The Comeback Mahatma My grandfather had fought in World War II and commanded the Malabar Special Police. He didn't know what Gandhigiri was. All he knew was that a half-naked fakir was taking on the British Empire that he served. He had seen the might of the Empire taking on Hitler and Co. and wasn't impressed by anyone who carried a big stick and spoke softly. But when my grandmother started wearing khadi saris and discarding her expensive perfumes, he sensed Gandhigiri was at work. In 1946, he was posted in Madras. One day, my grandmother told him she was going to Marina Beach to see Mahatma Gandhi. It didn't seem like a good idea to grandpa; the wife of the MSP Commandant going to listen to the poster boy of the Indian revolution. My grandmother remembers being disappointed to see a small, unimpressive looking man dressed in white, standing on the dais. When Gandhi got up and put a finger to his lips to silence the immense crowd, his quiet "shhh..." hardly carried across the great beachfront. But a great silence descended over Marina, interrupted only by the crash of the breakers. It was the power of Gandhigiri.
Those who do not understand Gandhi do not recognise that the raison d'etre for non-violence was his desire for absolute power. The power a god holds over his worshippers, made transcendental by non-violence, inspiring a holy guilt through fasting and self denial. All today's politicians do is wear homespun and "lage raho" without possessing the charisma to quell a great crowd with a simple gesture. When riots killed thousands in Gujarat, it was atavistic of Partition-but no Gandhigiri followed, no Modi fasted until the mobs threw down their weapons, no Advani or Sonia walked to Noakhali.
I wonder what my grandfather would have thought of Munnabhai. Sometimes there is a point in history when even something as banal as a movie throws society a curve. Bestows popular culture with a resurrected icon which, in this age of marketing, gains a powerful relevance. And after 9/11, Kashmir and the Mumbai blasts, a shushing finger becomes a compelling need of the times. But instead of "Hey Ram", the final words could well have been "I'll be back".