Sunday, May 17, 2009

Gandhi, Munnabhai and Us

Originally Posted on the Common Threads Blog
Centre Daily Times, Oct 2, 2007

Last year, a comedy movie from Bollywood, “Lage Raho Munnabhai” (Translated as “Carry On, Munnabhai,” and available on DVD) took India and the International Film Festival circuit by storm.

The movie deals with the travails of Munnabhai, a gangster from Mumbai. Munnabhai accidentally discovers Gandhi and his ideals, and then uses Gandhi’s principles of Satyagraha (Endeavors firmly based in Truth) and Ahimsa (Non violence) to deal with issues in the underworld, and in his other relationships.

When my husband, daughter and I saw this movie, we laughed a lot, at the comedy in the film, as Munnabhai uses Gandhigiri, a word he coins to express his understanding and practice of Gandhism, to solve his and others’ problems.

And Gandhigiri, with its emphasis on truth and non violence, and loving the enemy, while resisting unjust actions, goes on to win the day in a span of two and a half hours.

Last year, the movie, which was a blockbuster in India, was screened at film festivals and at the United Nations. It spurred a revival of an interest in Gandhi and his teachings, in a fast changing India.

So that, for the first time in several decades, Gandhi’s birthday or Gandhi Jayanthi, on Oct 2nd 2006, was more than just a holiday from work and school in India, more than just paying lip service to his teachings. Bollywood had managed to show people some practical ways of using “Gandhigiri” to solve current problems with self respect and dignity, and without falsehood and violence.

Fast forward a year to Oct 2nd 2007 – once again, Gandhi Jayanthi in India, and also the First International Day of Non Violence, declared by the United Nations.

Yet in our minds, there are fresh images of violence from around the world. Can we cease hostilities, just for one day, in Iraq, Darfur, the Middle East, or Myanmar? Can we truly embrace non violence, even for one day?

The courage of the monks in Myanmar, as they marched peacefully in rows, supported only by the strength from within, reminded me of the courage of Gandhi’s followers, the satyagrahis, who marched peacefully in rows, and received their blows from the British army. It reminded me of the simple courage of the Little Rock Nine from fifty years ago, as they tried to get into high school, blocked by their own police.
Gandhi’s satyagrahis won their freedom from the British in 1947, and the Little Rock Nine integrated their school in 1957. But I wonder what today will look like, fifty years from now - how will the stories in Myanmar, Darfur, Iraq and the rest of the world shape up? What anniversary footages will we be showing on Oct 2nd next year, and fifty years from now?

What we do know for certain is this – that 114 years ago, a white man threw Gandhi out of a train, at Pietermaritzburg station in South Africa, for travelling in a first class compartment, while being Indian. That seminal moment and experience transformed Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi, and led him to give us the gift of Gandhism or Gandhigiri – ways of living a truthful, simple life of non violence.

So that today, if any of us go through our own “Pietermaritzburg” experiences, we are lucky, like Munnabhai, the gangster, to have Gandhi as our role model, and to be able to use Gandhigiri to find our own non violent solutions.

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