What is the premium on being truthful now a days? What on obfuscation? These questions come a begging because of the current overblown controversy about Leyveld’s book on Gandhiji.
Gandhiji once said that if he aired contrary or contradictory views, the listener should take the latest one as his current opinion – changed from the earlier one because he had become privy to more information or had grown wiser about a subject. For people to say they never change their opinions or views is a sign of dinosaur like brains – closed, shut down. When I was 18 and a smoker, the effects of cigarettes on health were not widely known. As the years passed and they became incontrovertible, I, and many like me, decided to quit, changing our opinion on how pleasurable the past time was. Similarly, some of us, too young to have taken a stand against the genocide of the Sikhs, might have taken a much more active position against later genocides, with the grown up realization of the folly and the evil involved.
Gandhiji’s comments on South African blacks over the years also underwent a change. For a reviewer – not the author – to impute racism on the basis of this is absurd. Yes, he called them kafirs at one stage, and slightly later made known that he felt they were intellectually and emotionally inferior to Indians. But his later remarks show a deeper understanding of his earlier misunderstandings and prejudices and an acceptance of equality of peoples.
And then of course there is the ‘blasphemy” of the Kallenbach letters. Was Gandhiji erotically attracted? Did he have a “pash” for the architect? What do these allusions to his body mean? Was he hankering? Again the reviewer, not the author, more to push up sales of his paper than anything else, seems to be convinced of a homosexual or bisexual relationship. The author does not use these terms.
Gandhiji’s life was an experiment which he shared with the world. His letters to Kallenbach have been in the public domain for years. His experiments of sleeping nude between young girls are well known. And through all of these experiments and the doubts he went through about, amongst other things, celibacy and control of the senses, he was truthful and made himself the petri dish of his own experiments. He drew strength from the fact that he hid nothing. That truth was more important than what others felt about his image. And that is what will assure his greatness forever.
So who are these petty minded self appointed pretenders to the protection of the Gandhi image? Can Gandhiji’s image be saved or destroyed by people who can never even have the inkling of what the power of truth is? Who control truth, control debate, obfuscate to confuse. And all without even reading the original book, or seeing the film, or whatever. Who are these keepers of our morality?
Indian civilization was built on debate and discussion, on dissent and tolerance. It is the cowardice of the weak and frightened that leads to things being banned. Never in the history of modern society has anything banned not become a runaway hit because of its notoriety. Those who try and ban books and films, who arrogantly assume the roles of protectors of morality must ask themselves why they are so frightened. And they must release us from the results of their intellectual paucity and cowardice. Free speech and thought have been a bulwark of Indian civilization. And they are a bulwark of a real democracy. Why do we allow both to be stifled ?
April 3rd, 2011, DNA