Last night, as I was reading some of the blogs I follow, I found this fascinating account of India's history by one of first few entrepreneurs, S. L. Kirloskar. One incident in his life in particular caught my attention – his meeting with Mahatma Gandhi.
Today, October the 2nd is Mahatma Gandhi's birthday and his birthday is being celebrated all over the country – especially in Gujarat which has kept the prohibition on liquor based on Gandhi's ideas, I thought it would be instructive to understand Kirloskar's evaluation of Gandhian philosophy and the reasons for his judgment.
Some background: During the Indian independence movement, Gandhi had popularized a small wooden spinning-wheel known as the Charkha which spun Khaddar cloth. His purpose in doing so was to discourage the use of foreign goods among Indians and promote local, Indian made goods. The Charkha in the early 1920's in India was a real patriotic symbol. Gandhi then introduced a competition in April 1931 to improve the charkha and laid down the rules of competition that the desired charkha "could be run by one person and which would produce 15,000 yards of 40-count yarn within 8 hours of working." An engineer working under Kirloskar's father had though of an ingenious simple machine doing exactly what was required by the competition. However, the engineer later received a letter informing him that Mahatma Gandhi "did not approve of the charkha". Kirloskar, his father, the engineer and an entourage went to meet Gandhi to find out why he had not approved of the Charkha in spite of the fact that it fulfilled all the requirement as laid down in the competition.
The following is the conversation that they had according to Kirloskar:
Gandhi: "Your charkha is good but I felt it is more like a modern machine than a simple device. I did not want a machine."
Mr. X: "You had stipulated how much output you expected from the new charkha, but you never laid down a condition that it should not look like a machine."
Gandhi: "I agree with you. But we must consider that it is the uneducated villager who is going to use this charkha. You know how scared villagers are of anything that looks like a machine."
Kirloskar's dad: "I know how scared the farmers get of new machines. But they also get used to them; and if their experience convinces them of their benefits they enthusiastically use machines. Farmer's now-a-days use bicycles, sewing machines and even pumping sets. So, in my opinion, once they know the benefits of this new charkha they will accept it."
Gandhi: "And supposing, your charkha breaks down?"
Mr. Y: "We guarantee immediate attention for its repairs and will also make the spare parts available"
Gandhi: "I know you would but what I had visualized was a Charkha of my dreams, so simple in construction and operation that even a village carpenter should be able to make one. I don't think your charkha is according to my dream."
Kirloskar: "Then the best way for you was to give us a blue-print of your Dream-charkha."
Kirloskar expands on the conversation elsewhere in his book saying:
"And here lay the heart of my difference of opinion with Mahatma Gandhi and his followers. Like Papa before me, I am, have always been and shall always be, a "machine man". I see the machine as the friend and helper of man, not as a demon devised for man's economic and spiritual destruction, which is the way Gandhians regard it. Our own experience had conclusively proved the benefits which thousands of farmers derived from our ploughs, our pumps, our crushers and shellers and other labour-saving devices. Were we now to scrap all these benefits and revert to the traditional reliance on human and animal muscle-power, with all its slowness and inefficiency? No. a hundred time No! On the contrary I was convinced that India needed machines and prime movers in thousands. And what applied to agriculture, I would equally apply to textiles. If pumps and cane-crushers and groundnut-shellers were good for our economy could spinning-frames and power-looms be bad? I could find no virtue in the slow and tedious spinning of yarn by human finger-power."
Personally, Gandhi has never had any influence on my thinking whatsoever. Call it blasphemy, but I really do think his philosophy is pretty nasty. I do not think that one should offer another cheek when one is slapped right across the face. I think evil should be labeled as evil and fought every step along the way. Imagine the absurdity of telling the Jews during WWII to surrender to Hitler, have their lives wrecked on the hope that Hitler the monster would feel any remorse and based on that remorse would stop the war and leave the Jews alone. Would anybody make such an insane claim? Well, the answer to that question is a resounding "Yes" and the man who offered that advice was unsurprisingly -- Gandhi himself. He said:
"I would like you to lay down the arms you have as being useless for saving you or humanity. You will invite Herr Hitler and Signor Mussolini to take what they want of the countries you call your possessions...If these gentlemen choose to occupy your homes, you will vacate them. If they do not give you free passage out, you will allow yourselves, man, woman, and child, to be slaughtered, but you will refuse to owe allegiance to them."
Here is what Ayn Rand had to say about dealing with force and tyranny:
"When someone comes at you with a gun, if you have an ounce of self-esteem, you answer with force, never mind who he is or who's standing behind him. If he's out to destroy you, you owe it to your own life to defend yourself."
If Indians view the occasion of Gandhi Jayanthi with respect and hope – if it represents everything good Indians would like to see their country achieve, one should not only take the time to really get to know the facts about Gandhi but also take the time to understand and put in place a philosophy for living one's own life. My recommendation in the marketplace for a philosophy is definitely Ayn Rand. Pick up Atlas Shrugged and see what you think about it. (For sources on introduction to Ayn Rand's philosophy, go here.)
Without an understanding of the framework of moral principles grounded in reality, there is no way on earth to determine what is good or bad for you, let alone the whole nation. It is philosophy that we need the most today because if we default on that critical issue, there will be a million more Gandhi's on the way offering the same kind of advice they did the last time around. So, on Gandhi Jayanti, as ironic it may seem, do take the time to think who is right – Gandhi or Kirloskar. Do take the time to think as to what makes a thing or an ideology good or bad because in the long run – human life depends on it.