. For the past few days, there has been a lot of excitement going on in India over the auction of the artifacts belonging to Bapu. Let me first congratulate you for first putting up this collection together, and then having the courage to put them on for auction. Had I been in your place, I would not have been able to let go of his belongings, knowing that his watch and bowl touched his person.
I came to know about you and your email id from an interview that you gave to Rediff.com (http://www.rediff.com/news/2009/mar/03ready-to-withdraw-gandhis-items-from-auction.htm). It was heartening to know that you have expressed your desire to gift the items to Indian government, if it meets certain conditions.
To be honest, for all the hullabaloo that has been raised in India over the personal items is really unwarranted. Over the past 6 decades or so, Gandhian philosophies have been relegated to the sidelines, as Indians pursue a ‘prosperous’ future. Bapu, if he were to come back today, would be as much of an alien in India as he is in say the US. The diversion from the Gandhian principles, is indeed modern India’s biggest tragedy and yet it was someway inevitable, after all you need an icon like Gandhi to inspire a country of millions and such icons are not born everyday.
Ironically, the auction proves how little of Gandhi is left in all of us, imagine the person who is able to bid the highest, needs to be immensely rich to do so. And why will he or she share his belongings with the world.
But then, even Bapu himself would not disapprove of your motives, I remember reading that he used to charge a few rupees for his autographs so that he could fund some charity work. Now, the world is hankering after his watch and glasses, big deal, he would say. Bapu should be alive in our hearts and in our action, and not in these earthly things.
Hence, even though, I would love to see his glasses and bowl in some museum in India, i know that it isn’t a possibility as the conditions stated by you are just not achievable, do you really think politicians in India care about Gandhi or his principles…It is the common people like me, who do…
If you have the time do read a blog post by me and it will give you an idea (http://shashwatdc.com/2008/10/miss-you-bapu/).
In the end, I wish you all the luck with auction, hopefully by being in contact with Bapu’s belongings, a little of him must have rubbed in you…