It is far from easy. Not just for an inexperienced, relatively uneducated youth like me but also, it seems, for people who have spent a lifetime ruminating over him.
The Gandhi Ashram today was not quite its normal, serene self. There was an air of activity around, more people than usual to be seen in the museum, around and inside Gandhi’s kutir, and on the edge of the Sabarmati River, admiring the view.
It was his 60th death anniversary, and there were to be a series of events taking place in his memory, from the morning Prayer to talks by eminent sociologists and Gandhians during the day. I reached the place at around one (thanks to three silly lectures in the morning), long after the Prayer and the first round of talks, missing the opportunity to listen to none other than Ashis Nandy speaking.
Anyway, I was fortunate enough to listen to some other esteemed speakers, including our own professors Tridip Suhrud and Ganesh Devy. Some talked of his relationship with religion and secularism, some of his take on nation-building, and some on counterfactual questions such as how different history would have been, if he had lived 125 years, as he jokingly (or maybe not) said he wanted to. I listened with unwavering attention, trying to grasp and understand as much as I could. And I daresay I followed much of the discussion.
But now, as I try to think of what I learnt from the day, how much it helped me to understand the man, his life and thought, I find myself at loss yet again. As before, when I try to gather my thoughts on him, to sum him up, there is nothing that comes to mind.
And why is it so? Perhaps, the biggest reason why he eludes all reason is because Gandhi simply could not be classified. Humans rely on classifications for their understanding. We find it convenient and surer about a person once we see him as a part of something bigger. For example, the labels we put on the friends around us (like ‘Oh he’s a politician’ or ‘Saala nerd hai’) ease our mind, helping us to understand the person, seeing him as what we have defined him as.
In this sense, it is impossible to classify or label Gandhi. What would you call him – a religious thinker, a politician, a social worker, a designer, an educationist? What, if anything, defines him? This is almost beyond me to determine. And until I’ve decided on that, the approach, the man will continue to escape my understanding.
For some time to come anyway!