Keeping Gandhi alive
A symposium will see Samdhong Rinpoche, Ashis Nandy and Mallika Sarabhai explore the scope for applying Gandhian principles to current times
At a time when the world was largely divided into capitalist and communist powers, MK Gandhi rejected both, giving the nation his own brand of socialism, which many found impossible to adopt at that time. And yet, a newly independent India put into practice several of his principles, carving an identity that stood out from our neighbours and other nations. That was the 20th century, and today, as we grapple with the social, political, economic and environmental fallouts of what unbridled industrialisation and urbanisation have unleashed on us, it’s perhaps time to ask, Is Mahatma Gandhi possible?
That’s a question a two-day international symposium organised by the Department of History, KC College, and the Sewagram Collective will engage with as part of the sesquicentennial birth anniversary year of Gandhi and Kasturba. The chief guest and valedictory speaker will be Prof Samdhong Rinpoche, former Prime Minister of the Tibetan Government in Exile, while sociologist and political and clinical psychologist Dr Ashis Nandy is the keynote speaker.
“Glorification of Gandhi is not our aim; a critical appraisal of his thoughts and exploring the scope for their application in the 21st century is,” informs Dr Shyam Pakhare, convener of the symposium. The two-day event will also see the soft launch of the Sewagram Collective, a community of writers, artists, scientists, professionals and media persons who believe in the Gandhian philosophy of a humanistic approach to life. “Formed two years ago with the sesquicentennial celebrations in mind, the collective plans to continue with discussions and engagements with the philosophy on a sustained basis,” adds Dr Pakhare.
Four broad themes have been identified for panel discussions, where noted personalities from the world of culture, science, economics and academics will weigh in on Gandhian principles from the points of view of their respective fields.
Ahead of a panel discussion at the symposium where she will be in conversation with poet and cultural critic Ashok Vajpayee, literary scholar and activist Dr Ganesh Devy, and Dr Apoorvanand, professor, Department of Hindi, Delhi University, we spoke to classical dancer-choreographer, activist and Gandhian Mallika Sarabhai.
How far have we moved away from Gandhi’s philosophy to search for the possibilities of adopting it once again?
What is the quintessential idea of Gandhi? Integrity, commitment to the weakest person in society, and simplicity. These values have become totally unimportant to our daily lives today — even as we pay lip service to them. And so, you are seeing four million Assamese being rendered stateless, or two million forest-dwelling families facing eviction.
The nation is gearing towards celebrating 150 years of Gandhi...
Whose Gandhi? Which Gandhi? We have reduced him to an image that suits us.
What, in your eyes, would be our best tribute to him?
To do atma-manthan and figure out what’s more important in our daily lives. If, for example, you have a car that takes you from point A to B, you need to ask yourself if you need a fifth car. Does your self-confidence hinge on such possessions? Gandhi was constantly introspecting and questioning himself.
You are part of the discussion on Reengaging with Notions of Culture. How does one look at culture from a Gandhian point of view?
Gandhi would say, ‘I want the culture of all lands to be blown about my house as freely as possible. But I refuse to be blown off my feet by any.’ Within India, its multiple cultures need to be reimagined as a bouquet of flowers, not a garland of roses.
We celebrated Dr Vikram Sarabhai’s birth centenary this month. Tell us about how Gandhian principles found a reflection in your father’s work.
Papa’s idea of starting the space programme wasn’t for international fame, but to affect the life of the last child in India not going to school, and the last farmer battling agrarian problems. That was his commitment to Gandhi through the tool of science. And through art, he has inspired me to break down prejudices and celebrate life and differences.
On August 30 and 31
At Sundri and Rama Watumull Auditorium, KC College, Churchgate.
Cost Rs 500
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