A Modern-Day Guide to Gandhigiri


A Modern-Day Guide to Gandhigiri

Illustration: Akshita Monga

During Delhi’s last summer, I felt indebted to one man more than anyone else. I still do not know his name, but he delivered a 20-kilo can of water to my room every third or fourth day. He would make the trudge up to my room on the second floor, walking cautiously in the heat to avoid the asses of air conditioners jutting out of holes in walls, whirring through the day like some madness had got to them. All of that with the incredible load on his shoulders, dry throats in the waiting, probably sweating as much as he carried throughout the day. So when I offered him a glass of water he had not asked for, he almost broke into tears. “Teen saal ho gaye sir logon ko paani dete, kabhi kisi ne peene ke liye pucha nahi (I’ve been delivering water cans for the last three years, no one has ever offered me a glass),” he said.

It’s a little hard to believe that something so ordinary was so rare. Especially in Gandhi’s India, where peace, kindness, and tranquility must prevail. And even though a cursory look around will tell you that it doesn’t, I believe it can. We can’t walk the Mahatma’s walks anymore, but we can still carry him in the little things we do – without making an exhibition of, what I’m certain, will be construed as upper-caste, upper-class generosity toward those bechaare working-class log.

Hundred and fifty years after he was born, Mahatma Gandhi is so entrenched in pop culture that he is punned upon, quoted, misquoted, eulogised, and also dismantled within the same space. He has been plucked out of history enough times to make us forget he had anything to do with its making, or most importantly the making of India. Different people look at Gandhi in different ways. A fair share have their criticisms of him, and rightly so.

But for India’s third generation, its millennials, Gandhi is fast becoming a lost footnote in history. Unless a Netflix show revives his memory or the meme industry adopt him as a category, he might just remain that name you once read about in school, only to forget upon graduation.

Of course, he marks his presence on banknotes and is fondly thanked for his role in squeezing a holiday out of a busy, unforgiving year. But what remains crassly overlooked, and perhaps un-learned, is his adaptability into everyday life. That said, how can one fit the Gandhian model to the average Indian millennial?

Gandhi’s greatest attributes, of course, remain his ability to mobilise, to connect universally.

Perennially rushed, morally ambiguous, and culturally changeable, most young men and women in this country struggle to find a balance between making a loving and making a living. Often these struggles bring out the worst in us. Not discounting what these struggles are worth, they are still only the greatest battles most of us will fight. It goes without saying then that the early-to-bed and early-to-rise Gandhian directives are slated for disappointment.

But Gandhi is so much more than that.

Gandhi is not merely his minimalism, the stripped-down “half-naked faqir”, eating the bare minimum, and accumulating next to nothing in terms of material wealth – basically our idea of dystopia. But as with any great piece of art which manifests according to the age it is read or viewed in, Gandhi must also change.

So, the next time your Uber driver makes the wrong turn, think before you shout at his human fallibility. The next time your food arrives late, think of the risks your delivery man takes on a daily basis to earn his share of the bread. The next time you feel like abusing your boss, think of the many pressures he is under. And the next time you feel like physically assaulting someone whether it is on the road or in a bar think what violence or aggression really accomplishes. Not even the greatest of wars ever resolved an argument.

Under these casual and ordinary gestures the proprietary element that has been drained out of the heart of this country is patience.

Whether it is in queues or with life in general, India hates to wait. And in the not-waiting line, the most angry and impatient are its young ones. It’s us. Accustomed to flashy internet speeds, food-on-the-go, and a life that literally translates between rooms and types of unnatural air, their fuse is incredibly short and readily flammable. What is worse is the way we can turn privilege into a human order of some kind, using the know-how of apps, the glitter of stylised clothing, or the garb of language to suffocate those who feel intimidated by it.

Gandhi’s greatest attributes, of course, remain his ability to mobilise, to connect universally. But for that, he shed not only the clothes of an aristocratic education, but also the ego and pride that came with knowledge. The least Indian youngsters could do, is adopt humility, patience, and kindness as a way of living. Not necessarily offer the other cheek for a slap, but not raise the hand either.

It doesn’t have to be monumental. It doesn’t have to be for a million people. Do it for the next person you meet.