Wednesday, November 11, 2015
My Gandhi Project
I write, but one advice I have taken to heart is not to take my writing too seriously. That, I thought, is the best way to avoid any traps - from writing blocks to scholasticism - and be able to enjoy writing. This is exactly I did, on this blog, for the last ten years. I wrote as words came to me, and stopped, sometimes abruptly, just as one would do in conversations. It was difficult not to be conscious of those who might read it - I experimented with private blogs but the conversations felt unfulfilled without others - and over time, this put some constraints of subjects, what to say or not to say, all those little things about appropriateness. There was, however, somewhere a wish, a hope, that I can attempt a meaningful writing project someday. After ten years, I feel ready to try.
A few weeks ago, I wrote a post announcing my intention to write about the death of Mahatma Gandhi (see here). Or, rather, what then started as a general enquiry into an imperfect but persistently searching life, has now been distilled in my mind to one cataclysmic moment - that of his death! And, it is not for the drama of it, it was no less dramatic than of the Caesar, or the conspiracy, though one sees the assassins ascendant in the modern day India - but rather just an end, as death should be, and just that. I wanted to see this as an abrupt stop, expected perhaps, even deserving in a counter-intuitive way, as if the whole life of the Mahatma was a built-up just for this moment. And, indeed, what interests me is the iconography that sprung from this moment, how a life opposed to the violence of the modern state got subsumed in the founding mythologies of one, with an eclectic picking of deeds and words were paraded lavishly to reinforce the very menace while the rest were carefully catalogued as idiosyncrasies.
Indeed, I have no interest, at this point, in scholarly research (and by no means I feel capable of it). There are enough of those types of work, mostly employed in the service of integrating the Mahatma in the system of modern state, churned out by sincere scholars in search of the next seminar or citation. Or, those of the opposite persuasion, proclaiming that the state undermined Mahatma, or, that Mahatma was always incompatible with the modern state, those who oppose because they have to. The point for me is a search, making the point of the search, and not infallibility. It is imperfect in its conception, and guarded, as I claimed at the start, against the danger of taking my work too seriously. It is, in more ways than one, about me than about India, or the Mahatma, as I search for the Indian identity, that defines me.
This is the hard bit, in a way. Everyone seems to be searching for Indianness. Particularly at this moment, when a whole-scale cultural revolution is underway in India, when the Modern State seems intent to reinvent the past and recast the present, there is one thing that means to be Indian. However, in these claims, there is certainty, but no confidence. The new Indian-ness is all about amplifying a given image, either through bullying or PR dollars, but the very touchiness underline the fragility of the ideas, the lack of confidence. In contrast, my faltering search, by definition, is not to find a certain answer, but to trace a path. It is to find a way to ask the questions, and to live with contradictions. It is to search for truth, rather than proclaiming one.
And, finally, as is my comfort zone, I wanted to recast the whole project as a conversation. As a blog, no less, to start with, though perhaps separate from this one. I am not sure how I start, but perhaps as a collaborative reading exercise, with a few fellow travelers that I picked up along this ten year blogging (and some from before that). This is perfectly consistent with the way I learned to live - that the journey is the end - and perhaps even Mahatma would approve.
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How To Live
"Far better it is to dare mighty things, to win glorious triumphs even though checkered by failure, than to rank with those poor spirits who neither enjoy nor suffer much because they live in the grey twilight that knows neither victory nor defeat."
- Theodore Roosevelt
- Theodore Roosevelt
We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.
- T S Eliot
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