with PostModern Gandhiji (PMG)
An advice column offering the Mahatma’s perspective on modern dilemmas
I was raised to always respect other people, especially my elders. My parents would say, “Beta, even if you don’t agree with your elders, always respect them.” But through the years, it has become harder to maintain this philosophy.
Most of the time it works just fine. Most of my uncles and aunties are lovely people who merit all the respect in the world. And then we have Angry Aunty.
Angry Aunty seems to find fault in everyone, including me. If I set the table with water glasses already filled, Angry Aunty dismisses the effort with a wave of her imperious hand, “Take this water away. The ice has already melted, and germs have entered the water!”
It seems that Gandhiji was always on good terms with everyone. But did he have some people who got under his skin—people whom he just couldn’t respect?
“If you tell [Mr. Jinnah] I am the author [of the proposal to make him Prime Minister of India], he will reply ‘Wily Gandhi.’” (M. K. Gandhi)
While this column attempts to understand how Gandhiji might respond to modern dilemmas, it is also a challenge to get inside his mind for reactions he may or may not have had during his own lifetime. Thus it is quite difficult to know if there was someone whom he did not respect. The best that one can do is look to historians (Stanley Wolpert) and historical records (Gandhi’s Passion, 2001):
“On July 17, 1947, acting on the advice of India’s prime minister-in-waiting, Jawaharlal Nehru, and the consent of Pakistan’s governor-general-to-be M. A. Jinnah, Viceroy Lord Mountbatten won his government’s final approval to partition Punjab and Bengal along religious lines prior to Great Britain’s withdrawal from India. Their plan to carve up British India was never approved of or accepted by Gandhi, however, who realized too late that his closest comrades and disciples were more interested in power than principle.”
Gandhiji believed that his greatest failure was the partition of British India into independent India and independent Pakistan. He insisted that his offering the Prime Ministership of an undivided India to Muhammad Ali Jinnah was genuine and that separating the country was akin to “vivisection of the Mother.” So, yes, it is fair to infer that Jinnah (and maybe also Nehru) “got under his skin,” but not necessarily the case that he did not respect them.
I have long believed that one must treat everyone with equal respect upon first meeting them—look them straight in the eye, neither looking up nor down. And then allow their actions to guide whether your respect for them should increase or decline. While acknowledging that it is all too human to allow our feelings to go up and down the respect escalator, Gandhian ideals would encourage us not to be so judgmental, thus maintaining respect for self and others.
[Dr. Rajesh C. Oza serves as a consultant to organizations and individuals requiring change leadership. We invite questions for consideration in the PMG column at firstname.lastname@example.org.]
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