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Monday, January 31, 2011

Rare things, Gandhi and a garter

Sei Shonagon The Pillow Book, Penguin Classics, p. 83. (C. 11th Century CE.) 
      Rare Things
A son‑in‑law who is praised by his adoptive father; a young bride who is loved by her mother‑in‑law.
A silver tweezer that is good at plucking out the hair.
A servant who does not speak badly about his master.
A person who is in no way eccentric or imperfect, who is superior in both mind and body, and who remains flawless all his life.
People who live together and still manage to behave with reserve towards each other. However much these people may try to hide their weaknesses, they usually fail.
To avoid getting ink stains on the notebook into which one is copying stories, poems, or the like. If it is a very fine notebook, one takes the greatest care not to make a blot; yet somehow one never seems to succeed.
When people, whether they be men or women or priests, have promised each other eternal friendship, it is rare for them to stay on good terms until the end.
A servant who is pleasant to his master.

Talking about M K Gandhi

I’ve mentioned Mahatma Gandhi a few times now in my rambles. Fancy being landed with the title 'Mahatma' - 'Great Soul'. But I guess he got used to it. Somehow I hope he didn't.
   There’s a programme on ABC 1 TV [Australia] that I’ve been watching. It’s a three part series on Gandhi by Mishal Husain, and two parts have been shown at the time of writing. They’re available for viewing on ABC iView though they will be taken off pretty quickly, so if you’re interested then now’s the time. (Is it possible to watch iView from outside Australia, I wonder?)
   It’s interesting for several reasons, not the least of which is that it’s been narrated by a British Muslim woman with family connections to the Mahatma.
   This gives her a problem right from the start, as many Indian Muslims feel Gandhi betrayed them at a critical time - in the early 1920s, when Gandhi led their fight in India for the restoration of the Islamic Caliphate, after the Allies pulled it apart when Turkey was one of the defeated states in WW1. Gallipoli and all that. Another fine mess you got us into, Winston.
   Her problem is that she doesn’t want to be seen as a Muslim criticising Gandhi just because she’s a Muslim, as that would distort the story she’s trying to tell. At the same time, it means she has to skate over some vital events. It was Gandhi’s calling off of the satyagraha [non-violent non-cooperation] campaign in support of the Khilafat (Caliphate) Movement that created the deep rift between Hindus and Muslims in the twentieth century, leading ultimately to the creation of Pakistan. The one-time champion of Hindu-Muslim unity, Jinnah, had no choice now but to be the voice of Muslim separatism, and Gandhi now becomes the moral leader of Hindus, with just a handful of secularist Muslims in the Hindu Muslim camp.
   The subtleties of 1920s India were teased out more in the 1982 Richard Attenborough movie of Gandhi’s life. Admittedly, he had more than three hours to piece together the bits of the story he chose to depict, he and his scriptwriters could use their imagination and dramatic license to get his point across, and he had almost limitless resources to make his film, so a comparison would be very unfair. But it just illustrates how difficult it can be to tell the real story while trying to be not only objective but to be seen to be so.
   Don’t ever think there can be such a thing as an objective history of anything. It’s impossible. If Mishal were a Hindu and not a Muslim, no doubt many would be looking out for evidence of rose-coloured glasses. Being so very British adds yet another dimension!
   We’re so used to seeing force as the solution to every problem that very few understand even now what Gandhi was doing, and the enormous power of the combination of satyagraha and ahimsa [non-harming]. Not that it can solve every problem – but it can operate within a certain context – where an established and more or less respected rule of law actually exists.
   See, in other possessions run by colonial powers less careful than the Brits about doing things by the book, someone like Gandhi would have been taken down a back alley and shot, probably sooner rather than later, and that would have been the end of it all. But the Brits didn't work that way. 
   Even the horrible things were done within the law, not outside it. In building their empire, you have to admire them for that much at least. Even Colonel Dyer who ordered the mowing down of the Indian civilians at Jallianwalla Bagh in 1919 had to face the justice system back in England and defend his action. You should read the trial transcript. It's chilling.
   But you can’t understand Gandhi if you don’t read his autobiography, My Experiments with Truth, and his willingness to put his whole life before the world, warts and all. He knew for sure some would use his own words to distort the truth about his life and philosophy, but he put it out there anyway. And they have!
   It will be interesting to see how Mishal goes in the third episode. So far she’s done pretty well, I think, considering the challenges.

The wedding garter
Houston, we have a problem. Fair Dinkum. Or we had one.
   Once a day Tracey gives me a Clexane injection. It’s to keep blood clots as far away as possible. When I had two a day, we both knew which side of my stomach to stick the needle in. Day, on the left, night on the right.
   But now it’s the daily dose just once a day, it’s amazing how impossible it is for either of us to remember which was the last side done - left or right.
   It matters because if we don’t alternate, then the allergic reaction [itchiness around the injection point] can be concentrated and more annoying than it needs to be. Oh, and a couple of other reasons that it’s more trouble to explain than it’s worth - and of no interest to read, I'm certain.
   So, we came up with a solution together, though I claim the invention of the specifics.
   This was the wedding garter, only months ago worn on the bride’s shapely leg. Slipped over the left or right bedpost, this could create a failsafe marker for which side of the stomach to stab.
   Almost failsafe.... two rules.
     1. the gartered post represents the side DONE last, not ‘TO BE done’.
     2. the garter is moved to the other side IMMEDIATELY after the stabbing is carried out.
   We came unstuck you see, on the second day of operations under the new regime, when we weren’t sure the garter had been moved. I think we’ve got it nailed this time.
   That’s my Pillow Book list for today. I find it rather nice to be able to see that garter on permanent display!


  1. Well, that is a unique use for such an item, I'm sure!! But hey if it works...Great. lol

  2. I think the third part of the Gandhi series was very good indeed. And she had said it wasn't just khilafat that may have made the rift with the Muslims; it was also his appearance as a Hindu vision of 'truth'(his choice of apparel!) even though he did include the Quran in his readings. Well, he WAS Hindu (and Jain).I loved how she showed present day India while talking of the past -made it inseparable, as indeed it is. Great show, I loved it.

    As for the garter, nice idea :) Wonder what the origin is of that tradition? Anyone know?? I could Google it of course . Isn't information just TOO easy these days!)


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