April 07, 2005

Pappu's new brother

Spent several hours in and around Dandi talking about certain ideas. Some of those are in something I wrote a few years ago. Here's a modified version of it. And more about Dandi soon.


Not long ago, Pappu Sinha, cook from Patna who wants to be a film star, dropped in on a man dead for over half a century. Here's Pappu's recording of their conversation.

Pappu: Pleased to meet you, saheb! May I call you Mohan-bhai?

Mohan-bhai: Certainly Pappu! And what brings you here today?

Pappu: Mohan-bhai, something's been bothering me. My school books described you as a brave man. But you know what? Lots of my friends say you were a meek coward. They say that non-violence stuff brought India to its knees. I find it hard to argue, Mohan-bhai. So why did they call you brave anyway?

Mohan-bhai: Well, Pappu, maybe courage isn't what it used to be! Those were different days. I did things because I thought they were right, and would have a certain effect. I did them because I had to do them. I didn't do them because they would show how brave I was. And I would have done them even if I had known your friends would call me a coward one day. Can you see that, my brother?

Pappu: Yes, but what's this about being meek?

Mohan-bhai: You see, Pappu, I chose non-violence as a political tool. What's more, against an enemy armed with every possible modern weapon, non-violence was the most powerful weapon available to me. I like to think it became more powerful than anything they had, more effective above all.

Possibly people have forgotten just how powerful, how effective it was. So they think ahimsa meant just taking the abuse the British threw at us. Well, that must be cowardice then!

But I know: the men and women who stood up to British lathis -- my friend Lala Lajpat Rai even died from them in Lahore -- were the bravest souls in the world. I don't need to broadcast their courage: it's there for all to see. So if today they're called meek, who am I to argue? Maybe the time for their kind of courage is over.

Pappu: A weapon! I never thought of that. But look Mohan-bhai, the British you fought? They committed atrocities. They killed us, put us in jail for flimsy reasons. They stole our wealth, divided us. All true?

Mohan-bhai: Right, my brother. Go on.

Pappu: Well, today too we can get jailed for no reason. Our leaders make us hate each other, they goad us to kill each other. They are corrupt. In your time, it was the British and you drove them out. Now, they are Indian. But what's the difference? How do we fight injustice when it's Indian? Where will we drive these people to?

Mohan-bhai: You have a point, Pappu. But what do you want from me, a plan to get rid of the oppressors?

Pappu: Oh yes, Mohan-bhai! Tell me!

Mohan-bhai: Sorry, I can't give you that, Pappu! I can only say, you have to find your political tool. Your weapon. It may not be non-violence -- I trust it won't be bombs! -- but you have to find it yourself. ahimsa worked for us because we chose it as a deliberate strategy. And we believed in it. You have to do the same.

Pappu: But that's hardly an answer!

Mohan-bhai: But it's all I have, and actually it is an answer. Look, that's one major issue in India that worries you?

Pappu: Well, there's this friction between Hindus and Muslims. OK, there was that trouble at Partition. But it does not affect me today, I know that, and I was born long after Partition anyway. Yet why do I hate Muslims? Why do I feel they are hostile towards me? Why do our leaders keep this hostility alive?

Mohan-bhai: I think you should start by looking at yourself, Pappu. Leaders can keep hatred going as long as you keep it in your mind. Of course they will fan it, that's what politicians do. But if you question the hatred, they will fail. Ask yourself why you hate Muslims, little brother. I think you are already doing that. There need not be love between you and your Muslim neighbour, but you can learn to live together.

Pappu: I think I understand, Mohan-bhai. But where's the political tool?

Mohan-bhai: But that's the political tool! When you ask questions of yourself, you will automatically ask them of your leaders. When you question the hatred, you automatically weaken them. That was the reason for ahimsa, that was the lesson from it. It undermined the British, and that destroyed their rule.

Pappu: Hmmm. You've got something there, Mohan-bhai. You mean to say that if I set a standard for myself, that becomes my weapon?

Mohan-bhai: Exactly, Pappu!

Pappu: Very good, Mohan-bhai! Well, I've got to go. See you when I'm next in the neighbourhood. But just what is this nice place called, anyway?

Mohan-bhai: Oh, we call it "The Looking Glass." Go well, my brother.


wise donkey said...

Many get confused over the turning the other cheek concept too.
I genlly ask them if a soldier who gets captured and interogated for secrets, doesnt get intimidated by the force used on him, is he turning the other cheek?

Ahimsa has nothing to do with cowardice and everything to do with bravery.

When it comes to looking down on Gandhian principles or communal tensions, I think Congress is the cause..

looking forward to more posts on Dandi.

Kartik said...


I agree definitely with the part about "finding our own tool" for these times ... true, Ahimsa mayn't be what will do it, but definitely, there needs to be an effort to find some such that binds people together against the common evil(s) ... something to make life easier for everyone.

Suhail said...

Good one Dilip. Especially the foll lines:
..When you ask questions of yourself, you will automatically ask them of your leaders. When you question the hatred, you automatically weaken them...

some profound truth in those lines.

for those interested: Rahul Bose has written a nice piece on why he marched even though it was hijacked by Congress.(needs subscription for full article - grab Mar26 dated print copy if you can)

sudeep said...

A *lazy* thought process.

Varun Singh said...

Now one PJ :-p

Q. Why was Mohan-bhai amhinsawadi?
A. Kyunki dhishum-dhishum to pepsodent ka kaam hai na!

Vikrum said...

Sriram wrote: "Taxation is theft; failing to recognize that is failing to understand the Dandi march."

Taxation is theft? If there were no taxes, who would pay for the roads we drive on? Who would pay for the bridges or for the trains that connect us? Who would pay the army?
How would technology develop?

In every single economy in the world, the successful areas are heavily subsidized by the government. These subsidies come from taxes since money does not grow on trees.

Do you like the Internet? That was funded by the US government/military who got the money from tax collection.

Vikrum said...

Sriram also wrote: "It is sad that we write about Gandhi and Dandi all the time, but never stop to think about the true meaning of his positions."

Last time I checked, the "true meaning" of Gandhi's philosophy was not "tax cut" but non violence and home rule.

Anonymous said...

Sriram - about your comments:
Unjust taxes are different from the taxes poeple agree to pay for the common good. The world's happiest people live in Scandinavian countries where there is 70% taxation. This is because when healthcare is free, children's education is free and senior citizens are taken care of by society citizens can concentrate on learning and inventing and enhancing their skills.
I don't know what a blanket term such as "Leftist" is supposed to mean. Gandhi for sure did not fight for Multinational corporations to own our land and water. Does that make him a leftist or rightist? He fought for labor rights in Champaran - does that make him leftist or rightist?
It would be nice if the world was split between evil communists and market loving capitalists but it is not as simple as that.

Suhail said...

..It would be nice if the world was split between evil communists and market loving capitalists but it is not as simple as that

Totally agree Anon. You just echoed my 2-bits from this interesting discussion.

Everytime someone uses the terms "loony leftists", "rabid right wingers" or something to that effect, to wholly describe one thought, one stance, I cringe. Cringe hard in my seat. Should everything be strictly measured on black & white scales? Can I not be (by popular definitions) "left" on some issues and "right" on some ? Am I not allowed to have a middle ground without someone labeling me one or the other; or worse still "undecided", "confused" etc. I guess it's time for me to put the complete quote:

"Shades of grey wherever I go
The more I find out the less that I know
Black and white is how it should be
But shades of grey are the colors I see."
~~ Billy Joel

Dilip D'Souza said...

Wise D: interesting point about the soldier. I hadn't thought of it that way.

Sriram: I pretend not to be part of the "left-wingers"? Where? Here you go: I'm part of the "left-wingers". Satisfied?

After all, you're the guy, I think, who objected strenuously not long ago when some piffling quiz pronounced me "libertarian". I couldn't care what I'm part of or not part of: so if you don't want me to be pronounced "libertarian" but do want me to be a "left-winger", I'll gladly comply. Any other slots you want me to occupy, please let me know too. (As I mentioned, I want to be pronounced a trapeze artist -- any pointers?)

Of course, what Dandi has to do with car owners in Mumbai, I'm longing to learn. Especially since in the past you've made a connection between invasions of nations and making life hard for car owners in Mumbai, and I'm longing to learn about that too.

Vikrum: for me, the "true nature" of Gandhi is that there is none. You can take any message you like from what he did. So Sriram choosing to see Dandi in terms of tax cuts is just as valid as you choosing to learn about home rule.

But thanks for challenging the "taxation is theft" notion. It needed to be done.

Anonymous, let me echo Suhail's appreciation for your point about left vs right. Too many people seem unable to look at the world without needing to slot people into one or the other of those two buckets. But luckily, the world is just not as simple as that. That too, you might say, was Gandhi's message.

Dilip D'Souza said...


I was being slotted as a "market loving capitalist" etc.

Really? Where? Anonymous used the phrase like this: It would be nice if the world was split between evil communists and market loving capitalists but it is not as simple as that.

As he explains, he sees no sense in "blanket" terms like "leftist" (which you used), precisely because the world is not so neatly demarcated. So do tell me how this phrase slots you as a "market-loving capitalist"; meaning in the same way as you tell me I'm pretending not to be part of the "leftists".

I happen to believe in the former [voluntary action] and detest the latter [coercion and force].

Might you grant some of us the same beliefs too? That we too detest coercion and force? (No pretence).

May be someone has a family situation where having a car is the best choice for him. Why should he be disadvantaged deliberately by force?

Who is disadvantaging him?

chances are no one will read this anyway!

Clearly, someone did. No pretence there either.

Dilip D'Souza said...

Any central planner, who decides to do so for the "common good", by any one of the many means at his disposal.

You buy a car with your own money, you drive it as much as you like on your own private property, I have no problems with that.

But the moment you choose to drive it on public land, I think it's legitimate -- and only sensible -- that there are rules and laws that apply. Like, for example, red lights. Like driving on the left (or the right, where you are). After all, those are for the "common good" too, aren't they? After all, there are possibly exorbitant levies -- called fines -- that make it hard for you to flout these laws. But I bet you choose not to flout them, right?

So let's say there was some analysis done on these lines: "We have a limited amount of road space and parking space downtown. The vast majority of the people who commute are not in cars. Yet the vast majority of the traffic is made up of cars, and the volume of traffic is making everybody's commute this much longer and more tiresome. Therefore perhaps we can put some measures in place to tempt people out of their cars and into public transport. Like, for example, levies on cars that choose to travel downtown, simultaneous with excellent public transport facilities."

Me, I see nothing to object to in such analysis, and I would support it.

I am a bit curious why you think I "chose to see" Dandi in terms of tax cuts. Wasn't the march essentially about salt taxes?

As I said before, the thing about Gandhi, it seems to me, is that you can see his actions in your own light, take what you want from them. Didn't Vikrum see his actions as being about non violence and home rule, not about taxes? Others have interpreted Dandi as Gandhi's attack on British rule through the weakest link in the power structure -- this absurd salt law. Meaning it was that weakness that Gandhi was targeting, fully aware that this would most efficiently show up the monstrous absurdity of colonial rule.

Dilip D'Souza said...

who decides which rules serve the "common good" best? Ans: Government.

Not necessarily. For one example: have you heard of what are called ALMs in Bombay? Essentially, neighborhood groups that come together and address civic issues and security in their neighborhoods. In some cities in the US, you will find neighborhood watch programs, on similar lines.

Have you heard of mohalla committees, to take another example?

The point: motivated, sincere residents can also decide on this "common good", arguably with better results than if Governments did it.

why not mass transport? Why public?

I'm missing the distinction, clearly. Fine, mass transport it is.

you would be opposed to taxis and autorickshaws as well?

Meaning I'm opposed to cars, therefore to these? Is that like being leftist that I am pretending not to be? Because I don't recall saying I'm opposed to cars. I don't recall logic that I've used that would lead to the conclusion that I'm opposed to taxis and autorickshaws.

Do you believe that after such planning is done, the politicians and bureaucracts would start using public transport?

No, at least not with the current pols and bureaucrats in India. But there are other parts of the world where this has indeed been achieved. Gives me hope.

Dilip D'Souza said...


public transport is usually run by the state and usually has an unfair monopoly over transport (like Pallavan in Chennai).

But a state monopoly does not always translate into poor service. (Often, but not always). Example: Bombay. The suburban rail system and BEST, while crowded, are excellent services.

Why would you oppose one and not the other (disclaimer: you haven't actually said you dont' oppose taxis, but that is a reasonable assumption)?

What is a reasonable assumption? I don't oppose either cars or taxis and have explicitly said so, but it is still is a "reasonable assumption" that I do? I don't get it. (Disclaimer: I own a car and I often take taxis/rickshaws -- as also buses/trains/walk).

I'm saying I would support, for example, traffic management systems that gave people an incentive to get out of their cars (or taxis) and take public transport like buses and trains. Because the way traffic is now in Bombay, at any rate, strikes me as an inefficient use of public road space.

please excuse my skepticism about a plan that requires a hope for better politicians and bureaucrats.

Excused. But there was no plan and it didn't require you to hope anyway. What I said was, there are parts of the world where they have achieved reasonable public transport systems which politicians and bureaucrats actually use. That gives me hope. (And after all, as I pointed out, Bombay already has a pretty damned good public transport system anyway). If I didn't have such hope, I might as well pack up and leave for one of those parts of the world, or the moon. I'm not about to do so.

You're welcome, re: the lively discussion. However, I suspect it's just you and me.

Shiva said...

Just give me answer for these two questions and i would agree that Gandhi's principles indeed were pwerful.

i) If Britishers had ever though Gandhi's principles to be potent enough to disturb their regime, Gandhi would have been rotten to death in the cellular jail and wouldnt have been allowed to roam the nation as he was allowed to..

ii) Which one of gandhi's movements had any effect on the national struggle other than the Non-cooperation movemnet.
Civil Disobedience ended with the Gandhi Irwin Pact wherein Gandhi agreed to step down from Purna Swaraj.? Quit India movement was a big fiasco and was ruthlessly supressed within two days. India got freedom b;cos of the economic trouble Briatin had landed into due to World War II destruction.

Looking fo ur comments..