Glimpses of Gandhi's Ghost -- Episode 2

By Dr Mukul Pai Raiturkar
06 February 2014 19:52 IST

It had been a hectic day for me. Right from the early morning workout session to the last patient in my children’s' OPD.

The moment I touched the bed I was fast asleep.......... was a misty morning. Chill was in the air. So was mystery. A light breeze was blowing. Land breeze I thought to myself. I was jogging along a trail -- flanked on both the sides by tall pine trees. In the distance I saw a silhouette. A man was walking briskly. All I could notice from that distance was he had no hair on his scalp and his ears were protruding somewhat. Medium height. Frail. Reminded me of Gandhiji. How could he be I thought as I jogged. A tweeting sparrow passed over my head and landed on a small shrub by the side of a hefty pine trunk. And moreover, this man did not have a walking stick in his hand.

Any way I thought -- I should catch up with him in a couple of minutes. Then I will ask him who he is and what he is doing here at such an unearthly hour.

I continued to jog and the silhouette continued to grow bigger. Now I could decipher the white "panchaa" or half dhoti. Could he be Gandhi? Indeed he seemed to be!

I slowed down. He continued to walk briskly. I matched his pace.

"Good morning Bapu!" I exclaimed. He looked at me. That typical all encompassing smile of sheer compassion spread across his face. In an instant I knew he was Gandhi.

"What are you doing here?" I asked. "And where is your laathi?" His smile became a little impish.

"You mean my kaathi?" he asked.

"Nowadays all sticks are laathis in India, you know" -- I said --"whether they are in the hands of the police, the protesters or the RSS. Even the women need them. I thought you would never pass your stick to the first three. What about the fourth -- the women?" I continued, "have you given your kaathi to the women of India to protect themselves?"

His smile faded somewhat. "You know Mukul," he spoke slowly, "at the All India Women’s' conference in 1936 I told them -- WHEN WOMAN, WHOM WE CALL ABALA BECOMES SABALA, ALL THOSE WHO ARE HELPLESS WILL BECOME POWERFUL. Women are not objects of reform and humanitarianism. They are self conscious subjects who can - if they choose - become arbiters of their own destiny. Considering women as objects of reform is again male chauvinism!"

"I agree," I said.

"If women want to be free, they have to be fearless," he said, "what affects women of India is more psychological fear and helplessness, culturally imposed upon them by society. It is not physical weakness of women."

"But is it not Indian tradition that the man must be the bread earner and woman the home maker?" I asked - exhorting him to talk on.

By now our pace had slowed down significantly. The dawn was breaking and we could hear the cheerful chirping of the birds all around. Not a single human soul was in sight.

"It is good to swim in the waters of tradition," said Gandhi, "but to sink in them is suicide".

"Yes," I agreed spontaneously.

"Sita was no slave of Rama," he said looking at a group of sparrows chattering on a bush, "she was able to say no even to her husband if he approached her carnally against her will. Even the great physical might of Ravana dwindled when pitched against her superior moral courage."

"Draupadi was not an abalaa," he continued, "she had robust independence and could bend the mighty Bheem himself to her imperious will. Who will call Draupadi dependent -- Draupadi who, when the Pandavas failed to protect her saved herself by an appeal to Lord Krishna?" he asked rhetorically.

"You believe in Lord Krishna?" I asked.

"Krishna here represents no physical man," he said, "but the voice of one's conscience and the resolute will to follow one's chosen path."

I agreed to this.

By now, we had slowed down to a halt - and were standing face to face - in the middle of nowhere. So we decided to sit down. Just ahead there was a small culvert with a concrete railing. The stream gushing below the culvert made its own noise. We looked down at the stream as we sat on the culvert railing. A couple of stones rolled downstream along with the turbulent waters. These two had no moss. Other stones around the banks of the stream - small and large - had gathered layers of moss on them.

"A rolling stone gathers no moss!" I said.

Just then we saw a swarm of small, dark fish swimming upstream energetically. "Only a dead fish swims with the current," said Bapu, "Mukul," he continued, "rules of social conduct have to be framed by mutual cooperation and consultation -- not forcibly imposed on women from outside. Legislation has largely been a handiwork of men."

"Yes," I concurred, "and that makes women the prisoners of patriarchy. But legislation is relatively recent," I said, "what about our ancient religious scriptures -- especially Hindu and Islamic? Aren't they the basic reason for the conditioning of the society?"

"If women are to get justice," said Gandhi, "all religious texts biased against the rights and the dignity of women should be expurgated. For this, the Indian women have to produce from among themselves new Sitas, Draupadis and Damayantis -- pure, firm and self controlled -- when their words will have the same authority as the shaastraas and will command the same respect as their prototypes of yore."

"The Indian women of today, just as those of my time, have lost the spirit of strength and courage -- the power of independent thinking and initiative -- which actuated the women of ancient India - such as Maitreyi, Gargi and Savitri. This is a result of social tyranny."

"You were a reformist all through your life -- you still are one!" I added a wisecrack.

"Yes, Mukul," he said, "to postpone social reform is not to know the meaning of Swaraj."

"But Gandhiji" - I objected, “you said earlier that considering women as objects of reform is also male chauvinism."

Now his serious face regained some smile. "Man has regarded woman as his tool. She has learnt to be this tool and in the end found it easy and pleasurable to be such. Because when one drags another in his fall, the descent is easy. No doubt man is responsible for this state of things; but may women always throw the blame on men and salve their consciences?" he asked, "Ultimately woman will have to determine with authority what she needs."

Mukul," he said, "I want the woman to learn the primary right of resistance. She thinks now that she has not got it. She must know that refusal to be tyrannized ends tyranny."

By now the Sun had come up pretty high. The morning chill had all but disappeared. I had work to do and so did Gandhi.

"See you then, Bapu!" I said as I prepared myself to resume my run.

"Soon, I hope!" He said with a smile............ I woke up I was left with a thought ...... where Gandhi remains unsurpassed in terms of impact and influence even today is in the fact that he helped women find a new dignity in public life, a new place in the National mainstream, a new confidence, a new self view and a new consciousness that they could themselves act against oppression.

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Dr Mukul Pai Raiturkar

Dr Mukul R Pai Raiturkar is a consultant pediatrician & neonatologist practicing in Margao. He is the co-convener of Ami Goenkar, an organisation of secular young Goans working towards a novel approach to religious-political issues of Goa. Son of veteran Goan freedom fighter Mr Ravindranath Pai Raiturkar, he exudes unshakable faith in a liberal, secular and free spirited democracy of India.

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