In all likelihood, he (Gandhi) would have restated his dictum: be clean yourself before you clean others; and to be clean to him meant being a vaishnav jan – one who feels the pain of the other and does not let his left hand know what his right hand giveth.
AMONG the many instructive legends associated with the medieval Kashmiri saint-poet, variously called Lalleshwari, Lal Ded, Lalla Arifa, there is one that seems most apposite as we robustly showcase painting the outer walls of the nation.
It is said that one day she was busily burnishing the exterior of a pail full of filth by the banks of River Vitasta (Jhelum), when the one man she regarded highly, namely Shah Hamdan himself, happened upon her.
Askance at what Lalli was doing, he asked the obvious question: why rub a pail clean when so much filth lies inside? Her answer was disarming in the extreme, besides being traumatically revealing as well: I only do what everyone does, just to feel that I am normal and belong – to note – Lal Ded would often go naked in the world, arguing that there were no males in her sight that deserved respect.
Does it not strike you that the massive ‘Operation Clean-up’ that is now underway, at least in television channels replete with stars, is a throwback to that legend of the pail?
Think how many there are who have allegedly swindled and those who bear brazen bagfuls of hate and vengeance in their dark hearts are now scions of the clean-up campaign. And how many media outlets are obliged to splash the goings-on to keep their shops open and safe from you-know-what. And what legion of school kids, collegiate, indeed innocent citizens everywhere are “encouraged” to sing hosannas to the whitewash.
Alas, next to where I live, orphaned children rummage on hungry bellies among mounds of garbage in which they look for some shiny bit of surprise; emaciated women work in houses and high-rises without the hope of one single day-off even when patently ill and without the means to seek redress. And how many, many thousands are obliged to agitate in the hot sun — school teachers, aganwadi workers, millions of exploited farmers and wage workers across the nation, rape victims, victims of communal and casteist porgroms, because they receive no salaries for months on end, no attention from law-enforcement agencies, no help from governmental coffers no loan waivers, no commensurate remuneration for their labour and produce only neglect, derision, and, not un-often, the official strong-arm.
Not to speak of the abuse and vilification, the unrestrained vulgarity of address, day in and day out, night after night on the television channels – none of which receives the least clean-up from those who have indeed the power to do so.
Our pail is no longer a pail; it is the whole of our life, look where you will. All driven by self-aggrandisement, bravado, sycophancy, gross one-upmanship, and a parvenu urge to demonstrate to the world images that may camouflage the reality of the pail.
What would Gandhi have thought of this festival of hypocrisy? I am afraid nothing very flattering. In all likelihood, he would have restated his dictum: be clean yourself before you clean others; and to be clean to him meant being a vaishnav jan – one who feels the pain of the other and does not let his left hand know what his right hand giveth.
Alas, one suspects, there is unlikely to be any respite from these flamboyantly showcased tamasha still a new government has been elected six months from now. And guffaws of assurance and messianic hope and promise laced with winsome smiles are likely to embellish the months to come, reminding us of that magnificent line from the great bard Shakespeare: “that you can smile and smile and be a villain.”
(The article first appeared in The Wire)