Samvaad: A Conversation
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Sunday, January 30, 2005
Remembering a Great One
Rarely does a life so inspires and impacts us as Mahatma Gandhi's did. 57 years ago on this day at 5:15pm IST Mahatma Gandhi was assasinated at Birla Bhavan in New Delhi. India plunged into unprecedented mourning. Jawahar Lal Nehru was beating back tears and emotions of despair has he addressed a grief stricken nation - a nation so deeply indebted to this one soul who not only led them to independence but persevered throughout his life to help lay the foundations of social and economic justice that are the pillars of Indian political and civic life today. The continuing evolution of India's democracy is a testament to the nonviolence that Bapu (as the Mahatma was affectionately called in India) helped permeate into the thinking of the founders as they worked to create a new democracy.
It was just a few weeks ago that I visited Birla Bhavan to meet with the Director of the Gandhi Smriti - the institution created to preserve this historic spot and further Gandhian ideas. Dr.Savita Singh, the Director, has been doing a fantastic job in preserving the legacy of the Mahatma. One cannot escape being thrown back to the evening of January 30th, 1948 while there. I took an auto-rickshaw to get there and my driver had never even heard of Tees Janvari Marg (Road). An entire generation is oblivious to Bapu, his ideas and his work. Not to say there aren't bright spots. The incredible genesis of the NGO movement in India thrives on the inspiration it gets from Bapu - even today! Young India is no different. Our name itself is the name of Bapu's first newsletter after he returned to India from South Africa.
Whenever we put forward an idea, volunteer our time and energy or even make a financial contribution to change something for the better beyond our realm of self-interest we contribute and add to the nonviolent betterment of our society. We become a part of nonviolence. It is not necessary that we protest for our nonviolent credetials to be validated. Bapu spent most of his life on small things like working around the ashram and from that sense of action came to him the biggest ideas that changed the world.
On this day I hope we do something small and meaningful. Our efforts will undeniably add up one day and make the changes that we seek in the world at large.
May Bapu's soul rest in peace.
Monday, January 17, 2005
Today is another one of those days when we should all be happy to have the opportunity to pause, step back, and recognize, with pride, the accomplishments of the great mean and women who came before us. Rather than include a short quote from the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr, here's a posting which I've made on my personal blog. It is important for us not just to remember MLK on this day, it is exponentially more important for us to recognize what MLK and people like him have given us. With that, I leave you with thoughts for today:
Let's all take moment to recognize the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. on this holiday. While most of us (including myself) don't have the holiday off from work, it's hugely important for us to take moments out from days like these because the work that folks like MLK have done allows us to live our lives and prosper.
So I actually wanted to talk about something really specific here. That is the connection between MLK and Mahatma Gandhi. Now, a lot of people (Indians specifically) have been stepping on Gandhi's name in recent years. I'm not really sure why they do that, but there are various reasons, including, Hindu racist as well as (in Sepiamutiny's case) that Gandhi had nothing original to offer.
In any case, that's not why I'm writing today. I'm writing today because every Indian-American should take extra time to recognize that the work which both MLK and Gandhi did has given you the (hopefully) good life you lead today. We take our freedom and equality for granted, but it's really the great work of men like these that allow us brown folk (and every other color) to prosper. This really became clear to me a couple of years ago because of my work with Young India.
Most Indians think of MLK day as a day that Black people need to be proud of and something which Indians don't need to be as concerned about. What many people don't know is that MLK and the American Civil Rights Movements took much of the Indian Freedom Movement to heart when beginning their campaign in the United States. MLK even said, "the Gandhian philosophy of nonviolence is the only logical and moral approach to the solution of the race problem in the United States." Without the experience of Gandhi's work, the American Civil Rights Movement may have been very different and perhaps not as successful.
In the fall of 2003 we at Young India were organizing an annual tribute to Gandhi. This time we wanted to have it on Capitol Hill to ensure that folks who wouldn't normally attend such events would, at the least, get some exposure to the marketing for such an event. So with the 2003 tribute we invited Congressman John Lewis to attend. This man is truly amazing. As you can read in his bio, he was part of the Civil Rights Movement and was, in fact, the youngest person to speak at the steps of the Lincoln Memorial before MLK himself spoke. He is really a connection back to the Civil Rights movement. I had the honor or introducing him during our tribute and the fire in his convictions was evident even with age. As he said, "Gandhi, through his life and his actions, taught us the oneness of the human family" and, "Gandhi's teachings helped us to not just liberate a people, but to liberate a nation"
It's only through this that I realized how lucky we are, as Indians, to have two great men to thank for what we have today. Without the catalyst of Gandhi's actions, India wouldn't have become an independent nation as it did (surely the British would have left, but the outcome could have been very different and India's "3rd way" soul may never have materialized). Without the work of King (and disciples like John Lewis) America would likely still be much more unequal than it is. This impacts us directly because as brown folk, we're still lumped in with every other non-Caucasian group out there and treated much the same. Sure we may have a great reputation of being well-educated and such, but in the end, Civil Rights are about equal rights to get that education and to have the opportunity to prosper. Without the Civil Rights movement here, our parents would likely not have prospered in the way that they did. Surely, a lot more work needs to be done, but we need to recognize how far we have come and how much we have benefited in our everyday lives.
If you've read to this point, then you're probably already thinking about what these great accomplishments mean in your life. And I thank you for that. Now I ask you to talk to the person in the cube next to you and show how much this really means to all of our lives. These holidays aren't just the chance to drive up to the mountains to ski. They're the chance to take a step back and smile at what's been accomplished on our behalf. These men didn't work so hard just for themselves. They did it for all of us.
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