Friday, June 21, 2024
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Abide With Gandhi’s Ideals

“I do not want my house to be walled in on all sides and my windows to be stuffed. I want the cultures of all lands to be blown about my house as freely as possible. But I refuse to be blown off my feet by any” — famously stressed by Mahatma Gandhi.
Since the Mahatma was an epitome of confidence and possessed an international mindset, he didn’t treat the hymns of the Scottish gem “Abide with me” as threat enough to get blown off his feat ! Rather he allowed the window of his mind to let in the breeze of all possible cultures of the globe and this is the reason why that enlightened humanitarian had succeeded in appreciating the melody and philosophy embedded in every line of the evergreen Henry Francis Lyte classic.
Yes, one and only closed orthodox parochial minds can find an all-time great song as a “threat” or “alien” just because it has originated in another land ! Since Indian society is presently being dominated by forces of intolerance and orthodoxy, it is hardly surprising that “Abide with me” will be compelled to make a hasty retreat from the historic “Beating Retreat” ceremony with immediate effect with many “nationalists” zealously supporting that decision ! After all, emphasis needs to be placed on “own heritage” and “Indian music” by discarding all traces of anything “colonial/foreign” !
I wonder, do these sets of “nationalists” possess more love and respect for India than even Mahatma Gandhi ! By sacrificing all norms of material comforts, luxury, professional career; this bare-bodied person had selflessly devoted his whole life for the mission of Indian independence from the grasp of colonial power. Yet he was liberal and broad-minded enough to make a clear distinction between crude British imperialism and the rich British culture harboring no hatred for the latter. Also Gandhi was a devout Hindu(but with no antipathy towards people of other faiths unlike the Hindutva brigade). So Gandhi didn’t find any problem in embracing the British/Scottish/Christian hymn “Abide with me”. In contrast, what are the contributions of the “nationalists” of today towards the welfare of India apart from fragmenting this nation of all through the petty walls of religion, caste, language, economy, politics and what not ! And these elements are offering sermons of taking “pride” in “own heritage” by throwing out the “alien”! Will we have to learn the essence of India and the world from these closed minds who believe in the muscle-flexing of beating our own trumpet and treating others as “inferior” !
And what is the exact definition of “own heritage” or “Indian music/culture”! Qawwali can certainly not pass the “litmus test” of Indian-ness thanks to Persian Arabic Turkish influences ! Rabindrasangeet/Nazrul geeti — absolutely “NO NO” as lyrics/music of many compositions of the two literary giants of Bengal are greatly inspired by Western/Arabic renditions ! Surely Christmas Carols would not do for obvious reasons though innumerable Indians of Christianity vintage are not an iota lesser Indian than flag bearers of rabid Hindutva ! Songs of bands like the iconic Shillong Chamber Choir or that of Bengali legendary singer Kabir Sumon would surely not get termed as “Indian music” again due to the songs which often get rendered in English or bear influences of West including Bob Dylan ! Sitar to Sarod to Hindustani classical music bear the influence of Persia and many regions of Islamic world. So it is highly curious what exactly forms “Indian music” in the ears of our “nationalist” folks ! Are products churned out from Bollywood then represent our “own heritage” ! But surely that domain is also not entirely free of Middle East/Western influences ! Perhaps only music with Hindi lyrics would be accepted as of “our own heritage” which can substitute the “alien” “Abide with me” just like in the guise of “national pride”, usage of English is frowned upon with one and only Hindi being imposed upon this multilingual country by trampling upon rest of the Indian languages !
Though the “Beating Retreat” ceremony precedes the date of martyrdom of Mahatma Gandhi by a single day; we can still draw inspiration from the large heartedness of the Apostle of Peace and embrace all the good which rest of the world offer to us with open arms as propagated by Rabindranath Tagore also. After all a country’s moral and intellectual prosperity is directly dependent upon its readiness to mingle with others coupled with interexchange of thoughts and culture; in contrast a closed nation of bankrupt “superiority” complex with a tendency of belittling others is bound to experience a bad moral fall !
On this 29th day of January, let’s appreciate the melody of “Abide with me” in our private ambience and get enchanted by the deep philosophy embedded in it with prayer to God to remain with us through life and death. If we can remain faithful to the song’s aesthetic spiritual and human appeal and possess an all-embracing mindset as of Gandhi; surely the merchants of hatred will make a hasty retreat with their theory of exclusivity consigned to dustbins of history.
Kajal Chatterjee