On Holi eve, my driver for over five years asked me, “Sir, ek Gandhi dena” (Sir, Give me a Gandhi). I was taken aback for a moment. With so many Gandhis crisscrossing the dusty lanes and bylanes of Uttar Pradesh, I was not sure whom he was referring to. He is in his early 20s and certainly was not referring to the revered father of the nation. It was then that it dawned on me that by ‘Gandhi’ he meant the Rs 500/- note on which Bapu’s portrait is etched. But then, the Mahatma’s face can be found even in currency of lower denomination, but in colloquial jargon ‘Gandhi’ has been given the ‘respectable’ denomination of Rs 500.
Poor Lalit is not to be blamed. He only used what is ‘fashionable’. But it was a reflection of how we have devalued even the apostle of peace and non-violence. Forget the father of the nation, even real ‘fathers’ are today being measured in monetary terms. There’s this dear friend AKM Sinha, who tells me that his college going daughter treats him like
‘ATM Sinha’. “For her, I am just an ATM machine”, he laments.
In our childhood, on Janmashtami, we would set up these ‘Jhankis’ or tableaux where glimpses from Lord Krishna’s life would be put on show using idols and models and we would give ‘prasad’ to all who visit our locality’s tableaux. Of late, I find youngsters distributing ‘Prasad’ only to those put some decent amount in the donation box or plate, placed prominently at the centre of the tableaux.
Have we gone wrong? If so, where? In our schools, we used to have moral education and moral science classes, which are not there in most schools now. In cities, particularly in nuclear families, both parents are working in many cases and the kids are deprived of ‘dada dadi ki kahaniyan’ (Grandmother’s tales) which taught us certain eternal values such as friendship, honesty, hard work, perseverance, loyalty et al.
I remember how my maternal uncle, who used to indulge his four daughters, would dutifully bring candies and chocolates for them every day. One day, due to work, he came very late from office and could not bring them the goodies. And when he came, they were not relieved to see their father so late in the night. Rather, they were all disappointed that he did not bring them chocolates.
Value education, much like charity, begins at home. The comments that I make about my friends, colleagues, relatives register permanently in the impressionable minds of the young. When an unwelcome visitor drops in or calls on phone and I tell my child to inform him that I am not at home, I have taught him his first lesson in falsehood. His peer group in school and the neighbourhood will teach him the rest.
It is time to reclaim some of those lost yet enriching aspects of our lives. Let us listen to grandparents’ tales, pray together, eat together, watch the Ramleela and Dussehra together and learn to share. Let us buy children Archies and Pokemon comics, but also teach them about Krishna’s friendship with Sudama, Shravan Kumar’s devotion to his parents, Guru Gobind Singh’s valour, Akbar’s tolerance and the sacrifices of our martyrs.
Let us stop blaming schools, society and television serials for the rot setting in. Let us take charge and responsibility. Let us not become ATMs. Let our youngsters realize that we have to invoke the Gandhi within us and not identify him with currency notes. Let our children wait for us, not for the chocolates.
(The views expressed by the author are personal)