Mahatma who? Welcome to 2 October.
Are parents and teachers not sending out messages from our history, or is it packaged so badly that heroes of our recent past have become cardboards, and unreal, in both dimension and relevance to the new generation?
Since I lecture a lot of young people on mass communication and corporate conduct, I thought I would conduct a kind of spot Q&A and check out their level of signposting.
It is a surprising thought, especially since several of these under-18s (and some young executives) had no idea who JFK was. They didn't have a clue either on what a Walkman was, or, how, once upon a time, not so long ago, we had Television sets without remote controls.
I asked a bunch of NRI youngsters if they knew anything about Mahatma Gandhi. I did it over the week as a sort of exercise-in-curiosity. After all, it is 2 October and there are no NRIs where I live are singing ‘Happy Birthday’.
The answers are inscribed as honestly as I remember them. If the language is casual, it is not as disrespecting as the slang and 'txt' style that marks today's expensive education.
I was told he was the dude who got shot, right, like John Lennon.
I was informed with great panache by another aspiring bank executive that he is the Father of the Nation because he told the Brits to get lost and he went to England in winter in a dhoti to meet Winston Churchill. This saga in awareness was further accentuated by the pithy remark that he said, 'Hey Ram' when he got shot.
A third member of this group said that Richard Attenborough made a cool film and Gandhi was a tough guy who wouldn’t get off the train in South Africa because he sat in a whites-only compartment and they wanted to boot him out.
He made his own clothes, said a young graduate, looking for a job, and sewed them himself.
Can you stitch? Naaaaaa, he replied, followed by giggles.
A young lady studying Mass Communication was not sure whether he died on 2 October or he was born on that day. But it was a ‘Jayanti’ day, she said, when she was invited to attend a classical dance festival at the Embassy. She couldn’t go because her friend was having a bridal shower.
One reasonably erudite man asked me if he wasn’t the person who stayed in jail like (Nelson) Mandela and used to write letters to his daughter. I told him that it was Nehru who did that. He said, yeah,right, but they were friends, so I am pretty close.
Pretty close, sir.
A young girl looked lovingly at her boyfriend and said, he is the person who promoted khadi.
I was hoping somebody would mention non-violence, the inspiration he gave to Mandela and Martin Luther King, among so many others.
It didn’t get on the stage.
Pretty close. Maybe we don’t need to know. Maybe our youngsters have more important stuff to Google, Facebook, and tweet. Or, may be, we have made Gandhi unreal on this pedestal that today’s 24x7 generation hasn’t got the capacity to figure it out as they whizz down the information highway.
I did not indict any of these people. Neither their parents nor their schools. Not even the authorities. We have all become derelict about the heroes of the past.
We trot out Gandhi on the right day and knock off a few 'Bapu' oriented rewrites from the library files. We have made him so inaccessible as a human being that we are in danger of losing him entirely. And why should we know him when Indian leaders don’t, and not even one in ten could, speak of him and his life with any authority.
I didn’t even say anything rude to the lady who said he was on a play when he was shot.
Prayer, play, Lincoln, Gandhi, same difference.