Saturday, Oct 01, 2022 21:00 [IST]
Last Update: Saturday, Oct 01, 2022 15:29 [IST]
October 2, the birthday of Mahatma Gandhi is observed as the International Day of Non-Violence since 2007 to "disseminate the message of non-violence, including through education and public awareness".
Mahatma Gandhi was in public life for over half a century- from late 19 century in South Africa (he formed Natal Indian Congress on 22 August 1894) to India till his death in January 1948 in Delhi. His socio-political movements were based on three pillars: truth, justice and non-violence.
As Ehsan Naraghi writes in the UNESCO Courier in 1992, “The name of Mahatma Gandhi transcends the bounds of race, religion and nation-states, and has emerged as the prophetic voice of the twenty-first century. The world remembers Gandhi not just for his passionate adherence to the practice of non-violence and supreme humanism, but as the benchmark against which we test men and women in public life, political ideas and government policies, and the hopes and wishes of our shared planet.”
It is often said that history is full of irony. Consider what happened as India was coming closer to gaining its independence from the British raj. It was Gandhi , who primarily led the freedom movement from 1922 (non-cooperation movement) till 1942 (Quit India Movement). There were other movements which attempted to use violent means though. Gandhi was opposed to the partition of the country. But partition happened because barring a few like Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan, almost all leaders of most of the political parties and the British Raj wanted partition. Two independent dominions- India and Pakistan based broadly on religion were created. Pakistan had two landmasses, East and West Pakistan, 2020 km apart from each other.
The abrupt partition of India, occurring after two intense years of anticipatory turmoil was poorly planned and executed in haste. It was eerily violent and deeply traumatic. The partition displaced over 14 million people along religious lines, creating overwhelming refugee crises in the newly constituted dominions; there was large-scale violence, with estimates of loss of life varying between several hundred thousand and two million. Thousands of women were raped and abducted. Never before in the history of mankind had such large scale violence and displacement of population taken place within such a short span of time. Though India and Pakistan share a common culture, and people of the dominant religions- Hindu, Muslim and Sikh -have been living together for ages, the violence that happened reached unprecedented scales, with Hindus and Sikhs on one side and Muslims on the other.
The ultimate irony was, on 14-15 August 1947 night, when India was celebrating its independence and the first prime minister of independent India Nehru was delivering his now iconic ‘tryst with destiny’ speech, the ‘father of the nation’ was sitting huddled with others at a house named Hyderi Manzil, close to a Muslim-dominated slum in Calcutta (now Kolkata) fasting and praying for communal harmony.
Anybody going on a morning walk in small towns and cities can find them- persons with a stick in hand and polythene bag in pocket. They would pluck flowers from roadside flowering trees, steal from other’s gardens and public park. If you confront them, they would say: it is for puja (worship) of God at home- as if God had specially asked them to do so.
With this as background, I’ll now retell what my friend and journalist-turned media academician Mrityunjay Chatterjee has written on his social media platform:
Every morning, I see an elderly gentleman picking up flowers fallen under a tree and placing them in a basket. He would pick the flowers tenderly and with a strange devotion.
His activity used to intrigue me.
Today I saw him again and decided to put my curiosity to rest, about why he picked up fallen flowers while other elderly people plucked fresh flowers.
I asked him, "I always see you picking up these fallen flowers from the ground. What do you do with them?"
- "I offer these flowers at the feet of the deities at home," he answered calmly.
This was the first time I had heard something like this. So, I asked him again, "If you don't mind, may I ask why you offer fallen flowers to God when there are so many flowers on the tree?"
- "I help the flowers fulfill their purpose - of being with God in their last days. They have life too; like us, they also want to be with God in their final days, don't they?" he asked me.
I nodded in silence with a strange churn in my inner being.
He said, "Some people pluck buds that have not yet bloomed and some only pluck buds that have just blossomed, not even letting them release their fragrance. Everyone takes what is beautiful and takes away the plant's beauty from it. See how these plants look, colorless and deserted."
He continued, "Every flower has a purpose, to be with God. While everyone takes the flowers that are still on the plants, I do not choose those. It is not the flowers' fault that they fell off. They also deserve to be with God. You should try it too, it will give you peace and happiness...just as it gives me. I cannot support anyone in this old age, but I can at least help these flowers achieve their goal."
I just nodded, wished him well and kept on walking.
My mind was racing. With this new inspiration and idea, I decided that I should also try to collect fallen flowers.
I crossed a hibiscus tree and saw some flowers under the tree. As I bent down to pick them up, I heard a voice.
"You cannot offer fallen flowers to God," I heard an inner voice say. I stopped for a moment.
"God is only looking for your feeling and devotion, so go ahead and pick up," I argued with myself.
After a few moments of this turmoil, I picked up the flowers and placed them on my palms. As soon as I placed the flowers on my palms, I got goose bumps and my heart began to race. It was a very different kind of love that I was feeling for these flowers from inside.
I brought those flowers home, washed them and put them where they should be, at the feet of the Lord.
The whole experience was just wonderful. I felt great within. I felt as if I had saved someone's life or helped someone come out of misery. I had never felt this kind of satisfaction ever before.
And I will continue to do so --Pick up what has fallen.
In life, we always want to be around good and beautiful people. We want to see ourselves with people who are of our stature, and those who are below our stature, we want to see them below us.
But, the real satisfaction comes when we help someone and make their life better. Be it human, animal, bird or any other form of life.
So why not flowers?
Every city has its own conversation triggers.
In Delhi it moves around political and administrative power.
In Kolkata it is Politics, food and culture (pronounced- kalchar).
In Chennai it is cinema and stars.
In Mumbai it is rains, trains and share market.
In Bhubaneswar it is temperature- hot or cold, depending on the time of the year.
In Bangalore it is traffic jam. Everybody talks about it at least five times a day.
(Journalist turned media academician Mrinal Chatterjee lives in Dhenkanal, Odisha. He also writes fiction and plays.)