Monday, August 15, 2011

Gandhi, independence(s) and discovering unity in a world of division

About one week before Pakistan and India celebrated their separate independence days, I found myself standing in the final footprints of the man who largely inspired this independence but forever opposed the division that it created.

Standing at the exact spot where Mahatma Gandhi was shot and killed, I was overwhelmed by the irony of his death, the serenity of the Delhi garden, the supernatural-feeling of the monument, and the surrealism / palpable connection created by standing on the same soil as one of the world’s most inspiring, sacrificial and revolutionary leaders.

Overcome with humility and awe, my friend Bavidra and I found some consolation in the hundreds of profound and timeless words from Gandhi that were displayed along the path of his last walk. Each quote seemed to build off of each other, amassing into a wave of wisdom that finally overtook us with the following idea:

I believe in fundamental truth of all great religions of the world. I believe that they are all god-given and I believe that they were necessary for the people to whom these religions were revealed and I believe that, if only we could all read the scriptures of the different faiths from the standpoint of followers of those faiths, we should find that they were at bottom all One.

Having spent the past 9 months in Pakistan (and the majority of my life in a very homogeneous country), these words perfectly described a part of my soul that I’ve never been able to adequately articulate.

Since moving to Lahore in November, I’ve wondered dozens of times how different Pakistan would be if she wasn’t split from India. If they were able to develop a mutually beneficial relationship, based on tolerance and respect. If Pakistan and India believed, as Gandhi dreamed and preached, that men are all, no matter by what name designated, children of the same God. If, instead of having two separate Independence Day celebrations this week – on two separate days – there was just one festivity, embracing the collective progress, shared successes, and united hope for the 1.3 billion people in Indo+Pak.  

I’ve also wondered, nearly every single day, how radically and revolutionarily different our world would look if we, the global society, learned to love and respect each other as human beings, celebrating our commonalities instead of dividing ourselves over diminutive differences. If we, in the words of Gandhi, made no distinction between relatives and strangers, countrymen and foreigners, white and coloured, Hindus and Indians of other faiths, whether Mussalmans, Paris, Christians or Jews.

I realize how ignorantly idealistic and impossible this sounds – and , yes, there are a thousand excuses why it will never happen – but there are also several reasons why we simply cannot afford to continue on our current trajectory. The very existence of our world, and especially South Asia, is dependent on nothing short of a revolution, as threats – such as natural disasters, climate change, energy access, illiteracy, food insecurity, HIV/TB/malaria, etc. – continue to suffocate humanity. These are forces that we cannot possibly comprehend defeating on our own, but can only hope to overcome through our collective efforts… 

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