C.F Andrews, the English clergyman and public activist who was a close friend of both Mahatma Gandhi and Rabindranath Tagore, described to Romain Rolland a discussion, at which he was present, between the two great men on the significance of idols: “Gandhi defended them, believing the masses incapable of raising themselves immediately to abstract ideas. Tagore could not bear to see the people eternally treated as a child. Gandhi quoted the great things achieved in Europe by the flag as an idol; Tagore found it easy to object, but Gandhi held his ground, contrasting European flags bearing eagles, etc., with his own, on which he has put a spinning wheel.” [ Amartya Sen, http://www.countercurrents.org/culture-sen281003.htm]
The difference in the attitude of these two giants of India’s history on what might at the outset appear such a trivial issue is certainly quite significant. As a poet myself, I cannot disagree with the committed optimism of Gurudev in his essential faith in the people. At the same time I cannot disagree with the insightful vision of the Mahatma either—our people are never mature enough to understand these great ideas! The masses are always incapable of raising themselves immediately to abstract ideas! How very true indeed! Gandhi’s spinning wheel and his famed symbolic action of walking toward the sea coast to pick up a handful of salt as a sign of protest against the imperialist powers are now blown in the wind on the face of the crass stupidity of us Indians of the present day. Crime, corruption, murder and fraudulence coupled with acts of hitherto unprecedented terror are essential parts of our very existence. On the one hand there are those who claim to uphold truth and nonviolence, and clamour for a corruption-free society, government, and administration – holding forth public demonstration, rallies, protest marches, hunger-strikes and what not to raise the humanitarian awareness among the people and the powers that be in the establishment – through self-proclaimed Gandhian means—and on the other hand there are the public servants, the elected representatives of the people in the largest democracy in the world who indulge in crass inhuman deeds of power politics, swindling inordinate amounts of public money, and proudly bask in the blinding lights of the media—be it the press or the TV—having waded their way through cheap political intrigue and bloodshed. Caught between the two the common man and woman are thrown literally into the dire streets of misery. Now, over and above these are the heinous and scandalous acts of atrocity, like the one that happened last night in Coimbatore Tamilnadu—the decapitation of a statue of the Mahatma. Little wonder that the man himself was shot at close range by a deranged mind. Perhaps they believed that the violent acts perpetrated by the Congress government at the Centre in Delhi against Baba Ramdev who had gone on a hunger strike was something to do with the Mahatma of yore ( he is not going to walk anymore among us, that is for sure, neither is he going to turn his charka!) As a Tibetan saying goes: It’s a tall order to ask for meat without bones, and tea without leaves! One can certainly understand the compelling need to clear the country of the terrible canker of corruption that is so very blatantly rampant in our country today. It is the need of the hour and all self-respectable citizens need to conscientiously join forces with those few who have brought it right in to the media’s eye. However, violence to end all violence is a far cry! And marauding acts under the cover of darkness are certainly unbecoming of a people beginning to awaken to their own deplorable situation. The Mahatma and the Gurudev are both right—one cannot continue to treat all people as children, and masses are forever incapable of raising themselves immediately to noble ideas! For the higher levels of human idealism are forever abstract, not easily grasped by the immature and the imbecile! How could one talk of maturity in this ridiculous condition? Where there is little human sensitivity we are forever condemned to rage, rave, murder and tear at each other like wild animals! Perhaps, the comparison is quite misplaced: animals are far wiser. At least they do not erect statues, nor do they wave flags or worship at temples, churches or mosques! And yet one thing is for sure: the Mahatma himself would have simply shrugged his shoulders at all this uproar, for he would tell himself that the people are always a little on the immature side. Gurdev would not have disagreed with him at this juncture.
NOW, at the heart of Kurfürstendamm, in the German capital city of Berlin there stands a bashed in church—bombed and shelled by the Allied forces during the II world war. The German people have retained the very same battered building even to this day perhaps as a souvenir of their wounded pride, and ceremonies are still held there. Likewise, let us also allow the Mahatma’s statue in Coimbatore to stand headless—as a reminder of our blighted childishness! All we need to do is only to put a charka by the demolished statue as a remainder of our mindless acts. After all, where ignorance is a virtue it is certainly folly to be wise. And to have a sense of history is far, far, dangerous in a land where everything and everyone is forgotten so soon. More so in a country where the feats of misinformed children who refuse to grow up to noble ideals continue to disprove even the Mahatma—because their acts are not the mindless actions of the ignorant masses but the cool, calculated, willful, acts of the sophisticated kind. They would easily be taken in by the waving of flags and rally round in the mindless madness of party-politics—dangerous and callous in the avatars of the cutthroats– but the symbol of a handful of salt or the charka would make so very little sense. The headless statue of the Mahatma and the broken charka by his side may one day far in the future usher in some light of sense. Perhaps.