Using Master’s Language Against The Master

November 3, 2010 at 9:15 PMNov (Cinema, Friends, Literature, Media, Musings, Slice Of Life)

Chethan Bhagath has penned an open letter to Mahtma Gandhi (ToI, 04 October 2009) titled ‘Letter to Baapu from generation next.’ In the letter, Mr. Bhagath, inviting Baapu to come back to India and lead the generation next wrote, “We have amazing technology such as the internet now. You could use it so well.”

This line took me a year back in time. The yearly Culture Course in Heggodu with the theme ‘Swaraj’ and one Subrato Bagchi was speaking. Referring to the revolt of Mamatha Benerjee in West Bengal against the Tata Company and their decision to set up a factory in Singur, Mr. Bagchi raised the question, “Doesn’t Mamatha Banerjee use a car? Doesn’t she use a mobile phone? If she does, then she has no moral right to revolt against the Tata.” Saying this Mr. Bagchi went on to make a huge statement. He said, “If Gandhi were to be there today would he use a car and a mobile phone? No he wouldn’t. Because he was against technology and so when he was against them he wouldn’t use them.”

Recently my friend Neeraj Agarwal has been arguing with me that Gandhi’s text Hind Swaraj is outdated. “Gandhi was against train. Do you think we can do in todays time without trains?” asked Neeraj several times. Yes, it is near impossible to avoid train nowadays. So does that mean Gandhi is outdated? I disagree.

More importantly though Gandhi criticized trains, he did travel in the train. He used the train, the one which he criticized, to reach the people and extend the reach of his same criticism. He used the language (here it is the train) of the master against the master. Isn’t that a wonderful politics?

Gandhi was not just against trains, but against technology and machine age in general. A lesser known fact is that Gandhi was also against Cinema. In his opinion Cinema was an evil like gambling and horse-racing. K.A. Abbas once wrote to Gandhi saying, “Today I bring for your scrutiny – and approval – a new toy my generation has learned to play with, the CINEMA! – You include cinema among evils like gambling, satta, horse-racing etc. …. Now if these statements had come from any other person, it was not necessary to be worried about them … But your case is different. In view of the great position you hold in this country, and I may say in the world, even the slightest expression of your opinion carries much weight with millions of people. And one of the world’s most useful inventions would be allowed to be discarded or what is worse, left alone to be abused by unscruplous people. You are a great soul, Bapu. In your heart there is no room for prejudice. Give this little toy of ours, the cinema, which is not so useless as it looks, a little of your attention and bless it with a smile of toleration.”

But the beauty of Gandhian politics is using the master’s language against the master! He did criticise cinema. Yes. But one cannot forget that it was only after the tryst with Gandhi that the great master Charlie Chaplin made his magnum opus MODERN TIMES which criticised industrial revolution and machine age in one of the best ways. Gandhi could make cinema- which is a product of machine age and industrial revolution- against the very industrial revolution and machine age.

An important film theoretician Jean Mitry in his work ‘In Esthetique’ argues that, “It is neither art nor literature which were threatened by the cinema, but a certain conception of art, certain acquisitions, a certian ‘ritual’ …. it did not threaten only an art form but a manner of being, of living and of thinking of which theatre was the supreme manifestation: in short, cinema threatened a culture, perhaps even a civilization.”

The argument of Jean Mitry is remotely connected to that of Gandhi. But the most remarkable element of cinema was that it could be used against the very capitalist, industrial, modern age, as a critique. And that is what people like Ritwik Ghatak, John Abraham (The Malyalam filmmaker), Anand Bhai (Patwardhan), Micheal Moore, Rakesh Sharma, Shri Bhai (Shriprakash) all have been done so far, using the master’s language against the master.

Take the example of the film Lagaan by Ashutosh Gowariekar, which was nominated for the Oscars in 2001. In the film the peasants use the master’s language (here it is Cricket) against the master and won over them and liberate themselves. The colonial power is triumphed over by a colonial game a colonial toy by the peasants in the film.

Even some of the foremost leaders of Indian freedom struggle i.e. Gandhi, Ambedkar, Rajarama Mohan Roy, who fought against the colonial powers got their education in England. Using the understanding got trough English education in England they used the very same education against the colonial power.

But English education colonises the very mind which undergoes English education, argues Ngugi Wa Thiango in his magnum opus ‘De-Colonizing the Mind.’ With all my respects for Ngugi and agreeing with him to a large extent, I feel if we can use the very same English to de-colonize the mind then may be we could fetch better results.

Once Ngugi started writing in Swahili after divorcing English completely, he could hardly reach the world and open the eyes of the world to his world. But Chinua Achebe, whom Ngugi criticises in his book De-Colonizing the Mind, continues to reach to the world and also open the eyes of the world to a new world which has been destroyed by colonization. By using African idioms, proverbs, Achebe is trying to de-colonize English to an extent. If he too were to divorce English like Ngugi, how is that the world would know of the African life and world? He uses the language of the master (here English) and criticises the English.

Similarly while criticising the trains Gandhi travelled all over India by train and spoke against machine age and industrial revolution whose progeny is the train. So if he were to be alive today, yes he would be 140, but I am sure he would be sitting and using internet to reach to the people and using Internet for the pedagogy of the oppressed and at once and at the same time would be criticizing internet. He would criticise the master’s language, for sure. But he would be using the master’s language against the master.

04 October 2009


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