One of the quotes I like about Communism goes like this; “If you are not a communist at the age of 20, you haven’t got a heart. If you are still a communist at the age of 30, you haven’t got a brain.
For me, the communist thoughts came at younger age, when I was sixteen perhaps and perished when I read Ayn Rand’s ‘Atlas Shrugged’ before I was twenty.
Something similar can be said of Gandhi but there is a twist. At least for my generation, the love with Gandhi started when we were kids (introduced to us by parents and primary school teachers as Gandhi Thatha – Gandhi Grandpa) but some doubts about him started creeping in during our teens or early twenties, but once we were about thirty years, we started falling in love with Gandhi again when we realized he is perhaps the greatest leader of the twentieth century and that thought and love for him stays with us for the rest of our lives.
When I first thought of writing a blog on Mahatma’s 150th birthday, I wondered what can I write about him which has not been said a hundred times already? Some of the greatest leaders of the world, philosophers, poets and playwrights have quoted that they were inspired by Gandhiji’s ideas of ahimsa and non violent movement. Doctorates have been given to people who have researched his philosophy and even the movie on him Gandhi (1982) had won 8 Oscars with 11 nominations.
I decided to write anyway, again targeting the apple totting or is one plus? totting millennials in my family and their friends.
All great leaders could become great because they could communicate with the people directly. From Chairman Mao to Martin Luther King leaders have spoken directly to the people. But Mahatma could not have reached the people directly as only parts of India’s 330 million population could have understood Hindi or English. So his speeches must have been interpreted to carry the message to the masses and that is not the same as speaking directly. I listened to Martin Luther King’s ‘I have a dream’ speech yesterday and I am not sure if the effect would be the same if had listened to a translated version in Spanish or Tamil. So how did he communicate effectively to people who spoke 20 different languages and a thousand dialects? We should also remember that the literacy rate in those days were about 35%. So millions could not have read his articles in newspapers. So how did they get inspired by this man?
I have read few novels in Tamil based on the freedom movement. The main characters in these novels, mostly young people in Colleges drop everything to participate in the freedom movement once they hear Gandhi’s speeches. They are put in prisons and they follow his words of non violence and fasting even inside the prison. They always wait for Gandhiji’s commands to arrive and they as per his commands. I am sure many such novels must have been written in Bengali or Marathi, Telugu or Kannada. He was the greatest inspiration for the people during the freedom struggle.
I am not an economist to argue for or against Gandhi’s economic principles. He said India lives in villages and villages should become self sufficient and everyone should prosper equally. I am not sure whether this idea would work in this globalized world amidst the massive urbanization that is taking place in India. This has become a irreversible phenomenon and there is no going back. But the divide between haves and have nots is only increasing which should make us to think was Gandhi right? Would it have been a better model for India? Assuming we had the same population growth rate, would self sufficient villages be even possible?
The other thing which makes me wonder about Gandhiji is how did he get away with his self righteous attitude? We all know politics is an art of compromise. Gandhi never compromised on anything with anyone. How, then, he remained a leader to everyone. One answer could be leaders who opposed him must have realized that he had the people behind him and upsetting him would earn the wrath of millions of his followers. This again brings to my first point, how did he remain in peoples hearts all the time as their only leader?
We in India, think our leaders are infallible. We assume that they have no shortcomings with hearts of pure gold. This must have been true in those days as well. But Gandhi was so courageous he penned his autobiography ‘experiment with truth’ where he admits to all his sins. This again is awe inspiring. I can’t think of one leader (anywhere in the world) who would even dare writing/admitting their flaws as Gandhi did. That is why he is the Mahatma (great soul).
For me, personally, the greatest lesson I have learnt for my profession (Sales & Service) has come from Gandhi. Yes. I have not learnt it at the Management School or dozens of training programs I have attended. His quote on Customer and Customer Service is hung in every public sector undertaking office in India. It goes like this;
“A customer is the most important visitor on our premises. He is not dependent on us. We are dependent on him.
He is not an interruption of our work. He is the purpose of it.
He is not an outsider of our business. He is part of it.
We are not doing him a favour by serving him. He is doing us a favour by giving us the opportunity to do so.”
As a person who has spent more than thirty years of my life in serving customers, I can only say, there can be no better guidelines than the above if we want to run a successful business. If our public sector corporates and more importantly public utility companies had followed these principles we/they would not be in a such a sad state we are in today.
Just read his quote few times. You will realize how truthful and powerful these words are. And these words have come from a man who did not run any business except he had only one business, to gain freedom for India.
Many years ago, horrified at the way I was treated in an Insurance company (Government undertaking), I pointed out this quote hung prominently at the entrance to a senior manager. He smiled wryly and raised his hands, indicating he was helpless. It was evident the management had hung this prominently in every branch as they were asked by the Government to do so and not for following it. If they had only practiced it…
In an age where customers are treated like carbon paper, I hope, his quote would stir the collective conscience of corporates once again.
Indians living anywhere in the world should be proud that Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi was born in India as we celebrate his 150th Birthday today.
I will leave readers with this homage from Albert Einstein;
Generations to come will scarce believe that such a one as this ever in flesh and blood walked upon this earth.
And this one form the then Secretary of State:
Mahatma Gandhi has become the spokesman for the conscience of all mankind. He was the man who made humility and simple truth more powerful than empires.
General C Marshall, US Secretary of State.
My mother had seen Gandhiji during one of his visits to Bombay and this is what she wrote after reading the blog.
We old people always worship Gandhi. We were not analyzing Gandhi. I have seen him from very long distance in Chowpatty beach in Mumbai. Everyone wanted to see him then.
After reading the blog, JK has posted this comment which I think sums up the contribution and the struggles of all the freedom fighters.
It’s amazing that he left great many thoughts across wide range of topics which are often quoted by us many times. It’s indeed unfathomable how one man could just get millions and millions to follow him in the age when no technology was available to communicate to the mass and get them motivated for a positive, selfless cause. We owe Mahatma and millions of our country men who believed him for the blessed life we are living today. Great time to pay our respects to Mahatmaji.
These words come out more powerfully in the opening scene of the movie, ‘Gandhi.’ Take a moment to listen.