for the survivors of English II (since about 1984)

For a quarter of a century, mid- to late January meant it was time for sophomores to study Gandhi (the man, yes, but more the film). I know that those of you who are former students probably remember this annual two- to three-week event. It seems almost as memorable and legendary among Andrew alumni as chalk-eating.  I always enjoyed our annual cinematic pilgrimage to India (and South Africa). I just may have to take a day out soon and sit down to watch my DVD copy of the film. For old-times sake, reproduced below are the notes that I have handed the sophomores each year to review for the test (and from which I worked to remember to include the information I knew would be on that test). It was one test that changed very little once I got a version I liked, regardless how many illegitimate copies got into circulation among the youth of Andrew Community School district. It didn’t matter: I essentially told the classes the answers to the test every year as our review activity. After all, how much more nonviolent could I be than offering every opportunity to pass?

As this unit evolved, I know by the early Nineties I got to stopping the movie so often to add all the tidbits of knowledge and insight I had acquired (and I did study Gandhi deeply once I started using the film in class: it’s simply too embarrassing not to know what the students ask you questions about) that youthful frustration at the lack of progress on the plot was immense (and the unit had started to bloat to a month of class time). I worked for the next fifteen years to keep the beloved experience to less than three weeks, even with snow days.

Regardless, I realized as the film started to mean less and less to the kids that the time was nearing for me to retire. Their lack of connection or interest was like a sign: I was getting out of touch. It was becoming time to go. Either for generational or societal/cultural reasons, we were no longer communicating. (Another sign for me was youthful love for tightie rightie politics and Fox News, but I may have gone too far on that topic for now this past Friday.) If they couldn’t get Gandhi, they couldn’t get me, nor could I appreciate them much longer.

However, in a sense of nostalgia for the start of second semester and a love for the movie and the man and his ideals, I want to post these notes. (I almost believe that I would be willing to live a medieval life as Gandhi espoused in his swadeshi mode, to avoid the ills of twenty-first-century Western life—including al-Quaeda, since Gandhi’s universalism might have removed the stain of religious extremism and rivalry as the subsequent governments of India have not accomplished.)

G A N D H I

Attenborough, Richard.  Gandhi.  Film Investors Corporation, 1983.

MOHANDAS KARAMCHAND GANDHI

  • b. October 2, 1869, in Porbandar province
  • d. January 30, 1948, in New Delhi
  • called:  bapu, Gandhiji, Mahatma
  • “father of modern India”
  • independence from the British Empire

nonviolent resistance (satyagraha):  the six-fold path

  1. oppose injustice in every form:  external and internal
  2. work/fight  to change minds —> not to punish  (come together, not apart) —> seek agreement in the end
  3. personal dignity, self-respect, and courage
  4. do not submit = resist and keep resisting
  5. make injustice visible = truthfulness = publicity:  let the truth be known/shared  (no effect if no one knows what’s going on)
  6. negotiate

sources:

  • Henry David Thoreau “On Civil Disobedience”
  • Leo Tolstoy
  • New Testament/Gospels  (Jesus)
  • Bhaghivad Gita  (Arjuna and Krishna)
  • influence on:  Martin Luther King, jr.

India (multi-religious/ethnic society)  Hinduism, Islam, Sikhism, Judaism, Christianity, Buddhism, paganism

Hinduism:  holy Sanskrit, reincarnation, nirvana, karma, maya, caste system (Harijani), guru

satyagraha:  (“truthfulness” or “steadfastness”) nonviolent resistance

brahmacharya:  self-control; discipline; control of one’s senses, of desire, of selfishness, of ambition = “courage”

the film is dedicated to:  Motilal Kothari, Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru, Earl Mountbatten of India

Gandhi , passed the bar (Inner Temple) in 1889

Kasturbai (Ba) [wife] — married at thirteen

South Africa

British attorneys:  solicitor, barrister  / Chancery

characters met in South Africa

  • Mr. Khan
  • General Jan C. Smuts
  • Charles Andrews
  • Vince Walker
  • Herman Kallembach

asram (ashram) = “community” (communal farm:  self-supporting, equal/shared work, social experiment and satyagrahi training center)

swadeshi = “one’s own country” — making each village (each individual) an economically independent unit (self-sufficiency)

“There are unjust laws, just as there are unjust men.”

“Even if you are a minority of one, the truth is still the truth.”

“They may torture my body, break my bones, even kill me.  Then they will have my dead body:  not my obedience.”

India

terminology:  Viceroy / military governor, guru, sedition, insurgent, anarchist, assimilate, indigo, synthetic
Home Rule
India Congress Party

characters met in India:   Saadyah Patel
Mohammed Ali Jinnah
Professor G. K. Gokhale
Rajkumar Shukla
Champara (Bihar)

“Their politics are confined to bread and salt.”
“luxury in the midst of… poverty”
700,000 villages
350 million Indians

“In our country it is the British who decide how an Indian should live — what to buy and what to sell.”
“Where there is injustice I have always believed in fighting.  The question is:  do you fight to change things or do you fight to punish for weaknesses we all possess?  For myself, I have found we are all such sinners we should leave the punishment to God.”

Rowlatt Bills (Anti-Sedition Laws)

“Terrorism would only justify their repression.  And what kind of leaders would it throw up?  Are they likely to be men we would want heading our government?”

“I have never advocated passive anything.  We must never submit to unjust laws.  Never.  And our resistance must be active and provocative.  I want to embarass all those who would treat us as slaves, all of them.  I want to change their minds, not kill them for weaknesses we all possess.”

Day of Prayer and Fasting — April 6, 1919
Amritsar Massacre — April 13, 1919  (General Dyer)

“We must defy the British–not with violence that will enflame their will but with a firmness that will open their eyes.  If we fight back, we become the Vandals and they become the law.  If we have the courage to take their anger, they become the vandals…”

“There is no people on earth who would not prefer their own bad government to the good government of an alien people.  Despite the best of intentions in the best circumstances, you must humliate us to control us.  General Dyer is just an extreme example.  It is time you [British] left.  . . . You will walk out because 100,000 Englishmen cannot control 350 million Indians if those Indians refuse to cooperate.  And that is what we intend to achieve–peaceful, nonviolent, noncooperation until you see the wisdom of leaving…”

“There is no beauty in the finest cloth if it makes for hunger and unhappiness.”

Noncooperation (1920-1922)

  • Hindu/Muslim unity always
  • remove Untouchability (“no Indian must be treated as the British treat us”)
  • defy the British:  cloth (khadi) boycott against colonial economic system

homespun
Chauri Chaura
Elizabeth (Madeline) Slade  =  Mirabehn

fasting = penance (deprivation), punishment of self for sin (escape maya)
Day of Silence

māyā = world of desire (senses) is not good (deceptive, distracting from truth); the good person must discipline his/her senses/desires (punish the body) = do not submit to desire–>therefore Hindu tradition of fasting (like yoga it pulls one from this world)

“When I despair, I remember that all through history the way of truth and love has always won.  There have been tyrants and murderers, and for a time they can seem invincible, but in the end they always fall.  Always.  Whenver you are in doubt that that is God’s way, the way the world is meant to be, think of that, and then try to do it His way.”

“Noncooperation with evil is a duty.”

1930, Porbandar, decision to make the Salt March (March 12 – April 5, 1930)
Sabartimi ashram to Dandi on the Indian Ocean — 90,000 -100,000 jailed

“The function of a civil resister is to provoke response, and we will continue to provoke until they respond or they change the law. They are not in control, we are.  That is the strength of civil resistance.”

Dharasana Salt Works march — May 16, 1930
Mrs. Sarojini Naidu
Gandhi/Irwin talks
Second Roundtable Conference (September 1931)

Gandhi spent the 1930’s focused on swadeshi (agriculture, diet, natural cures) and harijan issues

Ba died in 1944
Mountbatten arrived in 1947

“Taking advantage (when someone is down) is just another way of hitting back.”

“Happiness does not come with things, even twentieth-century things. It can come from work and pride in what you do.  India lives in her villages, and the terrible poverty there can only be removed if their local skills can be revived.  Poverty is the worst form of violence.  It is not necessarily progress for India if she simply imports the unhappiness of the West.”

on Hitler and nonviolence:  “Not without defeats and great pain.  But are there not defeats in this war?  No pain?  What you cannot do is accept injustice from Hitler or anyone.  What you must do is make the injustice visible and be prepared to die like a soldier to do so.”

“two kinds of slavery in India:  one for women, and one for Untouchables”

“The only devils in this world are those running around in our own hearts and that is where all our battles ought to be fought.”

The movie gave me some well loved Gandhian quotations, obviously. But the man was scripturally quotable, as the plethora of Gandhi quotes sites available online must prove.

You may have noticed that many of my chosen links take you to Wikipedia. For all its faults (and depending on what topic you are investigating, there can be many faults in that source), I quite like Wikipedia. As it stands, I can almost invariably, very quickly find out at least something about almost any topic, on a site that loads fast and cleanly. Even Jimmy’s now constant pleas for cash don’t slow it down. I like it so much that I even joined and have edited some of my favorite articles (there’s a common weakness—proofreading and editing). I liked it so much that I even bucked the then-popular trend about seven or eight years ago to shun it as a valid source for student research. Why was this old man so bold? Because I used it myself…

In its ideal form, Wikipedia does represent what the internet should be—that digital ashram in which we each labor anonymously and joyfully for the benefit of all.

©2010 John Randolph Burrow, Magickal Monkey Enterprises, Ltd, S.A.

7 thoughts on “for the survivors of English II (since about 1984)

  1. You mention kids being fans of the “tighty whitey” Fox News. I am encouraged that the youth of America was interested in all of politics and not just the left. I believe that the political turn signal of the USA will switch from left to right everyother decade with the weanie no-identity moderate filling in one in a while. The late 80’s was the Regan revolution that made me the conservitive I am today (and Mr.Ev who would debate me in politics rather than do Physics).

    • Sorry, Ted. I actually used my neologism just for you. And in this radicalized day and age, I have come to feel it’s the moderates who make a country great.

      • …And my phrase, Ted, is “tightie rightie.” I admit I am troubled by the racism of the twenty-first-century neo-right (among other problems) but much more cleverly than “tightie whitie,” although the original slang term in this context raises other disturbing connotations about neo-neo-cons…

  2. Wow, that takes me right back to early 2004. Maybe the caliber of students after my year tapered off at a steep rate, but I feel like the level of interest was pretty high in our class (at least, I was interested). Over the years, it’s amazed me how much I remember from that unit, and how much his philosophies have stuck with me. I’ve wondered often whether his philosophies would continue to effect change today, but I have my doubts (at least in American politics).

    And I’m glad that you didn’t jump on the “Wikipedia sucks” bandwagon like most of academia did. Naturally, it shouldn’t be one’s only source of information (after all, you don’t write a paper and cite the encyclopedia, to paraphrase what Jimmy Wales once said), but I gained a much more jaded view of a lot of my professors who arrogantly acted like Wikipedia was some amateur project. After all, if it was so awful, these academics could just make an account and start to fix some of the millions of glaring errors there must have been for Wikipedia to have gotten such a negative connotation in their eyes.

    But I digress. I must agree that the Web 2.0 movement (and the open-source movement I wrote a research paper on in high school) really reminds me of Gandhi’s ashrams, although I’m starting to see the utopianism fade as internal politics make Wikipedia less open for the world to come an edit, and as more and more idiots behave like trolls in discussion boards. I think that in recent years, if interest in Gandhi was dwindling, a great discussion would have been what modern manifestations of Gandhi’s ideas are prevalent in our world today.

  3. This is a bit over my head,,,especially after a couple glasses of wine, however it is interesting reading, which is why I like your blog. It opens up my mind to new topics that I dont typically explore! Cant wait for tomorrow….

    • Thanks, Shark. This one probably had the most appeal to former students. I’ll try to come up with something interesting today.

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