This Blog revolves around the book – MKG – Mahatma Gandhi – Imaging Peace, Truth & Ahimsa and how Learnings from the Mahatma can cause positive change in the 21st century; the book is a pictorial representation of the life and message of the Mahatma, covering major milestones which influenced his philosophy, political awakening and his concept of Ahimsa in a concise illustrative format. An attempt has been made to portray the man behind the Mahatma to provide inspiration to today’s generation.
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MKG book released at the United Nations

1st October 2010 - A special edition of the book – MKG –Imaging Peace Truth and Ahimsa was released by the President of the General Assemble of the United Nations. The release was marked with attendance from Ambassadors from over 50 nations and was the official UN event marking the International Day of Non-Violence.

UN Story Link

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

A Dancing Gandhi impersonator

A Dancing Gandhi impersonator – a quick search on the internet would confirm this. One blog claims the person is an Australian actor in Sydney at a party in the good old days. The anatomy of the individual confirms this.

I am sure the Mahatma would have been amused by the picture, as he rather unsuccessfully did take dancing lessons in London when 19.

He wrote “I must have taken about six lessons in three weeks. But it was beyond me to achieve anything like a rhythmic motion. I could not follow the piano and hence found it impossible to keep time.”

January 15th Holiday- Honors Non violence

Dr. King in Atlanta SCLC Office
(Gandhi on wall), 1966
Photo by Bob Fitch,

King Holiday Honors Global Tradition of Non-Violence
By Adam Phillips,
New York
15th January 2007

Today is a national holiday in the United States honoring the birthday of the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. He led the non-violent struggle in the 1950s and 1960s to promote civil rights and end racial segregation in America, until his murder in April 1968.

Today, Dr. King is hailed as a true American hero with whom almost all Americans are familiar. What many may not realize is that Dr. King's non-violent methods were largely inspired by a man who lived a continent and a generation away. He was Mohandas "Mahatma" Gandhi, the statesman and sage who helped colonial India win independence from Britain in 1948.

Gandhi's own beginnings as a world leader occurred in what was an otherwise unremarkable experience for colonials. In 1893, as a young Indian lawyer in South Africa, Gandhi was ejected from the first class train seat he had paid for, and told to sit among the other non-whites in the third class compartment. It was a moment that would profoundly affect the world.

"It was the first time in his life that he had faced race prejudice," says David Cortright, president of the Fourth Freedom Forum and the author of Gandhi and Beyond. "He was very upset, very angry. But as he thought about it, he realized that he had to fight this," says Cortright. But Gandhi did not believe in violence. "[He] recognized, early on, the self-defeating nature of violence, and how violence begets violence and there is a cycle of action and reaction and whenever we strike a blow the other person will strike back."

Gandhi set out to obtain justice for his fellow Indians outside that vicious cycle, through Satyagraha, a concept which roughly translates as "love force," or "the weight of truth." It is a simple, yet highly sophisticated method of non-violent political action. When, as a young man, King was exposed to Gandhi's teachings on Satyagraha, he was electrified by its potential to help the struggle for civil rights in America.

The two men shared important similarities. Like Gandhi, who was a Hindu, Dr. Martin Luther King, a Christian minister, based his political activism on his religion. Just as Gandhi's Hinduism teaches that all human beings, even one's enemies or oppressors, are an expression of the Divine, with no less value than oneself, Reverend King and his followers were inspired by Jesus' command to "turn the other cheek" when your enemy strikes you, to pray for him, suffer for him, and ultimately, to forgive him.

"Dr. King used to say that 'we will match his ability to inflict suffering by our ability to suffer,'" says Andrew Young, the first African American ambassador to the United Nations, and one of King's closest friends and lieutenants. He spoke with VOA immediately after watching "Dare Not Walk Alone," a film documentary about the civil rights movement that includes footage from a non-violent demonstration he led in 1964 in Saint Augustine, Florida in which Young was badly beaten.

"There was a picture of a young woman with a broken nose. And she looks upon that beating as a mark of physical courage, as I do, that you were willing to confront evil and risk your life and not back down." After pausing for a moment to reflect, he continued, "The willingness to suffer for what you believe in is one of the highest virtues."

Gandhi and King keenly understood that the moral dignity of non-violent demonstrations as conveyed through the media could powerfully affect public opinion. Indeed, news photographs of police beating unarmed demonstrators, and crowds spitting on and taunting disciplined young people spread sympathy and support for both the Indian Independence movement and the civil rights movement.

Economic pressure through boycotts was another way that Dr. King's methods echoed those of Gandhi. "Every day we challenged the philosophy of racism in a way that stopped economic enterprise, at least temporarily," Andrew Young says, recalling the 90 days of demonstrations and boycotts against segregated department stores in downtown Birmingham, Alabama in 1963.

Young says they never "hit anybody, never cussed anybody out." But the boycott was effective. "The business community came to us after 100 days and said 'Look, this has got to stop because you are putting us out of business!'"

Young emphasizes a truth that may surprise those who mistakenly associate non-violence with passivity: "You are the aggressor in nonviolence in that you are defining the issue. You are starting the confrontation."

Gandhi and King's methods have inspired political movements around the world. One thinks of the non-violent Orange Revolution in Ukraine, the national reconciliation efforts in post-Apartheid South Africa, and the Dalai Lama's efforts on behalf of Tibetans.

Robert Barnett, a professor of Contemporary Tibetan Studies at New York's Columbia University, notes that the Dalai Lama paid explicit tribute to Gandhi and his nonviolent methods when he accepted his 1989 Nobel Peace Prize. "And he has talked quite a lot about wanting to understand why the Chinese people felt the way they did when China took over, and going from there to say, 'We need to negotiate with these people and not to use violence against them.'"

Contemporary Tibetan Studies professor Robert Barnett says the Dalai Lama shares Dr. King and Gandhi's respect for nonviolence
Barnett adds that the Tibetan leader's approach has yet to succeed. "But the Dalai Lama's view is that this does take a long, long time and we need to be patient."

The universality of what Gandhi called "the force of truth and love" is why Andrew Young says Martin Luther King Day should not be regarded as only an African American holiday.

"Martin Luther King happened to be an Afro-American. But he advocated and successfully changed America and he never really lashed out in anger against anyone," Young says. The message there, he notes, is that "we ought to be celebrating and studying nonviolence as a continuing option for the growth and development of human civilization. Love!"

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Khadi - The Fabric of Our Nation

This article appeared in Forbes India Magazine of 26 August, 2011

Khadi - The Fabric of Our Nation
by Jasodhara Banerjee

Khadi is part of the warp and weft of India; but it is by no means stuck in history

Fort, in Mumbai, is where the British left their architectural legacy. On the ground floor of one of the many colonial era buildings there resides a store, housing another legacy from their times, khadi.

Flanked by a couple of massive, dusty, dull, almost neglected shop windows, the doorway leads into Khadi Bhandar, whose sheer size and location would be the envy of any retailer. Sprawled over two floors — you actually have to look up to see the ceiling — the shop has shelves stacked with myriad variety, colours and shades of khadi. Fans, attached to the end of six-foot poles, hang from the distant ceilings. There are some people around — almost all salespersons. Trunks — the kind that our grandparents travelled with — stand stacked near the cash counter, along with piles of cartons.

A few minutes away, in the Kala Ghoda precinct, is a lane that is easy to miss. Along one of the nondescript walls of the lane is a discreet door, polished a dark shade of mahogany, so quiet it is even easier to miss. A small plaque, at knee-level, on the left of the door reads ‘Sabyasachi’.

Inside, it is dimly lit, reflecting impeccable taste and design sensibilities. An awe-inspiring collection of antique clocks and photographs adorn the walls of the extended foyer. Eighty’s pop murmurs from almost-invisible speakers nestled in the corners of the low ceiling. Bright colours, impossibly intricate zardozi, flowing fabrics line the deliberately stark walls. Inside an antique wooden almirah sits Sabsyaschi’s khadi sarees; each would cost the monthly budget of an upper middle-class family.

The walk from Khadi Bhandar to Sabysachi is short. But the journey of khadi has been a long one.

Khadi first caught the imagination of the nation during the freedom movement under Mahatma Gandhi, who propagated it as not just a fabric, but a way of life. One that is centred around the village, where the practice of khadi would be able to generate employment, income and, hence, self-reliance. Khadi was meant to become a supplementary industry to agriculture, a crucial element in a self-sustaining economy.

But it was not simply about the making of yarn at home, it was the spirit behind it. Gandhi’s vision was clear: “If we have the khadi spirit in us, we should surround ourselves with simplicity in every walk of life… The khadi spirit means illimitable patience… The khadi spirit means also an equally illimitable faith… The khadi spirit means fellow-feeling with every human being on earth.”

Adopting khadi as a lifestyle choice symbolised the move away from British textiles and products — resulting in all those spontaneous bonfires into which people flung their rich silks and laces from England — and the promotion of all things Indian.

Spinning yarn on the charkha, Gandhi believed, inculcated discipline and dedication. It was meant to be a great social equaliser — “It sits well on the shoulders of the poor, and it can be made, as it was made in the days of yore, to adorn the bodies of the richest and most artistic men and women” — and was also a tool to bring women into the fold of the freedom movement.

Khadi was, in fact, a masterstroke, taking the freedom movement beyond the rarefied circles of the social elite and the educated out to the masses. And the image of Gandhi sitting in front of a charkha acquired the weight of historical symbolism.

In the decades after Independence, the government institutionalised the khadi industry, setting up, in 1957, the Khadi and Village Industries Commission (KVIC) through an Act of Parliament, with the aim of providing employment through the production of saleable articles and, through this, creating self-reliance among the poor and building a strong rural community. The commission works towards supplying raw material and implements to producers, promoting research in production techniques, quality control of khadi products and promoting the sale and marketing of these products.

But in popular culture, the perception of khadi changed. It came to be synonymous with politicians and, subsequently, corruption. The association between politics and khadi was mostly due to the Congress, whose membership criteria requires one to be a habitual wearer of khadi, to abstain from alcohol and drugs and not practice untouchability. Now, while the common man came to understand that all the other criteria were rapidly turning out to be a farce, the use of khadi stuck as a strong symbol of political associations and activism.

But khadi, despite these murky associations, continues to be a symbol to be respected and nurtured. At a recent function in July, Union Rural Development Minister Jairam Ramesh sparked off a controversy by wiping his shoes with a garland made of spun cotton. Congress General Secretary Janardan Dwivedi expressed the party’s disappointment by saying, “In the life of a nation, there are certain important symbols and one should be more careful and sensitive about them.”

It is only recently that the fabric has caught the attention of high fashion. The common man has been wearing it simply for its versatile character and comfort. At the cash counter in a Khadi Bhandar, you will find a motley crowd from middle-class India who thinks of the fabric as durable and affordable.

“Khadi has evolved a lot since I started working here,” says the supervisor of a Khadi Bhandar outlet, wary of giving out his name. And he has been working there for 35 years. “Earlier, you would not get printed fabric, or salwar-kameez sets, or ready made clothes. You could only get the plain fabric, in cotton or silk.” He explains how the fibre is now far smoother and lighter than what it started out as; consequently khadi clothes are now more comfortable and the fabric can hold many more dyes.

A lot of khadi is also not hand-spun any longer; traditionally the yarn is meant to be hand spun and the cloth hand-woven. The mechanised ambar charkha has replaced traditional hand-operated charkhas in many parts of the country. At the Khadi Bhandars, though, all the clothes are hand-spun and hand-woven, in the true spirit of the movement.

For celebrated designer Sabyasachi Mukherjee, khadi is simply a luxurious fabric that needs to be restored and preserved. He has styled entire lines on khadi, but no, he is not making any political statement by promoting it. “I think it is the most sophisticated fabric,” he says. “It has a quiet dignity that is absent in mill-made fabrics. It also stands for the fact that luxury is not something you can get by simply throwing money at it. Luxury is a state of mind. And khadi represents all that.”

But is has not been easy to convince his clients. “Khadi is either associated with politicians, or with the poor. Our country also suffers from the gloss syndrome. Anything that is dull or matte, is not appreciated easily. I wanted to demystify the status of khadi and started creating bridal wear — the ultimate realm of luxury clothing — from the fabric. It creates shock reactions.

“But the mindset is changing. The woman who chooses khadi is one who is completely at ease with herself. She is not the kind with dyed hair and make-up. She is educated and cultured enough to know the significance of khadi.” He adds that khadi is often shunned by the nouveau riche: “Only when they are trying to show that they are ‘old money’ and not ‘new money’, do they try venturing towards khadi.”

Founder of Good Earth, Anita Lal’s reasons for working with khadi are different from Mukherjee’s. “We started our own line of khadi garments at Good Earth, sold under the brand name Sustain, with the idea of sustainability. We retail other brands of khadi garments as well, but believe in working at the grassroots level with those involved in the making of the fabric. But we cannot produce any rubbish and expect people to buy it. The garments have to be well cut and stitched. We wanted to make khadi a beautiful and sophisticated fabric and consciously move away from the Khadi Gram Udyog look.

“The traditional khadi fabric has issues such as shrinkage and maintenance. It also has colours that can bleed.” She explains that the hand-spun and hand-woven fabric needs to be chemically treated to make it softer and more pliable, so that it can be adapted to contemporary designs and cuts.

Mukherjee, who sources his khadi from Dastkari in Andhra Pradesh, thinks khadi is too intelligent a fibre to be treated. “The challenge of working with it does not lie in its characteristics, but its procurement. It is made in small pockets of India, sometimes the poorest ones. Its quality is not consistent either. But all this makes it more of a luxury product.” But doesn’t the glamourisation of the fabric go against the basic philosophy behind it?

Lal says, “A lot of designers today are launching khadi lines. But most of them are using it simply as a fashion trend. Not because they believe in the philosophy behind it.”

Mukherjee’s argument is different: “Mahatma Gandhi used khadi as a tool to bind India together. But today, that philosophy has become anachronistic. We should work towards the revival of the fabric and looking at it purely for its political symbolism will do it disservice.”

Tradition, symbolism and a new-found versatility seem to have come together in wooing major retailers as well. In July, the Ministry of Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises hinted that it might allow KVIC to go ahead with private participation for managing its outlets. Business Standard had reported that Fabindia, Shoppers Stop and four other companies have shown interest in these partnerships.

The Khadi Bhandar at Fort was set up in 1957 and inaugurated by Morarji Desai. But many who work there don’t know this. To them, it is where they have worked all their lives. Time moves slowly inside its walls, but it does move.

The range of fabrics available has increased over the years, with printed and vegetable-dyed variations adding to the unadorned varieties. Garments in contemporary cuts and designs are displayed alongside Nehru jackets and Gandhi topis. Trendy leather bags share shelf space with Kolhapuri slippers. The store stocks a range of cosmetic products, made from natural ingredients and priced higher than the average commercial ones. The relatively recent dyed raw silk fabric is not what you would really call cheap, priced at more than Rs. 800 a metre. It would therefore be inaccurate to associate KVIC’s products with cheap goods. However, it is not exclusive either. You can buy a small, compact, charkha for Rs. 550 and raw, unprocessed cotton for Rs. 40 a bundle. In effect, it gives you the choice of making your own hand-spun yarn at home.

“Sales have dipped since the rebates were removed last year,” says an employee. “And we get a lot of foreign tourists as customers.” Almost on cue, a woman of Far-Eastern origin walks to the cash counter with a handful of receipts. The receipts themselves are on hand-made paper, the kind you would pay good money for in a fancy store.

Khadi is perhaps no longer what it was when Mahatma Gandhi sat with a charkha and spun a philosophy around it. It has lived a life of its own despite its heavy baggage of political symbolism, absorbing contemporary shades and blemishes, and evolved. It has added more layers to its characteristics, while retaining its fundamental ones, making it a fabric that reflects the times.

Link to Orginal Article


Joseph Deiss, President of the sixty-fifth session of the General Assembly, holds up a limited edition copy of “MKG – Mahatma Gandhi – Imaging Peace, Truth & Ahisma” at an event commemorating the International Day of Non-Violence. The day is observed 2 October for the birthday of non-violence pioneer Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi (commonly known as Mahatma Gandhi). Pictured with Mr. Deiss are Hardeep Singh Puri (left), Permanent Representative of India to the UN, and Birad Rajaram Yajnik, the book's author.
01 October 2010 United Nations, New York