Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Walks and Talks

As we walked home that afternoon, conversation bounced back and forth between love for math, the future, and excerpts of Akon. Josana invited me to her home that day, because, and I quote, she thought I was a “brilliant mathematician.” This outrageous overstatement may have been her motive, but I think I learned a great deal more from her that day than any of the math I rattled off in class.  In addition to singing Akon for her family, Josana and I took a long walk through her village. Along the way, I asked the eighth grader her thoughts on the recent “I Have a Dream” unit that she was learning in English class. She explained her speech to me. I was very impressed by her aspirations to study as much as she could so that she could be as smart as her father. She admired his discipline and love for learning. She added at the end of the conversation, however, that she and her family hate Gandhi. She seemed almost ashamed to tell me. I remember learning about Gandhi when I was in eighth grade. We read about his life, watched the long, long video outlining his autobiography, and were inspired by his discipline and passion for his cause. His innovative methods seemed so effective and ideal. It was hard to believe that anyone could not believe in him and be inspired by his non-violent ways. After spending time in India and hearing Josana’s side of the story, I gained a whole new perspective on his life. In Josana’s eyes and the eyes of her family, Gandhi allowed Britain to strip India of all its wealth. His lack of violent tactics was inefficient and useless according to them.

Although he doesn’t quite fit the role of a muscled-male body, I think that Gandhi is a good example of what During would call a global popular, an internationally known political star. At least in the United States and probably in Europe one would be hard-pressed to find a person over the age of twelve who had not heard of Gandhi before. His radical practices and devotion to his cause and religious views are things that students learn about in history classes around the world. It is interesting, though, that a global icon that we have learned about since the eighth grade has another history that we don’t learn about in our books. As Chakrabarty highlights in his article, the histories that we learn are not India’s own history, but it’s history seen through a European lens. A person who we saw as idealistic and powerful is not so to others across the globe. Additionally, we can see, as Chakrabarty would argue, that British rule has truly shaped India’s history and more importantly, the sentiments that its people feel toward the shape of their present, past and future lives. British influences and Gandhi’s intervention caused unease in at least part of the Indian population about their place in society. I could sense Josana’s family’s bitterness towards Britain and Gandhi for shaping their history in this way, as this family and many other families in the village blame Gandhi and Britain for India’s current economy and their social standing. Despite his efforts to appeal to the masses, Gandhi obviously missed some of the crowd.

The conversation quickly moved on to boys and national anthem. After a delicious home cooked meal, I walked back to the Gandhi Ashram with a new perspective on Indian history and on the reality of the lives of the students we were living among for the month of January. 

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