On the occasion of the 150 years marking the birth of Mahatma Gandhi, when he is remembered at seminars and heavy tomes that are being written by historians and sociologists, it is worth reflecting what is it that makes him so relevant today? At a time when one thought his ideas and approaches had become archaic and even laughable, how is it that he is being taken seriously when other fashionable icons of even the later part of the last century are being forgotten or have lost traction. This is also, incidentally, the year marking the Tiananmen Square uprising and the fall of the Berlin Wall and also of the Normandy landings.
One of the names being invoked during Gandhi discussions is that of the Rev. Desmond Tutu who was asked to head the Truth and Reconciliation Commission(TRC) that the new President of South Africa, Nelson Mandela, set up as soon as he took over in 1994. Tutu resigned as Archbishop to dedicate his full time to the commission even after he was diagnosed with cancer in 1997. The person who coined the term ‘Rainbow Nation’ to describe South Africa’s ethnic diversity and sent a message that ‘a person is a person because he recognizes others as persons,’ also demanded that all people of his country acknowledge each other as human beings.
An activist, Malusi, recalls how the TRC helped them move beyond the cycle of retribution and violence during their painful transition towards democracy. It granted the perpetrators of political crimes the opportunity to appeal for amnesty by giving full and truthful accounts of their actions and, if they chose, an opportunity to ask for forgiveness. It also gave the victims a chance to tell their stories, hear confessions, and thus unburden themselves from the pain and suffering they had undergone. This is the only way to heal and get one’s sanity back and make the country a more humane place, they said.
True reconciliation, both Tutu and Mandela contented, could be possible only by this cleansing process and by seeking forgiveness, and not through revenge and retribution. After a wife and husband, or two friends, quarrel, if they merely gloss over their differences or paper over the cracks they must not be surprised if they are soon at it again. True confession, according to these men of God, is based on penitence, on contrition, or sorrow for what has been done. Equally, confessions, and forgiveness in the case of nations are not just fairy tales or nebulous and unrealistic gestures, these are the stuff of politics. As also, it would seem, the stuff of cricket.
When the predominantly Indian crowd at the Oval in London started heckling Australian batsman Steve Smith recently, the Indian skipper, Virat Kohli went to the outfield and appealed to the crowd to stop this behaviour. Later Kohli explained; ‘The guy (Smith) is back, he is trying to play well for his side. It is not good to see someone down like that, to be honest. We had issues in the past, we had arguments. But you don’t want to see him feeling that heat every time he goes out to play. Just because there are many Indian fans here, I just didn’t want them to set a bad example. He didn’t do anything to be booed, in my opinion. He is just playing cricket, he is just standing there and I felt bad. Because if I was in that position where something had happened with me I just would have apologised. So I just felt sorry for him and told him that I’m sorry on behalf of the crowd because I have seen this happen in a few earlier games and in my opinion that is not acceptable.’ To be fair, the booing was not confined to Smith alone. Vijay Mallya when he was spotted in the stands was subjected to this reception.
This transformation of Virat had been remarkable, it had been a miracle. At the dining table his mother would ask why he was so abusive in the cricket field and Virat would curtly tell her to pass on the salt. That was in 2011 when the typical Delhi youngster’s conversations would be laden with invectives, despite the occasion, happy, sad or appreciative. Even his Delhi colleagues like Virender Sehwag and Gautam Ganabhir would caution him not to indulge in these antics because he might get banned or land the team in deep trouble. How did Virat attain this post-Kalinga moment of calm and peace?
The crowds at Southampton, or Nottingham were predominantly Asian, with the colourful turbans of Kutch and Mysore in the stands and no wonder the invectives were also of Asian origin. Even with cities that had a sizeable Australian population most of them, like the locals, preferred the action-packed game of football to this sedate game. Here all the sound and fury seemed to have been consigned to the galleries and the dugout.
As more and more people of Indian origin gravitate towards these places of their colonial rulers, it is natural that they bring their own culture and ways of life along. Author Amitav Ghosh discovered this while being in Venice, that the language he heard most along the canals was Bengali. He might have a theory linking it to the climate change and migration patterns, but there must be other conjectures. If Gandhiji could evolve his theories in an alien land, and based on alien text, the Sermon on the Mount, and put these into practice in another colony of the British, it is just natural that this could be payback time and this is being transported to Britain, turban and all. Desmond Tutu had done that with his TRC. After all, which country had so far elected cricket captain as its prime minister, as one from this sub-continent?
As Bengali and Urdu and Hindi become more commonly spoken in the British Islands, as the troubles over Brexit do not seem to have gotten resolved, such transformations could be expected in the most unlikely places. Who knows if there is a Pakistan-India final, leaders of both countries might not land up there to tearful reunions and bear hugs? This might be the moment for ‘Vishwas’ that is the latest mantra. And after all Imran Khan might also have his own Virat moment!
(The ideas and views expressed in the article are those of the author.)