Sexing the Mahatma

Indians don’t need to change the Prevention of Insults to National Honour Act, 1971 to put Gandhi on par with the Indian flag and the Constitution.
I think instead of fighting over Gandhi’s “Vaseline and cotton wool memories”, India should just levy a Gandhi-tax. The old man is on currency notes. He is at the heart of Indian commerce. No matter what his own politics were, the man IS the face of Indian capitalism these days. There’s a busy major street named after him in every Indian city. Why not just cash in? Everyone else is.

Obama talks about “being the change you want to see in the world.”

Blake Mycoskie, founder of US-based TOMS Shoes is also parroting that line. It even shows up on a blog on B2B Marketing. Enough. Time to levy the Gandhi tax.When Mont Blanc wants to put his image on a $25,000 fountain pen , let’s demand Gandhi royalties plus luxury tax. Same goes for Apple Computers.

 Sexing the Mahatma

A girl displays the 1000 rupee note in Bombay. Getty Images.

Because in the end that’s what the controversy about Great Soul, the new Joseph Lelyveld bio is all about. He might be bisexual, racist, and weirdo. But he’s our property. We get first dibs.
As Dean Nelson, the South Asia editor for the Telegraph Media Group writes on his blog “I think it has little to do with the questions Lelyveld raises of India’s Great Soul and more to do with the fact that the most probing questions have been asked by a foreigner… What right does (Dalrymple, Lelyveld, Patrick French and others have to trawl over India’s past and present and offer their judgments?”

So the question is: If India’s own historian Ramachandra Guha had written this, would the reaction be different?

Mind you, Lelyveld says he never wrote that Gandhi was bisexual. He told NPR he doesn’t know whether the relationship was romantic or sexual. “I don’t push it to that conclusion because who knows what happened between two people almost a hundred years ago?”

Now that is just being coy. He laid out the dots; he just didn’t join them with his Mont Blanc pen. He left it to professional gays like Andrew Sullivan to do that. And Sullivan jumped to the task on The Atlantic .

“This may conceivably be an intense heterosexual friendship -- but one that speaks of immense love, Vaseline, upper and lower houses, and an insistence that the friend never resort to heterosexual sex. If you want to believe that, no one is stopping you,” writes Sullivan.

Sullivan says all this hair-splitting between homosexual and homoerotic is just more homophobia – that if one doesn’t have actual sex with another man, one is not really gay.

So does it matter? The seditious half-naked fakir crushed the British Empire. Maybe the Great Soul wanted big muscles like those old Charles Atlas skinny-boy-on-the-beach ads? But is the Dandi March any less historic because he might have had a crush on a German-Jewish body builder?

The Hindustan Times says in an editorial “If it does, isn’t that our problem?”But I understand the outrage. First the Delhi High court rules that criminalising gay sex between consenting adults is just nonsense. And now the gays want everything. First sex; then they’ll want marriage. Now they are going to claim Bapu. It’s just the next step down the Vaseline-slick slippery slope to perversity. Paul Rudnick has already written “I was Gandhi’s boyfriend” for The New Yorker.

So I ask him if he’s come out to his parents, and he says, “Oh, no, they’re all old-school Hindu and they wouldn’t understand.” So I say, “But wouldn’t it be cool if you could do a campaign with a poster of your parents hugging you, and the poster could say, ‘Staying in the Closet Is a Hin-Don’t’?”

By the way Lelyveld also apparently suggested Gandhi might have been a tad racist. Anyone have problems with that? “The words “bisexuality” and “racism” have been given equal weight and seem to be equally offensive to most people in the ensuing public discussion,” writes Malvika Sanghvi in the Business Standard.

So let’s just forget this Gandhi protection tamasha. Let’s go with the Gandhi tax.You can talk all you want about the change you want to see in the world, we are talking about real change, baby. Hard currency. And you know what, every time you call him Ghandi, we are going to levy a fine on top of that tax.


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Updated Date: May 06, 2011 15:27:51 IST