Of all Gandhian institutions of our nation, Navajivan Trust remains most enigmatic and least known. In my personal opinion, I regard it to be the most important instrument used by Gandhiji to mobilize entire humanity towards a path of freedom that we have still not fully achieved, so Navajivan is still an institution with a job to do.
As we live in an age where a tweet can reach a billion people in a second, it is almost impossible to realise the enormity of the communication problem that Gandhiji faced in moving a subcontinent through words in an era where it took a postcard a month to travel a hundred mile, but he solved it successfully by founding Navajivan trust that he used as the main tool to reach out to masses through printed words.
Even today, when I go the Navajivan and touch the printing machine that the old man himself had worked on to print issues of Navajivan, Harijan and Young India, I get goosebumps; as Gandhiji, for me is made of constantly evolving thoughts recorded in words and not of the deeds that our scholars are now really happy to criticise.
I really hope that, when our future generations go looking for the Mahatma in Gandhi, they visit his Akashardeh (the body of words that is preserved under the trusteeship of Navajivan) and not only Hridaykunja or Dandi memorial, as the real Gandhi that matters still awaits suitable minds to free entire humanity from self-induced enslavement of greed and gratification.
While I love to ponder over Gandhian thoughts, I have also developed a dread for “experts” who interpret Gandhi by juxtaposing Ganghi’s thoughts with his life. So, when I received an invitation from Navajivan for an experimental dance-drama on Gandhi, I went to see it with some reservations.
After an hour of watching the extremely professionally conducted show, I was hugely relieved on two counts, first that there are people who can still look at Gandhi as a thought and second, they are brave enough to explore new mediums of communication for giving much-needed Navajivan to Gandhi.
In my opinion, Gandhi thoughts face a unique challenge, as it is not that they are not explored, but it is that they are most often read as holy words carved in stone against the backdrop of his life.
So, Gandhian “experts” mostly come in two moulds. Some read him like Quran and force-fit him to be right about everything, while others read him only to find contradictions between his words and deeds.
So, Gandhian interpretations are normally littered with anecdotal incidents from his life attempting to communicate truthfulness or fallacy of his thoughts, while missing out on what really matters, i.e. Gandhian values that he believed in but was human enough not to be able to fully follow (and Mahatma enough to be able to admit it).
The dance production, Mahatma-An Eternal Spirit by Sarmishtha Sarkar broke the mould by focusing symbolically on abstract dimension of Gandhian values instead of becoming biographical and won the day as Bharatnatyam, the dance-form she used has evolved specifically to communicate spiritual concepts.
As Gandhi is turning 150 this year, I request Navajivan to encourage more and more exponents of Indian arts like Saramishtaben to explore Indian art mediums to communicate Gandhi, as Gandhian values also originate from the same source that Indian art forms have emerged.
We are a culture where Satyam, Shivam and Sundaram were once deeply interwoven, so both Gandhian Values and Indian arts enjoy a natural synergy that can be used to support simultaneous revival of both.