Safdar Hashmi Memorial Trust. Addressing Gandhi. 1995. New Delhi: SAHMAT. Pg. 190. Hb. 21 x 27.5 cms. ISBN 81-86219-22-6. Price: Rs. 450 (pb), Rs. 900 (hb)
Reviewed by Samar Sinha
Addressing Gandhi: 125 Years Of Mahatma Gandhi is a bilingual book in English and Hindi comprising of seven articles on Gandhiji with over 100 sketches and photographs of Gandhiji. The form of the books deceives as a mere coffee table book, but the contents elevate its stature both in matter and spirit of a man who is remembered even after 125 years and continues to have relevance in the world to come. A book is, infact, to mark Gandhiji's 125 birth anniversary by SAHMAT. Since Gandhi's life and thought has had an enormous impact on the way we think today, Addressing Gandhi brings to the light how this man is revered and remembered in various pursuits. The book deserves review as the reader deserves to understand his significance in the newer contexts. Moreover, the volume under review brings different perspectives on Gandhiji.
The first article titled 'Gandhiji' is by Irfan Habib, a well known historian. It is a biographical sketch of Gandhiji drawing on events that shaped Gandhiji throughout his life. Based on Gandhiji's autobiography, Habib portrays an evolution of a baniya boy from Porbandar to a barrister from England; his realisation as a 'coolie-barrister' at Petermaritzburg, and his subsequent transformations. In the following narrative, Habib mainly draws Gandhiji’s political endeavours with brief reference to his political and social thoughts. Of particular interest that Habib sketches about Gandhiji is his post-independence days. He highlights Gandhiji's effort to douse the communal violence, appeal and persuasion to pay Pakistan the promised sum, and to develop cordial relationship with the colonial cousin. Habib associates Gandhiji's assassin Nathuram Godse with RSS and Hindu Mahasabha, and leaves his reader to think when he concludes '...he was not alone in the plot.' (pg. 24).
In the second essay by Ravinder Kumar on 'Gandhi and India's Transition to Bourgeois Modernity,' the author discusses issues that are essential in understanding past and present India. Drawing parallel with the Sakyamuni, the author tries to understand modernity in India in the context of '...Gandhi represents our entry into bourgeois modernity as a comprehensive social, political and cultural process' (pg.29). Kumar highlights that Gandhiji's satyagraha drew diverse streams of thoughts and communities into a unified national movement. Although literature do not favour Gandhiji in ushering modernity within the country, Kumar advocates that Gandhiji's concerns were rooted in the Indian conditions rather than of the European experience. Equally, his concerns were for 'appropriate technology,' 'sustainable development,' conservation of folk and popular culture and aesthetic traditions, and of pluralistic society. Moreover, Gandhiji stresses on moderation and self-constraint for effective functioning of the institutions.
Suresh Sharma's essay on 'Swaraj and the Quest for Freedom: Rabindranath's Tagore's Critique of Gandhi's Non-Cooperation' focusses on the debate between the poet and the Mahatma on Swaraj and Swadeshi. Around the historical events, both the parties build their arguments and counter arguments in order to understand what one meant by Swaraj. Tagore and Gandhiji were fundamentally different on the aspect that the poet has reposed implicit faith in the sheer power of the word, whereas the mahatma viewed that the power of the word is modulated by a deep sense of imperfection inherent in human nature, and truth needs to be affirmed. Sharma notes that the dialogue between them were not limited to critique of each other but also a self-critique.
In the following interview in Hindi, Madhukar Upadhayay interviews Ramchandra Gandhi about the contemporary relevance of Gandhi and his thoughts. Equally, the interview presses about the role of Gandhi (had he been alive) in the contemporary scenario related to Ayodhyay.
One of the most important contributions to this volume is Nandalal Bose's essay titled 'Bapuji' which he dedicates as an offering to Gandhiji. Infact, the article is republished from the Visva_Bharati Quarterly (1984). It is a rare article on Gandhiji by the master who created an iconic lino-cut of Bapuji during his Dandi March, and a close associate of Bapuji. Bose draws an autobiographical account of Bapuji and how his thoughts influenced the artist and gave meaning to his life. He recalls his meeting with Bapuji at the Congress session at Lucknow in 1936. Gandhiji's instruction of building Faizpur (Gram Congress) using only rural material, employing country craftsmen and indigenous conception; and Gandhiji's request to make miniature bamboo chariot. One of the unknown facets of Gandhiji is well explored by Bose in this essay – it is his love of art and artistic heritage. Moreover, Bose also narrates that Gandhi loved music, and would have dedicated his life for music had he not had to fight the colonisers. In his sharp contrast to the machine made things, Gandhiji championed the artistic urge as it lacks to satisfy the aesthetic need. He dubs Bapuji as '...a patron of artists' (pg. 131).
KG Subramanyan's 'Remembering Mahatma Gandhi,' is an autobiographical exploration of Gandhi in his life course. In other words, he builds a mosaic of Gandhiji through what he is known as a freedom fighter, one who restored the sense of dignity to a large number of people, one who won the enemy without wiping them out. The authors also dwells on Gandhiji's philosophy of inter-dependence of human individual, society and environment. Subramanyan also regarded Gandhiji as a national leader with a truly global perspectives.
The final essay on 'Locating Gandhi in Indian Art History: Nandalal and Ramkinkar' by Tapati Guha-Thakurta focusses on art of these two masters. Ramkinkar Baij, a sculptor was disappointed with the Debiprasad sculpture of Gandhiji, and wishes to sculpt Gandhiji with full of life and movement in open space with volume, dimension and materials to experiment. On the other hand, Nandalal Bose's association with Gandhiji, as a part of Gandhiji's political programme, and his iconic monochrome lino-cut provides an interesting juncture where art, nationalism, artists and the subjects intermingle to create a narrative. Guha-Thakurta explores this narrative – Gandhiji in the Indian art history as a charismatic motif, and '...signifying certain ideological thrusts and motivations in nationalisms...redefining the very notions of 'art' and 'Indian-ness' (pg 141). Nandalal Bose's Bapuji (1930) is an iconic lino-cut is a new national public art. Through his association with Gandhiji, Bose came to the forefront as an artist that fits Gandhiji's political programme through public art. Nandalal Bose's 1938 images was a novel nationalist construction of the Indian panorama with stripped off classicism and enhanced folkish, playful motifs. In her comparative study of the two masters, she concludes that Baij is non-canoncial whereas Bose has become canonical.
Addressing Gandhi is enriched with index. The book, undoubtedly, is not only a novel way to mark Gandhiji's 125 anniversary but also a commemorative contribution to the Gandhi art (or how he is represented) that has continued to survive Gandhi as a subject for the artists till date. The volume also includes sketches, paintings, photographs and collages by contemporary artists like Bulbul Sharma, Jogen Chowdhury, Adimoolan, Walter D'Souza, Jatin Das, Shuvaprasanna to name a few. To make the matter shorter and direct, this volume is a desired publication, and provides as a platform to examine Gandhiji's conception of art, art as a political programme and its relation with his thoughts on various aspects and facets of his personality and pursuits. Finally, the book emphasises Gandhi as artist's subject – a least explored subject in the Gandhian studies.