You know the dilemma where your heart says one thing and your head says another? That’s the feeling I had on hearing the news that Indians now revere Bill Gates more than Gandhi. On purely material grounds, Gates is miles ahead. As well as creating the stuff that keeps our computers running, the man is donating billions to worthy causes, with a fair share going to the Mother Continent. While it’s true that Gandhi had similar aspirations for helping the downtrodden, the poor fellow didn’t have two beans to rub together. A fat lot of good he did by riding the trains 3rd class – had I been a low-budget traveller, I would have told him to bugger off to 2nd class to leave more leg-room for the truly needy.
Yet somehow these cold economic facts will never tell the whole story. There is something about Gandhi that stirs the soul, and I’m not just saying this because he was a vegetarian pacifist (as we gorillas are, most of the time). The Mahatma, you see, had a look and a style that was all his own. You could spot him at 200 yards from his silhouette, and he never gave a hoot if some people mistook him for a beggar. In a country where the big honchos used to ride elephants and wear jewels in their turbans, that sort of insouciance suggests a huge inner confidence. Gandhi didn’t fear ridicule because he knew that his homespun homilies would make anyone who mocked him look like a monumental ass.
Even a senile baboon could see that Bill Gates has no hope of competing with the Mahatma’s mythic image. For all his gigabytes of cash, he will never come across as anything other than a nondescript computer nerd. Even his pretty, but not too pretty, spouse looks like a digitally-generated housewife in a cake-mix commercial. A Bill-and-Melinda press conference is like watching a pair of well-tuned androids deploying their latest interactive programming on bunch of bemused hacks.
Of course, you can never say anything about Gandhi without some cheeky wag mentioning that he shared his bed with naked young women. So what if he did? A man’s sleeping arrangements are his own affair and have no bearing on his moral authority. I once shared my bed with no fewer than three female acrobats after a flasher had accosted them during a night out on the town. They were feeling vulnerable and said they’d sleep easier if they could bed down with a gorilla. Quite understandable in the circumstances and there was no question of anything resembling hanky-panky. I don’t know why women wanted to hit the hay with the Mahatma, but they must have had their reasons. As for opting to sleep in the nude, the oppressive heat in the monsoon season may have had something to do with it.
The good news about Gandhi is that the Indian film industry is finally making an effort to re-establish his credentials with the younger generation. In a recent Bollywood release, a love-struck gangster is visited by the ghost of the Mahatma, who lightens the atmosphere by cracking jokes and offering him folksy advice. The hoodlum is persuaded to abandon his evil ways and adopt the Gandhi philosophy, apart from the bits about being celibate and wearing a loin cloth. This enables him to win the hand of the maiden he pines for, as well as acquiring the personality of a thoroughly good egg. If a movie like that doesn’t make the Mahatma popular again, I don’t know what will.
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