Sunday, July 28, 2013

Gandhi, Martin Luther King and me

It is the current fashion to throw "inspirational" quotations from famous people around in lieu of actually taking action. Before you get upset and tell me that the devil makes work for idle hands before flouncing off to read some more worthy blog, take a moment and think about it. We see these quotations up everywhere, on coffee mugs, office signs, training manuals, bumper stickers and most importantly, social media memes. Most people don't even know who the "famous one" is, but they repeat the quote, nodding and marveling at the worthiness of it. 

One of my favourites is attributed to the Mahatma M. K. Gandhi " you must be the change you wish to see in the world". How often have you seen that one? People use it on their email signature, instant messaging app id, one notable placement, the back of a bathroom door in London, England. Considering that Gandhi-ji has been deceased for more than sixty years, it's quite legacy that stuff he said several generations ago still has currency.  Gandhi died almost before my mother was born, and yet, in my family, he was spoken about as if he were someone we knew.  His untimely death remained fresh in the minds of my maternal grandparents and he was considered a hero for his Quit India Movement, which by the way, was anything but non-violent. 

Those words have long been attributed to Gandhi, it even sounds like something he might have said in a sage-like moment. As far as anyone can tell from hours of research, he never actually said them. What he said, probably most went something like this, " if we could change ourselves, the tendencies in the world would also change. As a man changes his own nature, so does the attitude of the world change towards him..... We need not wait to see what others do." Big difference huh. It's easy to SAY things, much harder to change yourself. 

And then there is Martin Luther King. Dr. King's "I have a dream" speech remains one of the most inspirational, motivational talks in recent history. Recorded for posterity it is a little harder to bastardise into a bumper sticker. Dr. King said a lot of things, some of them right, some of them a little off base but he was a man who to all intents and purposes stood for the courage of his convictions.  

The interesting thing about these two gentlemen and others like them, their words relate specifically to their circumstances and the times in which they lived. Their lives remain a symbol of purpose to many people throughout the world. These two men are considered exceptional and have earned their place in history, even as we continue to distill it down to cute little bumper stickers while blithely continuing on, business as usual. 

Perhaps it's easier to paste on a bumper sticker or click "like" on Facebook but these are not actions, they are activities. Unless you plan to change your behaviour to make a change in the world, shut up and move along. Don't say it if you don't mean it because then it's just a bunch of words. No one says that you have to go out and start a revolution, but revolutions have been started as simply as women banging pots in the road and marching for food. Human beings are the only species who pay to live on this planet and yet we treat it with scant respect. And yet, all change starts with one person. To paraphrase Dr. King, "faith is taking the first step, even when you don't see the whole staircase".  

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

The Mystic Masseur Redux

All apologies to V.S. Naipaul

The irritating nasal voice, amplified courtesy of the "mic" aka, the loudspeaker system that traversed the back roads and alley ways of the sprawling hamlet of Chowhan in the Republica de Estupido, heralded the latest political salvo from one of the three parties competing for the seat. One night! Three political meetings! Come and hear us! Then degenerating into, "Dan is the man", "the political Goddess" and on and on. All punctuated by the ear splitting, window shaking, boom boom of the larger music trucks playing songs of exhortation while slowly trawling the neighbourhoods, designed of course to ensure that babies and by extension their parents got no respite, the old and infirm begging for deliverance and the rest,  well, either get with the programme or get out of Dodge my friend.

One could be forgiven for thinking it was an election on national scale. And perhaps it will be a harbinger of things to come. But the scale and proportion seemed somewhat distorted as under a full moon, the werewolves, vampires and fey came out in their guise of "normal" people. Actually, that's just the author being fanciful, though perhaps not.  The narrow streets were crowded, folk irritated by their stressful day at work, crawling along streets chock a block with bodies, vehicles and the noise level was that of a Carnival fete. The ancestors shrank back into the shadows and waited for it all to subside.

Loud were the protestations, exhortations and exhalations. Who was bad, who was badder, who was useless and who was dishonest. Politics makes for strange bedfellows. Consider this, party #1 - in existence since independence, party # 2 - a breakaway from the party that defeated party #1 four elections ago, party #3 - a breakaway/rogue (depending on whom you listen to) from party #2.

Mudslinging, finger pointing, accusatory piccong, ah, Naipaul would have had a field day. His novel, The Mystic Masseur, published in 1957, chronicled the exploits and evolution of Ganesh Ramsumair into G. Ramsay Muir. Sadly, it would appear we have learnt little in the fifty-six years since it was published. Trade the American town car for a green Hummer, printed vinyl banners for bills and ad spiffy power point presentations and voila, G. Ramsay Muir lives! In several guises! Take your pick! Vote for me and I'll set you free!

We must like it so eh. And the good folk of Chowhan will in another week decide who their chosen one will be, the rest of the goodly Republic will murmur and talk behind their hands until fete season rolls around again, and we forget the storm in a teacup, business as usual.