For me Independence Day conjures up a range of powerful emotions and memories. When I was very young in the 70’s it would mean jumping in a banged up car with my father and being driven at break neck speed to attend an Auckland Independence Day celebration. Amongst my earliest memories are cavernous memorial halls filled with the echo of excited Gujurati, being spoilt by Aunties draped in usually moth-balled cotton saris and the confusion of seeing my beloved Uncle Thakur Prabhu in his kardi topi. My father would introduce me to frail old men who he would proudly say served time at His Majesty’s expense with Gandhiji himself. The older I got, the greater the awe I enjoyed in hearing their stories.
Pop had a deeply strong attachment to all things Indian and this plays no small part in my infatuation with the country. The freedom struggle reverberated in his political philosophy and I sentimentally remember our long discussions on Pandit Nehru and how Pop’s eyes would glaze over when he recalled the greatest speech of them all. He would look lost and uncharacteristically murmur ‘literature, Nehru’s tryst with destiny speech was literature.’
For the freedom struggle, led by a man who many saw as a God amongst men, is one of the most tremendous epics of modern history. To not be attracted at some level to this romance means you safely do not have a single fibre of political being.
The greatest empire the world had ever suffered was humbled by a man in a single hand woven cloth softly evangelising the virtues of non-violence. This gives further understanding to the world’s love for Gandhiji. His character is so clearly reminiscent of Christ. To turn the other cheek was a largely untested philosophy of their messiah’s disciples, with Gandhians it meant enduring the very real experience of being bloodied by the sickening crack of the lathi striking their skulls without succumbing to an overwhelming temptation to retaliate. And what is even more inspiring is that this Gujarati messiah actually got rid of the Romans.
Since those immortal days India has had to live in a world of lesser men and hard realities.
India may have rid itself of the English but it has not purged itself of characters that would make the most pompous gora sahib look positively socialistic. The glowing promise of a Gandhian post independence India held an ecstasy that was easy to express by silver tongued politicians but proved impossible to implement. India suffered a slow colonisation from within. A sad victim of friendly fire.
Bernhard Shaw said if you are not a communist by the time you are twenty you have no heart and if you are communist after twenty you have no brain.
By the Indo-Sino war of 1962 India came of age and painfully realised the futility of embracing Gandhian principles of disarmament and non-violence. She realised that loving your neighbour with cries of ‘Chini Bhai Bhai!’ was enjoyable enough but turning the other cheek was just plain lunacy and would be conductive to the Chinese marching in to Kolkata. It was a pragmatic but traumatic abandonment of the heart of India’s political philosophy that had been so lovingly nurtured by the architects of Independence.
My political coming of age was on the 21st night of May 1991, four days before my 20th birthday. Walking through the dark streets of Lajpat Nagar I watched the election banners of a beaming Rajiv get tangled and thrown to the ground in a sudden summer storm. I worshipped him and in my youthful foolhardiness placed all my wildly idealistic dreams for India on his shoulders. His assassination forever changed my outlook and Gandhi's words, which I devoured as a teenager, never had the same spiritual resonance again.
Fortunately for India, the country has citizens who are made of much, much stronger stuff than a gora from Mangere East. Venkita Kalyanam is Gandhiji’s last surviving private secretary. He is fully invigorated by the anti-corruption movement headed by Hazare and had these words "Never was India against corruption as it is today. It is a great feeling," he said. "The Bill will not turn India in to a corruption-free country overnight. It is just the beginning to the end of corruption,"
This is the perfect last chapter to a great political romance. The man who was with the Mahatma when he uttered his last words and spent his last breath has returned to help lead India to a new Independence.