My first visit to Gandhiji’s Sevagram Aashram near Wardha

(i)

I visited Gandhi’s Sevagram Aashram 1986, soon after I joined at Nagpur my post as the Commissioner of Income-tax at Nagpur. My wife found a lot of interest in many things we saw at the Aashram. But what moved us most were the Gandhi’s edicts we read on certain boards put up in different parts of the Aashram. We were greatly influenced by some of the ideas written on them. After taking rounds in the Aashram, we sat on the veranda of one of the cottages in the sprawling campuses of the illustrious Aashram.

We contemplated on the Gandhian edicts sitting at the edge of one of the cottages of the Aashram.

(ii)
Seven Sins

The board at the Wardha Ashram, Wardha

Politics without principles
Wealth without work
Commerce without morality
Education without character
Pleasure without conscience
Science without humanity
Worship without sacrifice. 

Gandhi wished that in free India the above mentioned seven sins would not survive to distort and taint the country’s governance and socio-economic management. But we have betrayed that trust. We see around us how the seven sins are ruling everywhere.

We see around us how in the political management of our country, expediency dominates, and narrow interests act as the most potent driving force. No moral principle is seen steadfastly operative. Wealth has become extractive, and inequalities and inequities are growing apace all around. This is natural in the present-day economic system that I have called the ‘Taj Mahal Economy’. I have written about this in my post on my blog loaded on June 2011. The third sin is being committed without slightest sense of shame in this phase of Economic Globalisation. Education does not help the growth of moral values; it just produces instruments to run an exploitative economic system. Pleasure without conscience has led to the consumerist culture which is driven by hedonist impulses. Science is useful but the purpose all its efforts is to create conditions for  the weal of humanity. What makes us most worried is the ‘moral deficit’ in the ways we manage our affairs.  The industrial achievements and technological wonders cannot mask the rot, and hide what may become the founts for impending disasters. It is unwise for us to live in the romantic delirium of scientific achievements alone.  The 19th century was greatly remarkable for industrial, imperial and technological changes, yet whilst assessing the worth of human achievements over that century one of its ablest scientific minds, Alfred Russel Wallace, expressed in his The Wonderful Century: Its Successes and Failures his deep concern at the “exponential growth of technology matched by the stagnant morality” which implied “only more potential for instability and less capacity for reasonable prognostication.” This is the well-known   ‘Wallace Paradox’, and comes to mind when we appraise what is happening all around.

All the seven sins, to which Gandhi has referred, have grown most prolifically in these years which have seen how the economic realm has subjugated the political realm. Democracy survives only with its formal structure. Opaque systems has grown for the benefits of the MNCs, and the High Net Worth Individuals. Democracy stands subjugated to corporatocracy.   Corruption becomes the strategy of the global corporations and their lobbyists. They have succeeded even making our state their  “sponsored state”. It is on account of this that our politics have become monochromatic. The seven sins have taken a toll on our democracy. Their words are mere words!

(iii)
Gandhian talisman

We read somewhere in the Aashram what is generally called the talisman that Gandhi had given to the decision-makers of the independent India. He said:

“I will give you a talisman. Whenever you are in doubt or when the self becomes too much with you, apply the following test:

Recall the face of the poorest and weakest man whom you have seen and ask yourself if the step you contemplate is going to be of any use to him. Will he gain anything by it? Will it restore him to control over his own life and destiny? In other words, will it lead to Swaraj for the hungry and spiritually starving millions?

Then you will find your doubts and yourself melting away.”

When Glanville Austen read these lines on a board displayed at the Gandhi Smriti, Birla House, New Delhi, he was so much moved by the wisdom and felicity of Gandhiji that he quoted these lines in the beginning of his famous book Indian Constitution at Work. But it is saddening to say that we have ignored this talisman. It seems in our high GDP-driven economy the talisman has been trashed, and: the Stock-Market has found the talisman of no worth. Words of G.K. Chesterton come to mind:

“These are peoples that have lost the power of astonishment at their own actions…. they do not start or stare at the monster they have brought forth. They have grown used to their own unreason; chaos is their cosmos; and the whirlwind is the breath of their nostrils. These nations are really in danger of going off their heads en masse; of becoming one vast vision of imbecility.”

(iv)
The norms in the matter of taking meals

My wife was most impressed by Gandhi’s edict on the wall of a cottage. It contained instructions how food should be taken. In deference to her interest I copied the whole text in my diary. As Gandhi’s instructions are for our common benefit, I render this edict thus:

“Every one must follow certain norms in the matter of taking meals. There should be in one’s food a proper proportion of gur, ghee, and vegetables. For one meal it is enough to have eight ounces of vegetables. If anything is not good, it is lack of culture to make grumbling comments while eating. This sort of act is himsa. One should inform the manager about the deficiency. If something is raw, that should be left out. If desire for something more still remains, it is good. But one must not be angry. Every work should be done carefully. We belong to the same family; We must work with this sort of feeling. Even salt be taken only as much as is needed.  One must not waste even water. I hope that everyone in the Ashrama would treat the things of the Ashrama as his, and also as the things held in trust for the poor. One should eat food viewing that to possessed medicinal value. One should eat for health; and health is needed for rendering service to others. One should eat less and with moderation. One should not create sound while eating. One should eat slowly and cleanly, considering food as God’s gift.  Everyone should wash his utensils after taking meals; and should keep them properly.”

Dear friends, think about the food habits of our young people shaped by the consumerist culture of neoliberal economy. How inane and trivial Gandhian ideas would sound to them! Their state of mind is no different from that which had made Swami Vivekananda worried about  the generations  brainwashed under the culture of British colonialism. Dr. Ramdhari Singh ‘Dinkar’ has drawn a graphic account of the degradation that had been brought about in our country:

“The young people, with verve, took to alcoholic liquors; and thus tried showing to their fathers, uncles, and brothers that they were radically different from such relations. Those, who were even more intoxicated with that impact, started teasing and befooling their fathers and grandfathers; even went to the extent to throw beef morsel, and cow’s bones into the temples. Bewailing at this condition, Vivekananda said that the first lesson that children learn is that their fathers are fools; the second that their grand-fathers are mad; the third that their teachers are hypocrites; and then that their entire scriptures are useless.” (my translation from  Dinkar’s  Sanskriti ke Chaar Adhyaya)

One thought on “My first visit to Gandhiji’s Sevagram Aashram near Wardha

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