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3rd Aug 2008:Talking about Gandhi to American Scholars

We often get invited to talk to people about Gandhi, we go with different expectations. But, this was a different programme. A group of American scholars on a path of discovering Gandhi in India. I realized that one of the problems we often end up getting frustruated or angry whenever we talk about Gandhi to Indians is that our expectation is rather high. But in this case, we had no expectations from them in terms of either understanding and action. 
If anything I was intrigued as to why would American scholars want to understand Gandhi, to me it seemed to be a scholarly adventure into a fascinating mind and visit his land to understand it better if possible. Of course, when one of them told me that she had promised to Dr. Vandana Shiva (whom they had visited earlier at the Navadanya centre in Dehra Dun) that she would never ever drink a Coke or Pepsi because of what Dr. Shiva had told her about these companies, I realized that perhaps there could be quite a few personal journeys embedded in this scholarly pursuit.
We had requested two of our friends whom we respect immensely both personally and professionally, Sri. Rangarajan of Rejuvenate India Movement and Sri. Kannan of Vortex to be guest speakers for this programme. Our idea was to provide the scholars a non-stereotype Gandhian approach, to show that the Gandhian thought process had a few underlying principles which are part of a larger civilizational charecter. That it is possible for others to look at it interpret it in their own way and move on; that a functioning civiilization does not hang on to a concept in a particular form and it could move on and innovate as it progresses. Gandhi as perhaps the most articulate and popular representative of the Indian civilization, but, the western obsession with the 'peace' or 'spiritual' part of Gandhian identity often crowds the other parts of both his persona and understanding his work. We decided to provide them with other models. I respect the Samaj Shilpi model of RIM because of its emphasis on people empowerment, though I have a problem with the entitlements structuring. Rangarajan, the vishnavite for me is equally fascinating because despite equally comfortable with the NGO jargon and idioms, his best expression of his works comes from the personal practice of being a devout Vishnava and I think there he is close to Gandhi in his understanding and interpretation of the Gandhian ideas as a vishnava. 
Similarly, we respect the ingineous work being done by Kannan at Vortex, to me he is the most distinguished and sophisticated tinkering person around. The work he is doing could fascinate the most corproate minds, but, the spirit I have found in him is one of the neighbourhood tinkering shop person, curious, restless, observant and completely unassuming. 
To me these people represented a spirit that in itself is a highlight of the Indian civilization and those aspects of it that Gandhi practised himself. Will write more on the reflections of this programme in the coming days, for now giving link to the blog by one of the participants here


Paul Jay said…
Thanks, Ram, for providing a link to my blog, and for meeting with our group. I found the discussion extremely stimulating with its stress on what young people inspired by Gandhi are doing with technology and social activism in the 21st-century. We encountered many, many Gandhis on this trip, of course, and there is lots to say about this, but I particularly liked the version we got from your group, and loved hearing your description of the structure of governance in the village where you work. I also appreciated your response to my question about the urban problems facing India. One thing I found problematic during my trip was the assumption that fixing villages would fix India. Too many of the "Gandhians" I encountered didn't really want to talk about cities and what to do about them. I hope we can stay in touch. By the way, you might change the link to my blog to the following, which will take people to the main page.

Thanks, Paul