Postscript (February 1): Had a couple of email messages asking, who wrote this? Sorry, I guess it wasn't clear. Answer: I did.
Not long ago, Pappu Sinha, cook from Patna who wants to be a film star, dropped in on a man who died 60 years ago yesterday. 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, what'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.