This is an exciting week. Not because India appears to be topping the charts for a lot of wrong reasons, also not because we are witnessing a new low in the way media is responding to the whole SSR episode. My sense of excitement is far more existential. As I step into my office (the word ‘office’ now means my desk in my study at home), I can see an extended weekend ahead. Every year, I have carefully examined the calendar to celebrate the juxtaposition of our national holidays with a Saturday or a Sunday. And lo and behold, thanks to the fateful stars under which Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi was born, this year, the 2nd of October, 151 years since he landed on this mortal land, falls graciously on a Friday. And a beautiful extended-weekend is smiling back at me.
And that has usually been the state of affairs for me, whenever it came to the idea of celebrating national holidays. Mahatma Gandhi, except for his very amiable smile on our currency notes, hardly meant much to me. He did come up sometimes during debates that aimed at achieving barely anything.
And with the above-mentioned excitement and a song on my lip, I walked over to a pile of books sent to me for review. I was desperately looking for a thriller or murder-mystery, for reasons you would easily guess by now, before my eye caught a book that shone like the sun among an ocean of stars. It was a vintage-looking white coloured cover, with a radiating gold texture that made it look like a manuscript from the Vatican’s private collection. I had never seen a cover that could enamour me to pick it up and sink in its beauty. If there is a book I must have on my coffee table, it has to be this. I turned it over, and the following text greeted me:
“No knowledge is to be found without seeking, no tranquillity without travail, and no happiness except through tribulation. Every seeker has, at one time or another, to pass through a conflict of duties, a heart-churning.
Bhagavad Gita is the manifestation of the entire Hindu religion in one book and the quintessential translation done by none other than the Mahatma captures the text in its sense and spirit.”
This book was Bhagavad Gita According to Gandhi: Collector’s Edition – Original Unabridged Translation of the Sanskrit Text by Mahatma Gandhi – Gilded and Hardbound Hardcover – the 15th of October 2017 published by Pirates. It was as if Mahatma Gandhi was speaking to me, reminding me of the importance of the 2nd of October and asking me to revisit his ideas; the words of wisdom he jotted during his lifetime, of which this one day is testimony to.
I decided to see what a man, who firmly believed in nonviolence, would have to say about Bhagavad Gita, which for me was always a cry for war; a book where Krishna would urge Arjun to stand up and fight.
According to the publisher, Pirates Publishing House, this special edition of the Bhagavad Gita, the original text of which, according to Hindu believers dates back 5000 years, and over 2300 years according to modern historians, has been compiled and presented as a commemoration of our Honourable Prime Minister’s gift to the then President of the United States, Mr. Barack Obama in 2014 during his US visit. Mahatma Gandhi, even over time, remains as a strong force of ideology and his life has been a living demonstration of the very philosophy he so ardently believed in. While many would find the Gita a contradictory text to this profound idea of rooted nonviolence, it is always a fulfilling exercise to pick up The Bhagavad Gita according to Gandhi and remind ourselves of the scope and breadth of this doctrine of karma.
Gandhi referred to the Gita as Anasakti Yogaor the Gospel of Selfless Action and regarded it as a prime source of inspiration. He personally vouched for the accuracy and originality of this translation by Mahadev Desai. Gandhi said, “When doubts haunt me, when disappointments stare me in the face, and I see not one ray of hope on the horizon, I turn to Bhagavad Gita and find a verse to comfort me; and I immediately begin to smile in the midst of overwhelming sorrow. Those who meditate on the Gita willderive fresh joy and new meanings from it every day.”
Prime Minister Narendra Modi, while presenting a copy of this version of the Bhagavad Gita to United States President Barack Obamawhen he visited the White House in September 2014, declared that the Gita would be the gift that he would carry for all world leaders.
There was a lot of buzz about this incident in the media, with all sorts of extreme viewpoints.
In the Introduction of this book, Mahatma Gandhi explains it well. He said, “when I first became acquainted with the Gita, I felt that it was not ahistorical work, but that, under the guise of physical warfare, it described the duel that perpetually went on in the hearts of mankind, and that physical warfare was brought in merely to make the description of the internal duel more alluring. This preliminary intuition was confirmed on a closer study of religion and the Gita.”
My day, and the evening, and much of the night went in turning the pages of this book. For the first time, I found a debate so meaningful, so purposeful. I was standing in the middle of a war-field, in the company of Krishna and Arjun, and Mahatma was explaining the dialogues to me.
As I finished the book, turning the over the last page, I knew for sure, that this is a text will keep revisiting again and again; in good times and tough ones.
This book showed me the virtue of self-surrender and selfless devotion. Gandhi quotes, “All actions bind the self, but if all are dedicated to the Lord they do not bind, rather they release him. He who has thus extinguished the “self” or the thought of ‘I’ and who acts as ever in the greatwitness’ eye, will never sin nor err. The self-sense is at the root of all error or sin. Where the ‘I’ hasbeen extinguished, there is no sin.”
If there is a philosophy I needed in my life, it has taken shape before my eyes today; the words echoing in my mind: “He who holds pleasure and pain alike, who is sedate, who regards as same earth, stone andgold, who is wise and weighs in equal scale things pleasant and unpleasant, who is even-minded in praise and blame; Who holds alike respect and disrespect, who is the same to friend and foe, who indulges in noundertakings-That man is called guna-tita.”
I am not sure if I know a guna-tita person, but if there ever was one, it was Mahatma Gandhi. Happy Birthday, Bapu. After over a century and half, your birthday has presented me with a new way to live life.