Off the Wall 28/1/15
On Monday, my wife and I had the honour of attending a reception to mark the 66th anniversary of India’s independence. I must admit I was intrigued by the invitation because it came with no responsibilities to say a prayer or be a master of ceremonies, as my limited roles in such occasions have been. So it was nice just to be present and join the High Commission of India and their guests to celebrate this important occasion.
I prepared myself for the occasion by watching a recent video clip of the global film icon Amitabh Bachchan singing the Indian national anthem, filmed at the residence of poet laureate Rabindranath Tagore. (watch it here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AZg3RY4VkhM). The powerful, emotionally charged rendition, certainly affected this Fijian who is also a descendant of “girmitiyas”. As the dress code was “formal or national dress”, I wore my usual “talatala” uniform, with what I knew as a “Nehru jacket” (an eastern round-neck collar instead of the western style). Walking out the door, I was farewelled by my daughter (turning 9 today) , who, yet to learn of Gandhi and Nehru and the struggle for non-violent self-rule in India, said, “I like your Modi-jacket daddy,” in reference to Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who visited Fiji last year.
Returning home after the reception, I sat and reflected on the challenges that must face the world’s largest democratic (and secular) nation; particularly given the ethnic and religious diversity it is home to.
Last week I shared through this column, some thoughts of civil rights icon, Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. King in fact was inspired by and studied in great detail the work and teachings of Mohandas K. Gandhi, the Mahatma (Great Soul), who led the non-violent struggle for India’s independence from the British. I recall some years back, finding a book titled, “Gandhi’s Bible” written in 2001 by Rev. Dr. William M. Emilsen, lecturer in Church History and World Religions at United Theological College (Uniting Church in Australia) and an Associate Professor in the School of Theology at Charles Sturt University. The book consists of biblical passages together with Gandhi's commentaries.
Gandhi himself, according to Emilsen, “considered it the duty of every cultured man and woman to sympathetically read the scriptures of the great world religions,” and was well versed with the Bible, especially the New Testament.
As we move forward in our own nation’s journey to find a community that embraces each other, celebrating our commonalities while respecting our differences and individual uniqueness, I share with you some food for thought from Martin Luther King and Mahatma Gandhi:
“Democracy, disciplined and enlightened, is the finest thing in the world. A democracy prejudiced, ignorant, superstitious, will lend itself to chaos and may be self-destroyed.” Gandhi in Young India (30/7/ 1931)
“The great glory of democracy is the right to protest for rights.” King, speech at mass meeting, Holt Street Baptist Church,Montgomery, (5 /12/1955)
“It is good enough to talk of God whilst we are sitting here after a nice breakfast and looking forward to a nicer luncheon, but how am I to talk of God to the millions who have to go without two meals a day? To them, God can only appear as bread and butter.” Gandhi, Young India, 15/10/1931
“In reality you cannot have economic and political equality without having some form of social equality. I think this is inevitable, and I don’t think our society will rise to its full maturity until we come to see that men are made to live together as brothers and that we can have genuine inter-group, inter-personal living and still be in the kind of society which we all long to achieve.” King, in a television interview, (25/81963) in New York
“What is really needed to make democracy function is not knowledge of facts, but right education. And the true function of journalism is to educate the public mind, not to stock the public mind with wanted and unwanted impressions.” Gandhi, Harijan (29/9/1946)
“The world seldom believes the horror stories of history until they are documented via the mass media.”
King, ‘Letter to Harold Courlander’ (30/10/1961)
“My constant prayer therefore is for a Christian or a Mussalman [Muslim]to be a better Christian and a better Mahomedan. I am convinced, I know, that God will ask, asks us now, not what we label ourselves but what we are, that is, what we do. With Him deed is everything, belief without deed is nothing. With Him doing is believing. The reader will pardon me for this digression. But it was necessary for me to deliver my soul over the Christian literature with which the Christian friends flooded me in the jail,
if only to show my appreciation of their interest in my spiritual welfare.” Gandhi, ‘My Jail Experiences – 11’, Young India, (4/9/1924)
“Yes, I still hold the view that I cannot conceive politics as divorced from religion. Indeed religion should pervade every one of our actions. Here religion does not mean sectarianism. It means a belief in ordered moral government of the universe. It is not less real because it is unseen. This religion transcends Hinduism, Islam, Christianity, etc. It does not supersede them. It harmonizes them and gives them reality.” Gandhi, Harijan, (10/2/1940)
“I think that we have to find unity in diversity. . . . We are all children of one and the same God and, therefore, absolutely equal.” Gandhi, Harijan, (2/2/1934)
“It is also impossible to understand the Montgomery movement without understanding a certain spiritual basis of the movement. It is impossible to understand it without seeing that nonviolence in the final analysis is based on a sort of faith in the future. Now I am quite aware of the fact that there are persons who believe firmly in nonviolence who are not theists, who do not believe in a personal God. But I think every person who believes in nonviolent resistance, believes somehow that the universe in some form
is on the side of justice and that there is something unfolding in the universe whether one speaks of it as an unconscious process or whether one speaks of it as some unmoved mover or whether someone speaks of it as a personal God, there is something in the universe that unfolds toward justice.”
King, speaking at the University of California, Berkeley, (4/6/1957)
May the rest of your week be filled with light, peace and love for the other.
And, “Happy Birthday”Antonia!