Gandhi is a morally ambiguous figure. Here, he is everywhere you turn. From bank notes to sweet shops to statues, the familiar small face and round glasses are an icon around the country. The big surprise was that there is very little that you can actually learn about him that you haven’t already seen in pictures. His childhood home, in Porbandar, is adorned with a number of obscure paintings of him in various stages of life with a few photographs scattered around for good measure – it was incredibly disappointing. The second stop, the Gandhi Ashram in Ahmedabad, is a much more detailed memorial, but again focuses on perceptions of the man rather than the man himself.
There are growing factions of people that highlight that he was a walking contradiction. A quick Google search will highlight opinions of archaic misogyny and very questionable sexual conduct especially in relation to his nieces. It is unclear whether these accounts are true, but the Gandhi estate has never formally commented on the allegations. Not to mention the fact that the following generations of Gandhis (although not through direct lineage), notably Sonya, Indira and Rajiv have been mired in controversy. Rajiv Gandhi is himself involved in court proceedings at this moment. When you look at this in context, it paints a very murky picture of India’s young history.
There is always going to be an element of idol worship here. Hinduism is built on the idea of concentration on the vision of God in order to sharpen the mind and allow it to build its discipline for the next stages of spirituality. However, when the person in question is unable to see this divinity, it is easy to confuse this worship with men, and therefore imperfections. Whether it be Sachin Tendulkar or Mahatma Gandhi, once you blindly follow and believe everything they do, you become a slave to their own indiscretions. There is no man that is above scrutiny or questioning.
As we move away from Baroda and leave our family, I realise that my faith has taken a knock. When you are growing up, you do not have the instruments to analyse and weigh up the evidence that come with worship and belief. You blindly look up to those that are written about favourably in history books and by your teachers. It is only when you look up from your textbook that you realise how political the words are, and how it has been written with a purpose. The image of Gandhi has been perfectly formed to prevent anyone from questioning his behaviour. A sweet, old man who used non-violent means to tear down an empire – that is quite a story in itself.
However, my judgement of the figure remains reserved. As with my faith going forward, I am tentative to blindly believe anything that is put in front of me. It requires research, asking the right questions and trusting the right answers. The principles that Gandhi himself advocated has resonated with a number of people that may never have had contact with these Vedic principles (they are all taken from the Bhagvad Geeta) and this is positive. But the meat of the man is in practice, and despite whether he hand-loomed his clothes or not, if he did not practice what he preached then he does not deserve the idolatry that he is so readily given.
Everything must be considered in context. There is nothing to say that Gandhi was not one of the greatest men that ever lived. But I don’t think there is any such thing as a saint.