Sunday, November 15, 2009

An update

Marx said: “From each according to his ability, to each according to his need.” There could have been no other who got this idea justly: Vinoba Bhave. The “King of Kindness” hit upon a novel idea that has stunned me even today. How could landowners (the bourgeoisie, as Marx called) voluntarily give up land for the poor. Vinobaji, who started the Bhoodan movement, in my own region would have been dumbfounded in the April of 1951, when he visited the strife-torn Telangana region of Andhra Pradesh. “Communist students and some of the poorest villagers had united in a guerilla army. This army had tried to break the land monopoly of the rich landlords by driving them out or killing them and distributing their land.”

In contrast to this, Vinobhaji visited a village called Pochampalli (now noted for its exquisite saris) and held a prayer meeting there. When he came to know about the landless plight of harijans in the region, Vinobaji asked the meeting if there is anyone who could help the harijans. One, by name C. Reddy stood up and was willing to offer his 100 acres. Reddys are a rich class in that region and are usually hereditary landlords. So Vinobaji would have been astounded by this offer, but something more stunned him next. The harijans said they wanted only 80 acres. I cannot think of any better instance of nobleness than this.

By the way, the paradoxical thing is that I discovered Vinobaji not in AP but in Madras when I went to the Khadi Gram Udyog Bhavan to buy some khadi stuff. As you step into that temple (I wouldn’t want to call it a shop), two framed photos captured my binocular vision. One was Gandhiji’s (naturally) but there was a more saintly figure framed beside him. I asked a khadi-clad salesman who the saint was. His khadi whiteness spread over his face and he gladly replied: Vinoba Bhave. Except for that he was involved in some people’s movement, nothing could I recollect about Vinobaji. I finished buying some stuff but I was pretty hungry to know who this man was.

It was already raining recklessly in Madras that day and so, I was glad to stay back in the shop. Sometimes, in the humdrum of our lives, occasions come up where, by whatever reason, we’re stilled somewhere. They give us (or in my case, forces) to reflect on where life is heading to. I too did and strangely, I remembered that I bought a book on Vinobhaji in a Hyderabad book fair last year. The book was part of a nice series called Builders of Modern India by the government’s publication division. But I didn’t read that book at all.

The rain seemed like the ghost of globalization, which enveloped us too thickly. But I, frankly sensitive to rain water dancing on my hand, was too enthused to at least feel that unread book immediately. So I braved the rain and dashed to the nearest bus-stop in earnest, and even walked for some 2km to my home (that distance, Vinobhaji would stroll through in minutes). I hurriedly unlocked my entrance and rushed towards my small library to find the giant man. He was quietly lurking in a corner, waiting for another admirer to be touched by his noble thoughts. As I opened that book, and tuned few pages, my fingers touched something pretty soft. It was a nice B/W photo of Vinobaji: a bearded lanky man, probably with sharp eyes lurking behind dark glasses.

I glanced through pages, learning more about how the kid inspired his mother early who didn’t object to the kid becoming a lifelong bachelor in the service of the needy. Joining Gandhi and stunning him with his humility, Vinobhaji went onto become a self-actualized human who lived among us but transcended the world… With his selfless devotion to the Marxian cause of distributing land (albeit through a moral revolution of minds, tapping the altruistic parts of the human brain (the primordial ones as they are)). One incident from the book can sum up what Vinobhaji was. Once bathing in the river near Gandhi’s ashram in Wardha, Gujarat, Vinobhaji was swept away by a swooping current. Even in that near-death moment, Vinobhaji asked the onlookers to convey his regards to Gandhi and his inability to serve the Gandhian cause. Luckily, the saint swam to the shores and survived a full near-100-year fulfilling and meaningful life.

His another movement, Sarvodaya (meaning uplift and welfare for all) has and is a great cause that has had emancipated many poor and particularly, women from the pangs of poverty. I will do all I can to brighten this cause; in any case, I switched over to khadi five years back.

Naturally, such saints will have critics and is a good thing. They too are not faultless. Vinobaji supported Indira’s emergency calling it a call to discipline. Vinobaji was not a political man and we can excuse him for being misunderstood in this regard. Another acerbic criticism comes from the (mis)acclaimed author, VS Naipaul who writes books about people whom he doesn’t like (from Gandhi to Mulk Raj Anand). Naipaul thinks Vinobaji mimics Gandhi excessively and is not all that rational. Rationality is too overused a term that it lacks any meaning nowadays.

Is redistributing land and finding repose in someone dear to heart a sign of irrationality? Is wanting welfare for all (in a way discovered by deep thought and practice) irrational? Is walking across India (something Vidia can hardly do, except stepping out of his five-star hotel), to convince people of a nobler cause, unreasonable? Far from it. A New York Times article captures Vinobaji in all his glory: the God who gives away land and who loots people with love. Vinobaji achieved a saintly communism, with love and nonviolence. His example stays with us and so does his legacy.

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