I swore yesterday to try to write nothing about Mumbai, besides linking to helpMumbai.com and NDTV. Certainly you should first read the reflections of Suketu Mehta, who I met at Nieman two years ago and thought of immediately this week. But I thought of something simple to bring to the party – spurred by the 1982 film I finally saw for the first time Friday night, which suddenly felt sort of timely. What would the guy above be feeling this week? (I’m not the only one asking, it seems.)
Above, you see Ben Kingsley as the young lawyer coaching fellow Indian-descent South Africans in the ways of satyagraha: later, in clips much less available, he strenuously opposes partition. But what did he say on the subject? I wondered. I guessed rightly that better scholars than I had asked the same, and found what I was looking for here and here. (No doubt there’s even better than that by Indian scholars, but I’m still in baby steps here.) Gandhi particularly saw the trouble that the two-state solution would mean for Bengal and for Kashmir – and he visited the latter, he wrote, he was heartened by the co-mingling of cultures, where acolytes of all religions had gathered to host him:
We have drunk the poison of mutual hatred and so this nectar of fraternization tastes all the sweeter and the sweetness should never wear out. … In the present exuberance one hears also the cry of “Long Live Hindustan and Pakistan,” from the joint throats of the Hindus and the Muslims.
But the political realities of each component elite (I’m not qualified to go into detail) crossed with British hurry to be rid of the expensive Raj – and the result is actually well limned in Deepa Mehta’s 1998 film, which led my fiancee to pledge war against all things British.
Given this week, I’m guessing Gandhiji would no longer do the same. We can only hope that the arc of history does bend toward justice – even if it’s as slow as he suggested in 1921: