Excerpts from an autobiography
Gopal Krishna Gokhale was a remark able Indian in his time.He was considered the greatest living Indian,said Annie Besant in a letter to Gokhale. Lord Curzon,the headstrong imperialist Viceroy wrote to his boss,the secretary of state that Gokhale was the most able and also the most morally upright Indian member of his imperial council. His unique blend of modernity and nationalism inspired Gandhi,who called him his political guru.Such was Gokhale’s stature.And what is remarkable, Gokhale was the first Indian to think of universal elementary education for India.This he thought at the beginning of the 20th century itself.
The first name I learnt when I became aware of nationalism was of course Gandhi.The school I went to was a Gandhian school and in fact this school’s foundation stone was laid by none other than the Mahatma himself! This school was established in 1934 in Coimbatore.When I joined the school in 1946-47 we were taught nationalist songs.The name frequently that came in our songs was Lok Manya Tilak.The poems were by the revolutionary Tamil poet Subramanya Bharati. Tilak was a nationalist belonging to the extremist school.
Thus, I didn’t know of Gokhale for a long time.When I came to know of this unique leader,it was perhaps when we students reading Gandhi’s autobiography. Very much later only I seriously read of Gokhale.Even while in England I read a biography of Tilak (by one Tamankar) and
was much inspired by Tilak’s revolutionary speeches and deeds and the sufferings he underwent.
When I came back to India a chance came upon me once when I was in New Delhi.That was when I fancied joining the Indian Institute of World Affairs.
I don’t know now what prompted me to apply for a fellowship.The fellowship stipulated a degree in economics and a knowledge of the Chinese language. I possessed these two qualifications.My Chinese diploma had a formidable authority,Prof.Tan Yun Shan of China Bhavan at Santiniketan was the ultimate reference in the subject.The interview was conducted at the Institute premises on Bharakamba Road. The persons interviewing me were all great names.There was Pandit Hrudayanath Kunzru and others,V.K.R.V.Rao, R.K. Nehru and one or two more persons and a Chinese scholar whom I didn’t know.Anyway,I was not selected(fortunatelyfor me!) and there was this anecdote. After the interview the next day I went to visit my family friends who were none other than Prof Tan’s own son, himself a professor in Delhi university,namely Tan Chung! He and his gracious wife were both my class mates in my Santiniketan days and when they saw me they were too eager to tell me some hot news!What was it? The Chinese scholar who interviewed me had visited them immediately after the interview and had confided in them the fact that my name was favoured by Kunzru and also by this scholar but other members,one or two IAS members preferred a Delhi university professor’s wife.God bless her! What created a great impression at that time was my curiosity to know more about Kunzru who took a fancy for me.The opportunity came many times and I learnt to know he was the President of the Servants of India Society founded by Gokhale. Such closely I followed Kunzru’s life and work.Kunzru used to clash with Nehru many times and I didn’t know both were Kashmiri brahmins! And both were also Allahabad men! But my respect for Kunzru grew as he was a moderate leader in the Gokhale mould.When many years later when I happened to be in Pune the first thing I did was to visit Gokhale’s Servants of India Society quarters. There I was introduced to none other than Pandit Kunzru himself! How fortunate! What a destiny,I thought! Here was I,on the sacred soil of Gokhale and there I also met my own personal ideal of a man who was given to such a dedicated life.When I walked through the same soil,almost the same paths and places the great Gokhale tread I felt I had a destiny to live by and a way to follow.I also visited Tilak’s home and saw the great man’s many valiant life and sacrifices, this time I had fully grown to take the more benign life and the more enlightened wisdom of Gokhale.
May be I am the one person these days,who might have read all of Gokhale’s writings and speeches.Anyway,my library is full of Gokhale’ memorobilia! Once in Nagpur I visited the local branch of Gokhale’s work and I had a long talk with the surviving member. Alas! The memory of this great man is now only in the minds of those who seriously ponder over the country’ larger vision.Gokhale in his time was the greatest Indian.So said a grateful nation. Curzon wrote:”The only speaker of the slightest merit in the (Imperial) Legislative Council. He is a very able and courageous person. He is highly cultivated and reasonable”.Such was Gokhale’s dedication and skills.As far as his many thoughts for the country’s renewal was his faith in education. Gokhale was the first champion of free and compulsory education. If we look at the pre-indepedence India,of all the leaders it was Gokhale who advocated free elementary education as early as 1910. Gokhale started life as a teacher and he was so passionately committed to education. He had pleaded for female, technical and higher education.The two chapters in Gokhale’s biography(by B.R.Nanda) are aptly named one after another,as “Educating the Masses”and “Educating the British”.As early as 1896 he delivered lectureson education in India.In 1910 at the very first meeting of the reformed Imperial Council,he introduced a bill pleading for elementary education free,compulsory throughout India. The bill was based on the Irish bill of 1892 and the English Education Acts 1870 and 1876. Gokhale wanted compulsion applied for boys between ages of six and ten,for girls it could be extended of the same age group with the approval of the provincial governments.
Finally in 1917 the first elementary education,enforcing compulsion was passed in Bombay and it was based on Gokhale’s pioneering bill.Later similar laws passed by other legislatures of other provinces. In 1910 itself the Congress at Allahabad passed a resolution on education.Education was also debated by the All India Muslim League at Nagpur at about the same time. Now reading the progress of the bill and how it evoked a very favourable response from the English officials upto Viceroy shows Gokhale’s great skills.The debate in the Council saw Gokhale at his best.
Even now the statistics he gave reads so compelling.He traced the history of education in all the Western countries, and how free education was resisted even in England. It was in 1870 it was introduced in those countries. The Viceroy’s council member in charge of education(Harcourt Butler,yes the very same man who in later years became a friend of Motilal Nehru) gave a figure of Rs.50 lakhs was all that needed to implement Gokhale’s idea.
But as expected the bill was defeated by the majority of English members of the Council.There are some curious bits of information how the Indian members opposed Gokhale’s bill.What shines through reading those days is Gokhale was seen even by the powerful English officialks as a master debator and given a chance he was always a winner. The other chapter” Educating the British”also shows Gokhale’s skills as a persuasive advocate of reforms in India.The point is that it was to Gokhale the credit should go for first thinking of elementary education for all and making it free and compulsory and the practical measures he advocated. In any history of modern Indian education Gokhale would remain the pioneer of what remains even today an impossible goal! He made,as the biographer (Three Statesmen:
Gokhale, Gandhi and Nehru, B.R.Nanda, OUP) puts, elementary education for India became a live issue at the very turn of the last century. Don’t we add,it continues to remain so even at the turn of the new century?
One last thought.Though others, historians or his biographers didn’t mention the fact that Gokhale made a brave attempt to found the Servants of India Society with certain definite noble aims.In this he couldn’t succeed fully.Even in his own life time he couldn’t recruit more than a handful of members. Gandhi,once fancied to join the Society,later changed his mind.The point I want to mention is that great men often didn’t succeed when they tried some experiments in action.This thought came to me when I myself pondered over my own school project which I couldn’t sustain for various reasons.Though I am a small person compared with others.
After came Gandhi.He is perhaps the most multifaceted genius of a man,a moral personality of unprecedented impact.Before I proceed further I am afraid I have to make some severe qualifications about myself.I confess I am not a Gandhian in any of the commonly accepted senses.
This does not mean I have no respect for the great leader.He is a liberator of India from the colonial rule, he instilled in the Indian masses that rare sense of courage to stand up to an imperial order. He did succeed in certain unique ways about which all thoughtful sections of the world are still debating and any subject of world peace and peaceful means of resolving human conflicts invariably invite Gandhi’s name. Gandhi’s life itself inspires everybody.It did so even in his early phase of life in South Africa.The first book on him,a biography was written by J.J.Doke in 1909.Since then something like 300/400 books have been written on his life alone. The two books I had read lately are Rajmohan Gandhi’s interpretation, The Good Boat Man, A portrait of Gandhi, 1995,Penguin.The latest one is by a French scholar,Claude Markovits,2003(Permanent Black).Rajmohan whom I know well for many years is a grandson and yet an objective writer and what he gives as interpretation is fairly convincing, seeing the short comings as well as his own new insights into what he considers Gandhi’s unique strengths. His last chapter, In Perspective,is very innovative interpretation but it leaves me not quite convincing.Gandhi’s relevance today,for modern world,for modern democratic governments needs much critical examination.The point is we need not hero-worship Gandhi to show our understanding of Gandhi.Gandhi’s is a complex life,subject to conflicting interpretations.So,to praise him,his non-violence skyhigh is to do injustuice to this earthy man and to the actual course of our freedom struggle.
The second book by the French scholar is in my opinion the best,the most rational and most detached and put in broad historical and world context.In just 170 pages the book succeeds as some 75 years ago, the other great French man,Romain Rolland succeeded in introducing Gandhi in 1924,when he was practically unknown to Europe and the world. Roman Rolland,Indians should know was perhaps the most famous man in the world,after the First World War,as Tolstoy was before the War. What we need,as Markovits observes,is a contextualisation of what Gandhi wrote himself,what he claimed to be his spiritual journey,his actual invention and practice of non-violence,the exact nature of British withdrawal,the Partition,the resultant bloodshed and the demytholgisation of the historic events.Of India’s freedom struggle and all the other actors who had now been sidelined by constructing an icon of Gandhi as the father of the nation. In a perceptive passage(pages 155 to 158) Markovits traces the ocurrences of violence in India,1921(Moplah rising), 1930 (rising in Peshawar, Sholapur riots,the Chittagong armoury raid,Bhagat Singh’s attack on the assembly), 1942(Quit India gave rise to widespread violence in north India, the communal riots that took place on a regular basis from 1926 onwards). The widespread massacres of 1946-48 of Partition are perhaps the most serious outbreak of largescale bloodshed. Says the author:”To say the period of Gandhian leadership was a period of no violence is a myth and ignores historical reality”(page 155).Yes he condemned Chouri-Chaura in 1922 but ‘he kept silent about others’. Anyway,what an objective observer,from outside ,must make us think hard and long.
The practice of non-violence,the peace movements of America and Europe and the alternative development models now being pursued by the civil society movements all need to be studied in the light of the life of Mahatma. Gandhi’s life is compared with Jesus snd this comparison only attracts the Western audience.In India he was a political leader and only as a political leader and as a mass mobilizer of supreme moral courage Gandhi remains a source of inspiration for much of our political beliefs.India today has almost relegated Gandhi to just a memory to be recalled on his birth and death anniversaries. The Congress is not wedded to morally-driven political values.The BJP and the rightwing forces want to deny Gandhi his historic role.They have managed to unveil Veer Savarkar’s portrait in Parliament Central Hall just facing the Mahatma! The Left,both the Communists and the Socialists and even the middle class intelligentsia,they all pretend to adhere to Marxism/Leninism and even Stalinism! So what relevance of the Mahatma,his ideas on various social,economic and cultural and educational affairs of the country? May be new challenges of fundamental kind arise before us we might get back to the core questions of our identities as forged by the Mahatma.
I was sent to a thoroughbread Gandhian school.There was a regimented schedule.We were
In my own Gandhian school the day began well before 5 in the morning.A cold water bath and a prayer. Manual labour was our creed.Cleaning the school premises, serving food at the hostel dining room and much else was practised.The songs we were taught to sing were all national songs and wearing khadi was of course compulsory.We also learnt to spin khadi out of a hand-spinning device.The school perhaps was unique in the whole of South or perhaps in India in that it received the maximum number of national leaders. President Rajendra Prasad to Vinoba Bhave all the other members of the Nehru’s first Cabinet must have visited us.Such was the total exposure I was subjected to Gandhian values and Gandhians! So I imbibed much of Gandhism and I grew up into adulthood in that atmosphere only.When Gandhi was assassinated in 1948 we wereall in the football field and there was a huge cry and we were all hustled into a room near a radio which was giving the detail of the tragedy.There was an all-night prayer and much bhajan singing.
Gandhi’s interest in education is well-known andmuch had been written by Gandhi himself and also by others. Much experiments in Gandhian education had also taken place. As on date, much that was imagined to be Gandhian education is not anywhere in action or practiced. Gandhi’s basic education is completely forgotten.No Gandhian if any would feel bold enough even to mention that concept today! Most of the Gandhian instiutions have fallen in their aims and they are, if any, as dependent upon government grants as others to keep themselves going! The BJP government also did its part to damage institutions like the Varanasi based Institute of Gandhian studies.
It is an irony of sorts that now the UGC,in the absence of anything different to do,had announced setting up of 500 Gandhi study centres in colleges. It is a sheer waste of funds! Gandhi as an education experimenter is now forgotten.
Just now I read once more the latest biography of Tagore (Rabindranath Tagore by Krishna Dutta and Andrew Robinson).What came as surprise is the fact that the authors clearly point out how little there was common between Gandhi and Tagore, Gandhi didn’t mention” one word about art or the education at Santiniketan nor any report of a conversation with Tagore ” nor Tagore was ever forthcoming on Gandhi!Yes,they respected one another but either on education or on national affairs they had different perspectives.It is worth keeping this crucial difference in our mind.
Here too I want to make the obervation which had not been made by others,other writers on Gandhi. Why did Gandhi’s education programme didnt takeoff? It is now difficult to visualise the sort of enthusiasm Gandhi’s education,he called it “Nai Talim”(meant “Education for Life”).There are certain passages in a foreign traveller’s book (Vera Brittain, Search After Sunrise, 1951, Macmillan) who visited Wardha Gandhi Ashram in in the Thirties. The picture she conjures up of this education(she also visited Tagore’s Visva-Bharati) now seems all eerie and unreal!All the great names of that period slip through the few pages.Too distinguished to believe how they didn’t question the sheer impracticality,the sheer audacity of the concept?Marjorie Sykes, C.F.Andrews,the Aryanakam couple and many other big names.
It is noted however, Tagore and Andrews were aware Gandhi was never was a good book reader. So,Gandhi’s instincts here certainly failed him. Education from the womb to death,that is how he formulated his basic education, the first Basic School was founded in 1939(page 151). I had given lot of thought to this question and this is not the place to go into the details though we have to ask this question as educators and sadly conclude Gandhi’s conception of education had no historic or philosophical foundation whatever. No doubt that is the reason why it died unsung and unnoticed!
When I went to the then Madras the scene changed.I had gone through many phases of mental growth and it was at Oxford I got to read Tolstoy.He made a powerful impression.One day I was reading through the 1000 odd pages of Tolstoy’s life by Aylmer Maude and when I came to the scene where Tolstoy decided to leave the home and left and reached the railway station and died I couldnt control my emotions I openly was weeping!
I dint know whether any passersby were noticing.Very soon I realised I was not doing the right thing and I wiped my tears quickly looking around lest others watched me!From that day onwards I must say I had become a worshipper of the great Russian and saint. In the Oxford classics series Tolstoy was described as a second Christ. It was something for Englishmen who m I always thought to have been cast in an imperial mould, this was unusual.So when I read all about how Tolstoy developed his thesis of non-violence from the Christian doctrine of passive resistence etc, I was deeply moved. What drew me to Tolstoy was his multifaceted genius,here was a man who was an exceptional writer,a visionary, an aristocrat and a man who was giving himself to all sorts of the vice of the upper class and she renounced all, he described that the life of the pesant was the only true life.I was a pesant’s son,a village boy,an young man brought up in a Gandhian school,so here I was to find much affinity with Tolstoy.
Then at Oxford I read much of John Ruskin and what attracted me to Ruskin was his beautiful prose style, his aestheticism, his love of architecture and also his radical social and economic philosophy. I learnt all of Ruskin,read most of his books I could get hold of (nowhere else except at Oxford you can do this). What is more I went to his Lake District home to pay my homage!Thus, I soaked myself, so to say with all and everything Ruskin. I very much appreciated the fact that the Keble College at Oxford he hated to see,for its ugly architecture and he avoided walking past that building all his life!
So, readers can see here two of my heroes were already heroes of Gandhi himself.So,this was one more coincidence that binds me to Gandhi.I also became an ardent admirer of Romain Rolland.I read not his novels but his life and work .When I was in France in the early Seventies I sought out to know more about him.Rolland was another remarkable personality, very ordinary looking and yet what a deep current of humanity that flowed inside him.He worked for the understanding of two bitter of enemies,France and Germany. Here was a rare human being who made it his life’s mission to seek reconciliation and understanding between peoples, nations and cultures.That is how he took interest in India and its leaders.
So,in so many ways I was drawn to people who were doing things that were very much on the Gandhi lines.Donilo Dolci who worked in Sicily with the Italian mafia,Martin Luther King in the USA,I met these two persons face to face,one at Oxford, the other when I was at Santiniketan. I also can narrate so many others,Irish President Eamon De Valera I met as an Oxford student on a visit to Ireland and so many Quakers, educators,one name I forget now in Switzerland,who was a candidate for Nobel Peace Prize(it was given that year to Albert Swietzer).
So,there was this streak in me.To seek out men and women who were peace lovers,there is a huge crowd of peace workers in Europe. Sometime I was also a strict vegetarian in England,I sought out vegetarian restaurants in London and Paris! And yet I am no Gandhian! Why? First of all my mental development had been on different lines.I took to various interests:literature and arts early in life. Interestingly,I won the prizes for painting and poetry when I was at high school out of some four districts-level competition.I think I repeated this feat for the second time too.
My stay in Santiniketan in the years 1955-1959 was a very significant period in my mental transformation.Santiniketan, was founded by Tagore in the year 1901.
So in a way,seen in the historic context,it was Tagore who seriously had an alternative education vision that was not founded on Western models.Nor he simply ventured to blend the West and the East.His was purely a poet’s vision and readers can see his vision and his own turmoils in his essay on his own school called”A Poet’s School”. In my view it was from the Tagore family India got the real cultural break from the colonialist education hold on the Indian minds and imagination.It was in Bengal English education, more the very totally aggressive English education model of Macaulay system of education too its roots.Bengal went through what is called a Bengal Renaissance.
Though the renaissance was not truly an extension of the European Enlightenment,the impact of the Enlightenment could not be avoided altogether.Yes, Bengal produced the largest army of educated professionals,civil servants,the famed babus,the professional classes,teachers, lawyers and others.And yet,the coming of European learning led to the rise of national consciousness, the flowering of indigenous talents and the finest product of this renaissance was Tagore himself. Thus, Santiniketan effected the real break with the Macaulay education.There was the deep Indian tradition and heritage,the tapovana model Tagore upheld At the same tinme there was this bursting of the Indian mind in all its splendours,seeking a world as a family. Truly Visva Bharati!International education in the Indian mould!
My interests became multi-dimensional at Santiniketan. I became a student of varied interests studied the arts, learnt music, painting, enjoyed writing as a creative pursuit,poetry and prose. I wrote and published, learnt many languages, Chinese, French and even Japanese! I took active interest in debates,became interested in politics etc., I bought the bengali alphabet book (Sahajpatra,the name I recollect) written by Tagore and illustrated by Nandalal Bose. I learnt to enjoy reading Bengali literature,poetry. I wanted to read the Tagore poems and his Rabindra Sangeeth compositions. I just wanted to understand the original meaning in the language. For everyday we used to sing the Rabindra music and hear recitation of Tagore’s poems or the many poems by famous Bengali poets my fellow Bengali friends used to talk with much appreciation. At Santiniketan every other student or a teacher was a poet or a writer! There was so much of literary activity there.It was when I was there Satyajit Ray’s films came out.
May be I was one of the few who saw the Pather Panchali,when it was screened to a thin audience in the Bolpur theatre.It was after some time,the international audience burst upon the film as a real artistic sensation! I myself bought and learnt to play Tabla and for the first time I also learnt to appreciate Ravi Sanker/Vilayat Khan’s sitar music. There was an English friend, Jacques Sassoon,who was from Cambridge and he was great music lover. It was he who took me to some of the big Bengali homes in Kolkatta where I found Ravi Sankar was a frequent visitor and some of the hosts (like Brajendrakishore Roychoudhari )were themselves in experts like Rudraveena and such instruments.
It was all exhilarating experience. Santiniketan produces this multi-dimensional personality of students.In my case the transformation was real,though at that point of time I didnt notice the changes inside me.In fact,it was while at Santiniketan I met through Jacque Sassoon Mr.Amartya Sen who later went on to win the Nobel Prize for Economics! It was Jacques and Sen who put the idea of me going to Oxford. Thus Santiniketan had a profound impact on my mental development. Some of my Santiniketan friends went on to become India’s well-known all India figures in Hindustan music,arts and sculpture. I myself later on took on a radical path of education and much adventurous life in England and after like to make the point that unlike Gokhale and Gandhi, Tagore in a way succeeded in his education experiment.May be his conception of education,his education institution were all conceived as a search for freedom, freedom of the mind, creative expression. Anyway,as one who had also experimented with my education project and also pursuing education agendas in my own way, I want to learn at least for myself what certain education projects fail? Also intriguing but for me very meaningful is the history of some of famous failed education projects. Equally some of the most famous failed lives and yet for posterity,they are the originators of everlasting successful education theories! There are so many names,the most obvious being Rousseau!
At Oxford I became a very active Indian student with lots of nationalist fervour. Soon I found myself a full-blooded Fabian Socialist and much more. There too I took the first opportunity and went on the platform at the Oxford Union Debating Society and made my maiden speech that impressed my English friends.I also dabbled in dramatic activities,the first show of E.M.Forster’s Passage to India in which Omar Shariff acted found me also as one of the minor Indian faces! Now when I look back each one of my steps seem to be milestones not only in my life but the events themselves are written about much!
Fabian Socialism and how I caught up with it needs a more elaborate study.From reading the Newstatesman to reading the books by Sidney and Beatrice Webb,in particular, the two volume autobiography of Beatrice Webb drew me towards Fabian Socialism irrevocably.I became an ardent believer in that noble creed. Books by R.H. Twaney and of course all the books of Harold Laski became my bibles. Almost for my lifetime. Even now, after the collapse of Communism and much changes in the world,when I look back and I ponder on the need for a political creed,for me and for a country like India with so much inequalities and inequities,I feel it is a morally driven socialist creed,a democratic socialist creed that answers the urges of the modern societies.France and Germany and also Spain today gives an indication what socialist inspiration could do for people who seek a comprehensive social, equality visions.This subject I would like to deal separately at the right place. The essential point is that now the world had seen so much brutality and bloodshed,all in the name of ethnic identities,people finding new identities in a new wave of nationalism and even religious and racial intolerances, with ethnic minorities subjected to so much cruelties,what political ideology is there to grip modern man’s mind? Nothing! Except if you say that George Bush or Tony Blair have ideologies! These are no ideologies only a modern version of committing aggression,as old imperialists did,all in the name of brutal military power!
I strongly feel the modern world needs a more rational,well-thought out current political ideology that would stand the test the time like this one, where irrationalism, irrational fears drive the current international terrorism and the counter attack also is an irrational response!The net result: the world had become highly unstable! Man hadnt become wiser but contrarily, more ridiculous! Yes,my pride of being an Indian,a nationalist,imbibing Nehruvian values made me turn into a committed Fabian Socialist. I invited Kingsley Martin, the ebullient editor the Newstatesman and I read the Socialist weekly religiously. I was a Laskiite,an ardent reader of socialist literature, Hugh Gaitskell,the much admired Labour leader was my hero,I ran through him one day in the New College quad and my scout( my English room servant ) proudly pointed out that I was occupying the very room occupied years earlier by Gaitskell! New College itself in my time and immediately before was the breeding ground of Labour leaders and intellectuals. So,readers can see I was growing up in a totally different historical context and my mind was shaped so much by radical ideas and thinkers.I read philosophy under the great masters, A.J.Ayer. Isaiah Berlin,Gilbert Rhyle and H.H.Price, the guru of all, was living right above my room in the College! So,to say now I am a Gandhian is to pretend to be otherwise!