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Timeless Inspirator – Reliving Gandhi is a compilation of essays by 45 icons of India ranging from Infosys founder N.R. Narayana Murthy to cricketing legend Sachin Tendulkar. They have written about the impact Mahatma Gandhi’s philosophy had on their lives and the relevance of his philosophy in this day and age.

Edited by the eminent scientist Dr. Raghunath Mashelkar, this book offers a fresh perspective on the relevance of Gandhi to today’s generation, says Ritu Goyal Harish.

Edited by Dr. Raghunath Mashelkar
Published by: SAKAL for Gandhi National Memorial Society, Pune, India.
Price - Rs. 490

During an interview with this writer, Dr. Raghunath Mashelkar revealed that the idea of the book originated in 2008 when he was honoured by the Australian Academy of Technological Sciences & Engineering for which he wrote a speech on India’s greatest gift to the world in the 21st century – Gandhiji’s teachings.

“I spoke about Gandhian Engineering (More from less for more) and the two important tenets – affordability and sustainability. Later I wondered how an architect or scientist today would view Gandhi’s philosophy. I wanted to include a kaleidoscope of experiences that spoke of Gandhiji’s philosophy and its relevance today. Thus the idea was born” he said.

The 45 essays in the book have been penned by eminent personalities ranging from Infosys founder N.R. Narayana Murthy, and social worker Abhay Bang to former IPS officer Kiran Bedi who transformed Tihar jail, cricketer Sachin Tendulkar, Sunil Gavaskar, danseuse Mallika Sarabhai and others.

Each chapter has an insightful introduction to the writer penned by Dr Mashelkar himself.

In her essay Anu Aga points out that the philosophy and values of Gandhi – non-violence, integrity, sustainability and respect for all religions – are more relevant today globally than have been ever before. She exhorts Indians to do four things in their own individual lives – Fight corruption, stop hatred, raise our voices against violence and destruction and reach out to another human being with compassion.

Gandhi’s philanthropy had a profound influence on Narayana Murthy. In his essay he says, “After considerable thinking and researching, we realized, pretty early in the founding of the organization, that the best instrument for creating trust is to demonstrate our commitment to our vision, and our values through leadership-by-example or ‘walking the talk’ or ‘eating one’s own dog food’! After all, if thousands of people who work with you see you practicing your percepts in pursuit of lofty goals of the corporation, they are likely to believe your words and trust you.”

Sam Pitroda calls Gandhi “a 21st century leader”.

He (Gandhi) intuitively understood information culture and the need to make information accessible to galvanise people and create a movement. All the ingredients of a modern information age person resided in Gandhi. He stood for openness, accessibility, connectivity, decentralization and democratization, all the fundamental building blocks of the information age.”

The book can leave us, a third generation Indian of an Independent India – dumbfounded. The book reaches out to this third generation, cynical and skeptic Indian who has grown up being bombarded by varying views on Gandhiji with the relevance of his thoughts.

The compilation proves to us that though we may question the relevance of Gandhi today, the 45 icons of our nation believe that his teachings hold merit today more than ever before.

This book is bound to bring a sense of connect with the man, not the icon, the persona or the legend.


Inspiration and Reflection…

Then I asked myself, what could be India’s greatest gift to the world in the 21st century. A world that is deeply divided due to stark inequalities. A world, where 4 billion people live with an income that is less than two dollars a day. A world, where 800 million people go to sleep every day without a meal.  A world, whose future itself is endangered with so many challenges, global warming and climate change leading the pack.

And then I remembered two of Gandhi’s tenets: “I would prize every invention of science made for the benefit of all” and “Earth provides enough to satisfy every man’s need but not every man’s greed”.

The first tenet referred to affordability. The second tenet referred to sustainability. Indeed affordability and sustainability were Gandhi’s touch stones six decades ago. And I felt they were equally relevant for solving all the problems that the world was facing today – so it was Gandhi’s way on these two tenets – his solutions – his engineering – Gandhian Engineering – that would be the saviour for the world. And Gandhian Engineering could be India’s greatest gift to the world in the twenty first century.

The title of my talk was decided there and then ‘Indian Innovation: From Gandhi to Gandhian Engineering’. Since I was addressing an academy that dealt with science, engineering and technology, I had to convert this message into a principle that could be practiced.

What could that be? Engineers and technologists always strive for ‘More from Less’, doing things at less cost, in less time, in less space. The Industrial enterprises strive for getting ‘more from less for more’. What did it mean? That meant getting more (performance) from less (resource) for more (profit). But Gandhian Engineering had a different message. It was getting more (performance) from less (resource) for more (people) not just for more (profit). Remember, what Gandhi had said – benefit of all – not for just for a few but for more and more people. Getting More from Less for More (MLM) became the mantra that I would repeat from Delhi to Washington over the two years after I gave this lecture in Canberra in April 2008.

I have lived most of my life as a proponent of application of science to the betterment of humanity. Diseases of the poor have been ignored. Drudgery of the poor has been unaddressed. Hungry stomachs have been left empty…and so I can carry on. As a person starting life from similar conditions, I know exactly what Gandhi meant!

So, I am immensely heartened when I see a TATA Nano giving that special emotional experience to Indian families at ultra low cost. My joy has no limits when I see an amputated foot getting life through the Jaipur Foot at a fraction of what it would cost in the western world. A blind eye of the poor and of the rich now has the same opportunity to see the beauty of this world, all made possible by Aravind Eye Care’s ‘philanthropy of sight’. They do a cataract surgery at a hundredth of the western cost. This is ‘Gandhian Engineering’ at its best! And this is how I saw it from the lens of a scientist.

I saw Gandhi through my own lens as a scientist. But what about the lens of an artist? That of a police officer, of an industrialist, of a journalist, of a sportsman. This book gives a fascinating view from so many different lenses, which helps probe, argue and analyze the relevance of Gandhi and his ideals in today’s times.

Not just its relevance but the power of its replication and propagation for all times to come, which can potentially help us achieve a dynamic and progressive new world order. Each of them brings a perspective by contextualizing aspects of Gandhi’s philosophy.

Reflect on some of these most profound thoughts- “He made the broken and frightened people of his country rise out of dust to hitch their wagon of life to stars of freedom.”

And – “When burden becomes responsibility and when concern triggers creativity, we encounter Gandhian spirit in action!”

Gandhi was Gandhi. He had reached the level of self-actualization. He lived a complete life, maximized all his potential, and followed his inner voice- honestly and truthfully. Having reached that level of self-actualization, Gandhi reached the peak by practicing what he preached. It is this experience that makes Gandhi’s principles so universal and so amazingly adaptable to the changing needs of the times.

This book is not just a mere collection of thoughts. Collectively, it is the roadmap or the way of life, it is the anchor for a youngster in search of inspiration. I am concerned about the young today. They are desperately looking for role models. They are frustrated by the deceit they see every moment. The cynicism that they see around them. The negativism that they encounter in their life constantly. They are looking for inspiration. And here we are, looking at a timeless legend, a timeless inspirator: Yes, this book is about a timeless inspirator, who will continue to guide and influence generations to come in the millennia that will follow.