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Smile, You’re on Gandhi Camera

By Rajesh C. Oza Email By Rajesh C. Oza
November 2012
Smile, You’re on Gandhi Camera SATYALOGUE
with PostModern Gandhiji (PMG)

An advice column offering the Mahatma’s perspective on modern dilemmas


Dear PMG,

I’ll keep this simple: Why don’t many Indians smile in photographs?

Glancing through family albums, I see few smiles. Maybe this was an old-world conservatism, but while taking a random sample of photos in the electronic directory of the high-tech company I work for, I observed that even the young generation of Indians decline to show their pearly white teeth.

Strange, since Mr. Gandhi is almost always smiling in the historical snaps taken of him.

Dear Friend,

“Happiness is when what you think, what you say, and what you do are in harmony.” “If I had no sense of humor, I would long ago have committed suicide.” (M. K. Gandhi)

Since this is a seemingly lighter topic, let’s play a game of Jeopardy.

Answer: Eleven. (See end of column for the question.)

On a more serious note, those who smile easily and often, are at ease with themselves and their place in the world. To be sure, in the early days of still photography, subjects had to sit quite still for long periods of time, thus testing their ability to be at ease. This may explain why they had such stern looks in those sepia photos. Some have also mused that dental care wasn’t quite what it is in today’s “Invisalign” age, thus people were not keen to show off their crooked teeth. But the lack of so-called perfect teeth (or perfect eyes, hair, or skin) didn’t stop Gandhiji from expressing his smile for the camera and for all around him.

It can be argued that there was little to smile about in the years between 1869 and 1948. During Gandhiji’s lifetime, there were world wars (WWI and WWII from a Western perspective), genocides (Native Americans in the U.S., Jews in Germany), and civil wars (after the American Civil War, which ended just before young Mohan was born, there were the less prominent, but no less tragic, Finnish Civil War and Spanish Civil War; of course, the Partition of India and Pakistan is an unending civil war). And yet, with all this depressing (not to mention Great Depression-inducing) tragedy, the Great Soul smiled. Some people might have hurt others and committed homicide, or hurt themselves and committed suicide, but Gandhiji used two “weapons” of nonviolence: truth and humor.

Almost everything that he thought, said, and did was “in harmony,” thus explaining the happiness that manifested itself in a perfectly pleasing smile that all of us can emulate. Of course, it is the life force behind the smile that is truly worth emulating. It was not just what he thought, said, and did that were in harmony, but also what he wrote about how he lived.

Question: How often does the word “smile” appear in Gandhiji’s autobiographical The Story of My Experiments with Truth?

[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 raj_oza@hotmail.com.]

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