Category: India

Contextualizing Kabir: Full Speech

“Gandhi was not important, and will never have any significance”- A reflection.

A learned acquaintance made the stunning claim on my fb wall that Gandhi was never important and will never be important. This left leaning prophet perhaps does not know that this statement could have got him incarcerated in Stalin’s Russia! There have been many critiques of Gandhi, but none to my knowledge has emanated from such an ideological black hole.

I present below a few reflections for your perusal.


After the 1919 ‘reforms’ the elections to the central and provincial legislatures took place in nov. 1923 ( not in 1925), and congress after initial hesitation allowed its members to enter the ‘councils’, thus bringing an end to the conflict between ‘pro-changers’ and ‘no-changers’. During 1923-14 congressmen also captured a large number of municipalities. C.R. Das became mayor of calcutta and Netaji Bose was appointed his ‘Chief Executive Officer’. Sardar Patel was elected president of Ahmdabaad Municipality.

So, if congress was ‘collaborating’ with colonial administration, Netaji and Sardar were also participating in this act. Gandhiji on the other hand was doubtful form day one and in 1926 wrote categorically of “not only futility, but also of inadvisability” of the council entry.

The point is that ALL political tendencies in pre-independence India ( including of course, the communists) have been accused of collaboration with Imperialism at one point of time or the other. the reason is simple, neither the working of Imperialism nor the resistance to is capable of being reduced to Manichean binaries desired by those suffering from the lack of intellectual rigor. In real, complex historical situation and their evaluation childish, or shall we say Bush-like version of “Dialectics” ( Good guys versus bad guys) does not work.

So far as counter-posing Patel and Netaji to Gandhi and Nehru is concerned, it has been a favorite hobby horse of a certain political tendency in India. Patel of course, occasionally had sharp differences with Nehru, but one wonders if he would feel ‘flattered’ being propsed as a better leader than Gandhi. Given, Patel’s rather no-nonsense temperament, the “scholar” (!) making such a suggestion in his presence is likely to be in a bit of trouble!

In fact, some self-proclaimed ‘dialecticians’ ( hope, one need not elucidate on the centrality of this idea in the Marxist method) have reduced everything to Bushism of Good guys and Bad guys. It is due to typically middle class and adolescent fascination with ‘action’ ( an euphemism for violence) that such ‘Marxists’ can ride not only their own fantastic horses, but also the rightist’s favorite hobby horse of Gandhi-Nehru bashing and, of course ignorant “glorification” of Patel and Netaji. And so far, as India’s freedom/ Independence being a “useless word” is concerned, usually the well-fed and NRIs ( permanent as well as temporary) mouth such empty and thunderous phrases, while those really fighting for a better India know the import of freedom, even if imperfect.

My friend Priyankar Pailwal has been advised to read some Marxist historians, I have read couple of them and naturally none of them is so ignoramus and pompous to issue the decree that, “गांधी का न कोई महत्व था, न है”। only a certain kind of characters are blessed with this variety of ‘confidence’ and they have been referred to, in the poetic lamentations like, “….where angels fear to tread” and, “….जिन्हें न व्यापे जगतगति”.

Antonio Gramsci who will, hopefully qualify as a Marxist theoretician, if not ‘historian’, in the ‘further selections from Prison note-books’ ( 1999, p119), we find him seeing in Gandhi and his movement ‘something akin to early Christianity’. which ” the contemporary Catholics and Protestants can not even imagine to appreciate” . Of course, a sense of the history of early Christianity and its later organization into the Pauline church is required to grasp the import of this ‘simple’ statement.

I had posted Obama’s sentence to really appreciate not only his personal admiration of Gandhiji, but also to remind my friends of the history of civil rights movement in ‘civilized America’. let me just quote here from Stanley Wolepart’s ” Gandhi’s Passion’ ( Oxford, 2001, p. 264)-” Martin Luther King was not the first nor the only great black leader in the US to be inspired by Gandhi’s life and its message of love, hope, faith and courage. W.E.B. Du Bois had earlier invited Gandhi to visit America on behalf of the National Association for Advancement of Colored People( NAACP).” It may well be, Du Bois prophetically said ” that real human equality and brotherhood in the United States will come only under the leadership of another Gandhi.” It was of course left to Dr. King to declare even more prophetically in his last -” I have been to the mountain-top”- speech ( April 3, 1968) that, the choice is ” no more between non-violence and violence, but between non-violence and non-existence”

One must criticize the president of USA, but one can not loose sight of the historically and morally significant sense of gratitude coming from a person of colour, who ” might not be standing before you today, asPresident of the United States, had it not been for Gandhi and themessage he shared with America and the world”.

As someone belonging organically to Gandhi’s philosophical ( yes, my dear even those not declared “doctor of Philosophy” have it, Gandhi certainly had one) location and his legacy speaking out movingly in Obama’s sentence, I certainly feel proud, and at the same time reserve my right to criticize Gandhi!

It was with this pride, that I posted Obama’s sentence. I am, fortunately not blessed with audacity to make “final comment” on Gandhiji, but for current discussion this should, hopefully suffice.just another incidental point, while referring tentatively to an uncertain number, the lower one is mentioned first and the higher one later. You do not say 20-15 years old, but 15-20 years old. Those who teach Hindi as ‘native speakers’ to foreigners should take care of such details. After all, as they say- ‘ Devil is in the details’, and this is true both of history and language- Hindi, English or any other. For example, the leftists are also politicians and some of them are even parliamentarians, hopefully at least do not answer to the description- “black Englishmen”.

Finally, as someone said, “anger qua anger proves nothing save itself”, and this is not Gandhi, but Fredrick Engels!

Thinking of Gandhiji

Thinking of Gandhiji…

1. Some lines from a conversation in the chapter ‘Aswaththama’ in Dilip Simeon’s novel Revolution Highway (Penguin, 2010)

They think so much about the future, they’ve forgotten the present. They claim to know a future that ordinary people don’t, so they place themselves beyond ordinary moral standards. They are forever innocent.

Politics has played havoc with history. Everyone prefers fairytales to inconvenient facts.

What do I make of Gandhi? A man at odds with is times. But we needed him. We still do, because we’re as in much the same situation as we were in his lifetime.

I’ll tell you something that took me a very long time to understand. People want all the good to be on one side. They yearn for simplification. They can’t accept that their community, or their party, any place to which they belong, could do anything bad. They will invent any fiction and tell lies to their children, to avoid admitting that our moral capacity is unstable, that we are capable of just as much evil as the other side.

Read Yudhisthira’s answers to the Yaksha, the tree spirit beside the forest lake…Yudhisthira answered his questions to revive his brothers. One of the questions is about the supreme virtue.

What is the answer?

Read it and find out yourself!




2. Two poems by Suman Keshari (‘याज्ञवल्कय से बहस’, राजकमल, 2008 से)


कितना कठिन है

शब्दों में तुम्हें समेटना


तुम एक परछांई सी सूरज की

उसी के वृत्त में अवस्थित

चंदन लेप के समान

उसको उसी के ताप से दग्ध होने से बचातीं

उसे भास्कर बनातीं….

2.बा और बापू।

चलते चलते आखिर थक ही गई

इशारे भर से रोक लिया उसे भी

उस ढलती शाम को

जो जाने कब से तो चल रहा था

प्रश्नो की कंटीली राह पर

नंगे पाँव

नियम तोड़ रुक गया वह

भीग गई आत्मा


कोरों पर चमकी

यह जानते हुए भी

कि  देह भर रुकी है उसकी

शय्या के पास

मन तो भटक ही रहा है

किरिच भरी राहों पर

उन प्रश्नों के समाधान ढ़ूँढ़ता

जो अब तक पूछे ही न गए थे…




3. Some lines from an article by yours truly.  Published in ‘India 60’, (Editor Ira Pande, Harper Collins, 2007), this article was based on a lecture delivered at Gandhi Peace Foundation, Delhi, on 2nd October, 2005.

Way back in the early 1960s, as a child in a north Indian town, one of the many popular sayings I grew up listening to was “Majboori ka naam Mahatma Gandhi.” The phrase conveyed that Gandhi was another name for meekness bordering on timidity…

The assassin proved Gandhi right. The act of murder manifested not the strength, but the helplessness of the assassin. He killed a man who was utterly vulnerable and yet had a towering stature, someone who was a target of attacks from all quarters and yet remained steadfast…Gandhi was not a meek ‘victim’- he quite probably knew he would pay with his life for his fortitude. Then, as now, it required a degree of personal courage to believe in essential goodness of humankind, and to maintain an unshakable faith in ethical acts and dialogue. It required great wisdom to interrogate ‘sacred’ violence, and Gandhi did precisely that.

On that particular 30th January of 1993, I became convinced that word majboori (helplessness) needed to be replaced with Mazbooti-the Hindustani word for fortitude. We had to understand the sheer fact that Gandhi was a man of immense strength.

Mazbooti ka naam Mahatma Gandhi!

Second Edition of Akath Kahani Prem Ki…

I am happy to announce that the second edition of my book Akath Kahani Prem Ki: Kabir Ki Kavita Aur Unka Samay is forthcoming from Rajkamal Prakashan:

Akath Kahani Prem Ki ... second edition cover

Second Edition Cover

It will be launched on September 9 at 5pm at Triveni Kala Sangam, Mandi House . Harbans Mukhia will be the keynote speaker. Ashok Vajpeyi, Javed Anand, Om Thanvi and Ved Prakash will speak on various aspects of the book. Namwar Singh will preside. All are welcome to attend.

Some of the important themes that are likely to be discussed are Kabir’s contribution as a poet, the Kabir-Ramanand connection, bhakti as spirituality without religion, evolution of early Indian modernity and the setback suffered by the same due to the colonial intervention.

The first edition of the book was launched in October, 2009 and has been exceedingly well received. Akath Kahani Prem Ki… was awarded the first Rajkamal Kruti Samman

>> Download an extract (hindi)
>> Read an extract in english translation (published in Communalism Combat – January 2010)

In the context of recent honour killings




सुमन केशरी की लंबी कविता-‘राक्षस पदतल पृथ्वी टलमल’ के कुछ अंश। यह कविता ‘याज्ञवल्क्य से बहस’ ( राजकमल प्रकाशन, नयी दिल्ली, 2008) में संकलित है।
राक्षस पदतल पृथ्वी टलमल

गाँव के बीचोंबीच
सरपंच के दरवाजे के ऐन सामने
गाँव के सभी जवान और बूढ़े आदमियों की मौजूदगी में
बिरादरी के मुखियों ने वह फैसला सुनाया था…

उस रात शायद ही किसी घर में पूरी रसोई बनी
कइयों के पेट तो निन्दा-रस से भरे थे
तो कोई जीत की खुशी में मगन थे
कुछ छोड़ जाना चाहते थे कदमों के निशान
तो कुछ बन जाना चाहते थे धर्म, मर्यादा,संस्कृति की पहचान

दालान के कोने में लड़की खौफजदा थी
छिटकी सहेलियाँ थीं
और माँ मानो पाप की गठरी
सिर झुकाए खड़ी थी
बीच बीच में घायल शेरनी सी झपटने को तैयार
आँखों से ज्वाला बिखेरती
दाँत पीसती, दोहत्थी छाती पर मारती
सब कुछ बड़ा अजीब था
न तो लड़के ने कोई डाका डाला था
न किया था किसी का बलात्कार
और न लड़की ने किया था कोई झगड़ा
या फिर किसी बड़े का अपमान
बस किया था तो बस प्यार

ऐसे तो जिबह करने वाले जानवर भी नहीं बाँधे जाते माँ
और तुमने बाँध दिया खुद अपनी जाई को अपने हाथों
मानो कोख ही को बाँध दिया हो मर्यादा की रस्सी से
ऐसा क्या तो कर दिया मैंने
बस मन ही तो लग जाने दिया
जहाँ उसने चाहा
कभी जाति की चौहद्दी से बाहर
तो कभी रुतबे की खाई को लांघ
तो कभी धर्म की दीवार के पार।

हमने प्रेम…बस प्रेम को जीया
केवल प्रेम किया
और छोड़ प्रेम को कोई नहीं जानता
कि प्रेम की अपनी ही मर्यादा है
अपने ही नियम हैं
और अपना ही संसार…

लटका दो इन्हें फाँसी पर
ताकि समझ लें अंजाम सभी
प्रेम का, मनमानी का
मर्यादा के नाश का
संस्कारों के ह्रास का

तो सदल-बल सभी लटका आए उन मासूमों को
गाँव के पार
पीपल की डार पर
सभी साथ थे कोलाहल करते
ताकि आत्मा की आवाज सुनाई न पड़े
घेर न ले वह किसी को अकेला पा कर
आखिर संस्कार और मर्यादाएं
बचाए रखती हैं जीव को
अनसुलझे प्रश्नों के दंशों से
दुरुह अकेलेपन से…

तो जयजयकार करता
समूह लौट चला उल्लसित कि
बच गयीं प्रथाएँ
रह गया मान
रक्षित हुई मर्यादा
फिर से खड़ा है धर्म बलपूर्वक
हमारे ही दम पे
जयजयकार, तुमुल निनाद, दमकता दर्प
सब ओर अद्भुत हलचल
लौटता है विजेताओं का दल
राक्षस पदतल पृथ्वी टलमल.

-सुमन केशरी।