Reminiscing about childhood, present-day relevance and the weight of carrying the Gandhi name, Tushar Gandhi, who describes himself as a “writer, failed politician and president of the Mahatma Gandhi Foundation”, speaks about his legacy.
How do you personally mark Gandhi Jayanti? Is it just another day for you or, is it filled with appointments, functions, interviews? Do you find it amusing that journalists (like this one!) seek you out, especially when October 2 approaches?
When I was a kid I remember at home we would fast both on October 2 and January 30. Then in the evening, when my father returned from office we would do a sarva dharma prayer as it was done in Bapu’s ashram and then have dinner.
Since I studied in a school, Adarsh Vinay Mandir run by a freedom fighter couple Dhanuben and Prabhubhai Upadhyay in Khar, October 2 was celebrated as Rentiya Baras and was devoted to spinning the charkha, so we used to have eight hours of spinning and prarthana. At the end of the day, all the thread that we had spun was collected and sent to Kora Kendra for weaving. Nowadays there is a huge demand for me on October 2. Since the past few years I have always been abroad on October 2. Today, there is a programme in Rajkot, which is fortunate since Bapu’s father’s home is in Rajkot. I will visit the school where Bapu received primary education, the Alfred High School and Rashtriya Shala, which was a nerve centre of the Satyagraha movement and the Rachnatmak Karyakram for village upliftment.
As great grandson of Mahatma Gandhi, do you think the Gandhi name weighs on you? Is it a burden to know that people may hold you to a higher moral standard than they do others?
I have never felt my legacy to be a burden. The way I was brought up helped me to come to terms with my heritage. When I was a kid, after I became aware of my heritage, my grandmother explained it to me very beautifully. She told me that I was like a sapling that had sprouted in the shadow of a huge tree. I could consider it a boon or a curse, since nothing I did would ever allow me to move out from under the shadow cast by the tree. She said I could either thrive under the protection offered by the great tree, or consider it a curse and become twisted and stunted. I decided that I would treat my legacy as a boon and thrive under its protection. So I have always revelled in my ancestry. I was also told not to try to live according to the expectations of people because then I would not be able to satisfy them and I would not be happy with what I was doing. Neither my parents nor I ever attempted to live the life of Mahatma. We have lived our lives the way we enjoyed living. I know that I have disappointed many people because they had notions of how Mahatma Gandhi’s great grandson would be, and I have failed miserably in living up to those expectations. They must know though that I am a descendant of a Mahatma, and proud to be one, but I am not a Mahatma. That is not a trait in our DNA. I live my life on my terms and according to my beliefs and live it openly without attempting to hide things that may not meet with the ‘Mahatma’ standard.
Today, the rich wear khadi as a style statement. Then came the Mont Blanc pen controversy, too (there were some objections to the luxury brand using Bapu’s name and image on its expensive pens). All this notwithstanding, do you think these are some ways in which we keep Gandhism alive — even if it is with a fashion fabric or an expensive pen? So that at least the younger generation know of him?
Today’s khadi is not the khadi of Bapu and so from being a yarn of our freedom movement and a system of village rejuvenation, it has become a fashion fabric and a parasite surviving on subsidy. But even today, Khadi and the Village Industry have the capability of lifting our poverty-stricken millions out of poverty and become the system through which to rejuvenate our village economy and eradicate rural poverty.
The Mont Blanc Pen controversy was a clash of staid Gandhian practices versus modern belief. In his time, Bapu used to charge fees for both his autograph and photographs and the collection was used in Harijan relief. Even today, the corpus created by Bapu helps run the programs of the Harijan Sevak Sangh. I see no difference between Bapu selling his autograph and photograph, and Mont Blanc selling a pen commemorating him.
By allowing Mont Blanc to use Bapu’s name and image on the pen we were able to raise more than R75 lakh which is being used to buy five acres of land and build a campus where rescued child labourers will be sheltered and educated with academic as well as vocational training, so that they can break out of the cycle of poverty and exploitation and better their lives. There should be more such experiments like the Mont Blanc pen, so that more Gandhian work will be possible. Gandhians had made Gandhivad into a private jagir. It took a Munnabhai and his Gandhigiri to take Bapu back into the hearts of the youth. It may have been shortlived, but I think Munna planted a germ of an idea called Gandhigiri in the hearts of today’s generation.
I am confident that Bapu and more importantly his methods will be reinterpreted through this new identity called Gandhigiri and revive amongst youth, which today feels aimless and adrift.