Posts Tagged ‘MK Gandhi’

Leo Tolstoy (1828-1910)
When novels were written with a serious purpose and read as avidly all across the world Tolstoy was a doyen in the same class as Balzac, Dickens, Hawthorne, Poe, Scott and Dosteovsky. Literary tastes have since changed. Tastes of readers are weighted on the side of best sellers and since writers who sell are more a product and who are geared to cater to the lowest denominator we see the kind of books that is touted in each season as best sellers. I would not be surprised if Tolstoy’s moral passion and Dosteovsky’ delving into darkness human soul are now dubbed as top heavy or elitist by modern readers who have grown up with Dan Brown or John Grisham.
Nevertheless according to the English writer Virginia Woolf, ‘he with his observational powers elicited a kind of fear in readers’ and she granted that Tolstoy was “the greatest of all novelists.”
The scion of prominent aristocrats, Tolstoy was born at the family estate, about 130 miles south of Moscow, where he was to live the better part of his life and write his most important works. Having lost his parents at a tender age Tolstoy and his four siblings were then transferred to the care of another aunt in Kazan, in western Russia. From his diaries we know the agonizing spiritual ambivalence that plagued him and he well into his mature years lived a loose life as customary with nobility of his times in debauchery. . Educated at home by tutors, Tolstoy enrolled in the University of Kazan in 1844 as a student of Oriental languages. His poor record soon forced him to transfer to other areas. Thus he drew towards literature. The writings of the French philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau made a deep impact on him. (in place of a cross, he wore a medallion with a portrait of Rousseau). In 1851 he joined his older brother Nikolay, an army officer, in the Caucasus and then entered the army himself. He took part in campaigns against the native Caucasian tribes and, soon after, in the Crimean War (1853–56).
Concealing his identity, Tolstoy submitted Childhood for publication in Sovremennik (“The Contemporary”), a prominent journal edited by the poet Nikolay Nekrasov. Nekrasov was enthusiastic, and the pseudonymously published work was widely praised. During the next few years Tolstoy published a number of stories based on his experiences in the Caucasus, including “Nabeg” (1853; “The Raid”) and his three sketches about the Siege of Sevastopol during the Crimean War: “Sevastopol v dekabre mesyatse” (“Sevastopol in December”), “Sevastopol v maye” (“Sevastopol in May”), and “Sevastopol v avguste 1855 goda” (“Sevastopol in August”; all published 1855–56).
After the Crimean War Tolstoy resigned from the army and was at first hailed by the literary world of St. Petersburg. But his prickly vanity, his refusal to join any intellectual camp, and his insistence on his complete independence soon earned him the dislike of the radical intelligentsia. He was to remain throughout his life an “archaist,” opposed to prevailing intellectual trends.
The period of the great novels (1863–77)
Happily married and ensconced with his wife and family at Yasnaya Polyana, Tolstoy reached the height of his creative powers. He devoted the remaining years of the 1860s to writing* War and Peace. This was followed up with his other great novel, Anna Karenina(1875–77). These two works share a vision of human experience rooted in an appreciation of everyday life and prosaic virtues. In 1899 Tolstoy published his third long novel, Voskreseniye (Resurrection).
Tolstoy’s rejection of religious ritual contrasts markedly with his attitude in Anna Karenina, where religion is viewed as a matter not of dogma but of traditional forms of daily life.
His search was increasingly straining his married life since his wife yearned for a settled life with the rightly earned fame and material affluence while his attitudes and beliefs were creating enemies inside Russia. His religion upset the Orthodox Church and pacifism, the State.
With the notable exception of his daughter Aleksandra, whom he made his heir, Tolstoy’s family remained aloof from or hostile to his teachings.
Tormented by his domestic situation and by the contradiction between his life and his principles, in 1910 Tolstoy at last escaped incognito from Yasnaya Polyana, accompanied by Aleksandra and his doctor. Within a few days, he contracted pneumonia and died of heart failure at the railroad station of Astapovo.
In contrast to other psychological writers, such as Dostoyevsky, who specialized in unconscious processes, Tolstoy described conscious mental life with unparalleled mastery. His name has become synonymous with an appreciation of contingency and of the value of everyday activity. Oscillating between skepticism and dogmatism, Tolstoy explored the most diverse approaches to human experience. Above all, his greatest works, War and Peace and Anna Karenina, endure as the summit of realist fiction.

Most readers will agree with the assessment of the 19th-century British poet and critic Matthew Arnold that a novel by Tolstoy is not a work of art but a piece of life; the 20th-century Russian author Isaak Babel commented that, if the world could write by itself, it would write like Tolstoy. Critics of diverse schools have agreed that somehow Tolstoy’s works seem to elude all artifice. Ultimately he remains by such diverse works as War and Peace, Resurrection, The Death of Ivan Ilyich, Anna Karenina the living symbol of the search for life’s meaning.
• War and Peace
The work’s historical portions narrate the campaign of 1805 leading to Napoleon’s victory at the Battle of Austerlitz, a period of peace, and Napoleon’s invasion of Russia in 1812. Contrary to generally accepted views, Tolstoy portrays Napoleon as an ineffective, egomaniacal buffoon, Tsar Alexander I as a phrasemaker obsessed with how historians will describe him, and the Russian general Mikhail Kutuzov (previously disparaged) as a patient old man who understands the limitations of human will and planning. Particularly noteworthy are the novel’s battle scenes, which show combat as sheer chaos. Generals may imagine they can “anticipate all contingencies, ” but battle is really the result of “a hundred million diverse chances” decided on the moment by unforeseeable circumstances. In war as in life, no system or model can come close to accounting for the infinite complexity of human behaviour.
The novel’s other hero, the bumbling and sincere Pierre Bezukhov, oscillates between belief in some philosophical system promising to resolve all questions and a relativism so total as to leave him in apathetic despair.
Tolstoy’s belief in the efficacy of the ordinary and the futility of system-building set him in opposition to the thinkers of his day. It remains one of the most controversial aspects of his philosophy.

(Copyright © 1994-2011 Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc./ Gary Saul Morson)

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‘…every Indian, whether he owns up to it or not, has national aspirations. But there are as many opinions …as to the exact meaning of that aspiration, and more especially as to the methods to be used to attain the end.
One of the accepted and ‘time-honoured’ methods is to attain the end is that of violence.The assassination of Sir. Curzon Wylie was an illustration of that method in its worst and most detestable form. Tolstoy’s life has been devoted to replacing the method of violence for removing tyranny or securing reform by the method of non resistance to evil. He would meet hatred expressed in violence by love expressed in self- suffering. He admits of no exception to whittle down this great and divine law of love.
When a man like Tolstoy, one of the clearest thinkers in the western world, one of the greatest writers, one who as a soldier has known what violence is and what it can do, condemns Japan for having blindly followed the law of modern science, falsely so called, and fears for that country ‘the greatest of calamities’, it is for us to pause and consider whether, in our impatience of English rule, we do not want to replace one evil by another and worse. India, which is the nursery of the great faiths of the world, will cease to be nationalistic India…’
19th Nov.1909,MK Gandhi
(selected from A Letter to a Hindu, by Leo Tolstoy)

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Thoreau’s essay on Civil Disobedience inspired MK Gandhi to hone his own idea of passive resistance into an effective weapon. His ‘Walden’, though were ignored by his contemporaries -only 2000 copies were sold during his lifetime, no other American books have been discovered into more languages. His books and essays which he wrote about his struggle to stay free became one of the world’s great testimonies to the values of personal independence.
His first book,’A Week on the Concord and Merrimack Rivers’ sold only 219 copies, and one day an express wagon drew up before his house with 706 unsold copies. Later Thoreau scribbled cheerfully in is journal ‘I have now a library of nearly 900 volumes, over 700 of which I wrote myself.” Each copy of the book published at just over a dollar is worth up to 600 dollars today.(this was written some 30 years ago.So the present exchange rate will vary. b)
In India Gandhi’s name is a cloak for politicians to fool the public. How many Indians do really care for his ideals or practice his homespun way of life? In this present day of market economy everybody has become a mountebank than march to his own beat. We wear Levis, Versace, Ralph Lauren or some other because these are famous brands. Many uphold their labels because themselves are zeroes.
There is one passage from Rostand’s Cyrano de Bergerac that I recall often:”…There is one crown I bear away with me,/
And to-night, when I enter before God,/My salute shall sweep all the stars away/From the blue threshold! One thing without stain,/Unspotted from the world, in spite of doom/Mine own!-
And that is /-That is…
My white plume…”

mon panache is what you and I have let drag through mud and for another to spit upon just because he has money to pay for the damages.
Isn’t time we stopped playing the fool and discovered afresh our heritage as shown by Gandhi and Thoreau?

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Mahatma Gandhi
Father of the Nation

In the 30s Gandhiji rebuked Minoo Masani on one occasion for not cooperating with Sardar Patel. Minoo defended himself saying that on a couple of occasions he had misquoted him.
‘All right,’ said Gandhiji,’we shall dismiss Sardar tomorrow morning on condition that you find me someone who has all Sardar’s qualities but not his faults.’
At this Masani laughed outright and told him that he knew very well that he would have no such candidate available. Gandhiji asked, ’Are you a bigger Mahatma than me not to accept human foibles?’ Next morning a somewhat chastened Masani called on Sardar. (Ack: Minoo Masani-Debonair Nov’77)

One of the social workers in Gandhiji’s Ashram developed a relationship with a woman worker who was already married. Her husband had deserted her and used to come once in a while. Since law was clear that divorce was granted only if one partner was absent for seven years at a stretch. The lovers were in a fix. They finally appealed to Gandhiji to help them out.
Contrary to expectations Gandhiji asked the lovers to go ahead and get married and live together. He cheerfully brushed aside the law of bigamy saying unjust laws should be broken. He attended the wedding of the couple and blessed them.

Mrs. W.H Fisher, an American in her sixties sought advise from Gandhiji who advised her to teach adults in he villages to read and write. She doubted if it would do any good to bring in US basic reading books like ‘Sally Sees Spot’ into Indian equivalent. Bapu argued, ’If it is a cotton growing village, first teach them to write the word ‘cotton’ and then, ’This is a good cotton,’ ‘good land makes good cotton, bad land makes bad cotton and so on.’’
Mrs. Fisher’s adult literacy program has been one of the most successful in the country and was tried in other countries as well. (Ack: Laine Johnson-New York Times)
‘How can you say one thing last week?’ an associate asked Mahatma,’ and something quite different this week?’
Replied Gandhiji, ’Ah because I have learnt something since last week.’
Once in England Gandhiji was asked why in India only women fasted and not men. Gandhiji replied that women fasted as they prayed for a good husband. As often some of them got bad ones. And men did not have to fast. The wives they got were generally good.’
Gandhiji arrived in Marseilles on Sept 11,1930. French media was intrigued by ‘the naked fakir’ and one French reporter was shocked to see him wearing only a loincloth and a shawl. At a time plus fours were in fashion his was quite far out. Noticing his embarrassment Bapu said disarmingly, ’In your country you wear plus fours. In mine we wear minus-fours.

Sarat Chandra Chatterjee (1876-1938)

Once a Bengali scholar called on him and denounced Rabindranath Tagore’s writing as superficial and sentimental. He said: ’Rabi Babu writes for the elite, not for the masses. You are much greater than he. He will never be able to write like you.’
Sarat Babu retorted, ’Yes, you are right I write for people like you and he writes for people like me.’

Siddhewswari Devi (1908-1977)

Her delicately rendered ‘thumris*’ made her one of the brightest lights in Indian classical music. Her rendition was such she was synonymous with thumris as Begum Akhtar was with ghazals.
In 1962 Kasarbhai was giving a concert in Mumbai to the delight of all who were present and the crowd could not have had enough. Kasarbhai spotted Siddheswari among the crowd. There were more requests for thumris and Kasarbhai pointed to Siddheswari Devi and sweetly said, ’No, not while the Queen of Thumri is right in our midst.’
Graciously acknowledging the supremacy of her rival she continued with her concert.
(*tumri: Thumri is a form of ‘light-classical’ vocal music. It does not follow the tala and raga rules of music very rigidly. http://www.culturalindia.net)

Sarojini Naidu (1879-1949)

The Nightingale of India was closely associated with Indian National Movement and her poems captivated many. G.K Gokhale once remarked,’ Do you know, I feel that an abiding sadness underlies all that unfailing brightness of yours. Is it because you have come so near Death that its shadows still cling to you?’
‘No,’ replied the poet, ’I have come so near life that its fires have burnt me.’

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