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Invocation of Our Father

Salim Yusufji

Edited by Tridip Suhrud and Peter Ronald De Souza
Orient Blackswan, Delhi, 2010, pp147, Rs. 350.00

VOLUME XXXV NUMBER 8-9 August-September 2011

In March of 1948—the austere white dust jacket would have us know - a group of Gandhi's closest associates met at Sabarmati Ashram to reflect on his assassination. The group included Jawaharlal Nehru, Maulana Azad, J.B. Kripalani, and Jayaprakash Narayan, among others. 'Sixty years later,' continues the blurb, on 30 January 2008, 'in a contemporary and evocative response to that moving introspection' another gathering was convened at the same location, 'to once again reflect on Gandhi's death as absence and memory.' The jacket needs to be cited in detail because, as it happens, that first 'moving introspection' never gets mentioned again within the book. Having supplied its example—its precedent and purpose—to the 'contemporary and evocative response', it is invoked no further and simply vanishes from view. This time around the participants are 'a group of scholars, thinkers and writers' gathered together at the instance of the Indian Institute of Advanced Studies, Shimla, and its (then new) Director, Peter Ronald de Souza. Twenty-one discussants are listed on the back cover, not all of them equally well known, but it will not serve to go delving within for Notes on Contributors; they are not to be found. This just may indicate an attack of collective humility, the individual subsumed in the shared identity of fellow searchers; and a Martyrs Day meeting on hallowed ground would support a little pietism. Or, it may be an editorial oversight—only a few pages into the book we meet Gandhi redundantly exhorting us to 'be the change you want to be' (sic). At all events, the basis on which the group came to be constituted goes unexplained.. The day at the Ashram kicked off with a public all-religion prayer meeting, the prayer discourse given by Ashis Nandy. In his address, he questioned the easy rites of Gandhiolatry that have become commonplace in India—the statues and pictures, the honorific 'ji' and the title of Mahatma—a Gandhi who is easy to live with because he has been raised, and relegated, to a pedestal. Piquantly, for a prayer meeting speech, Nandy urged his audience to think of Gandhi instead as 'disreputable, unpredictable, at the margins of sanity, […and] of everyday life'; someone who would expect us to unflinchingly question the nature, exercise and priorities of power. Nandy cites Arnold Toynbee's words that, after Gandhi, humankind would expect its prophets to live in the slum ...

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