It was an honor to meet you at the inaugural Martyrs Metonymous summit. I do hope that our hosts from the United Nations were not confusing us for the Alcoholics Anonymous meeting. There are plenty of leaders—dead and living—who would be better candidates for that gathering. Please do not take offence at my small joke; I understand that even in death you have remained abstemious in food and drink. I too was a lifelong teetotaler. But the moral decline of my country’s leadership has me eyeing a deep mug of ale in which I might drown my sorrow.
Allow me to move on to the serious matter that informed the Martyrs Metonymous agenda: “Partition as a Solution to the Qari Civil War.” Less than a decade before your birth, the United States of America was in the midst of its own internecine struggle. North against South. Yankee against Confederate. Negro against White. Brother against Brother. Over the years, many have thought that my goal was to emancipate the slaves. While it is true that I abhor the enslavement of any man by another, my presidency was dedicated to saving the Union. As such, I cannot, with a clear conscience, support the partition of Qar.
I am sure that the conveners of our meeting had the best interest of the Qari people in mind when they recommended partition as a solution to the seemingly endless bloodshed between Sunnis and Shi’as. But it is too simple-minded to suggest that a cool white line drawn in the hot brown sand will magically solve long-standing problems.
As soon as humanly possible, please convey to me your thoughts on this important situation that has posthumously brought us together.
My Dear President Lincoln,
I shall dispense with pleasantries and proceed directly to your query about partition. As you well know, my homeland has often been cleaved, sometimes from within, but most devastatingly by external forces. To understand my nonviolent resistance to the British presence in India, please imagine your response to England involving itself in the American Civil War. At best, you might have thought that this hypothetical involvement was hypocritical meddling; more likely, had you given in to the frail human feelings of betrayal and vulnerability, you would have believed that there was an underlying divide-and-conquer motivation on the part of those opposed to an independent America.
Friend, I am certain that you appreciate my enduring sadness in the tragic division of India and Pakistan. Partition has not ended the conflict. Indeed, since the middle of the last century there have been multiple wars between these two siblings. I would have fasted to the death to avoid those conflicts, but my present physical state does not permit such active resistance. (You see, I too have need for these small jokes to make tragic matters bearable.)
On the several occasions when Hindu-Muslim conflagrations have burned through Indian cities, I have vowed to put out the eternal flame that the government has kept burning in my honour. But these were empty gestures on my part. Until this recent request from the United Nations, I have felt as helpless as perhaps you have. The living build statues of us but discard our philosophies as irrelevant. Our granite-inscribed words fall on stone-deaf ears. Perhaps it is only dead ears which can hear the silent wailing of fractured lives.
A country’s unity is as fragile as an eagle’s nest. The high-flying bird seems so steadfast and unassailable, but her nest is a precarious construction. When jostled, this sovereign union of twigs and mud comes crashing to the ground. Eggshells are splattered. Lives within are lost. It is a fool’s errand to put Humpty Dumpty together again.
Abe, let us remain united in resisting not only the partition of Qar, but also the deplorable occupation of this fair country by foreign forces. Also, let’s you and I do away with formalities and address each other by first name. Toward the end of my life, I found it quite distasteful that everyone addressed me as Bapu or Mahatma. I truly longed for a kindred spirit who would simply call me Mohan.
M. K. Gandhi
My generous friend, yes, we are kindred spirits. At that last meeting you thoughtfully had taken the trouble to memorize my Gettysburg Address. While these words have echoed in my mind like restless ghosts, I have never heard them spoken by another with the same weary hopefulness that I felt so many years ago. It was particularly heartening for me to hear the following from your gentle, but firm, voice of peace.
“It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us—that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion—that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain—that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom—and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”
I have grown accustomed to others using my words to champion civil rights, win elections, coach athletes, and even to sell automobiles, kitchen appliances, and cell phones (Americans are a most inventive people, don’t you agree?). But I am exceptionally grieved that President Dumbfree has used my words from 1863 to continue his march of folly in this new millennium. In promising the nation’s men and women in uniform that he would not allow “the sacrifice of troops who have died in Qar to be in vain by pulling out before the job is done,” he has compounded his initial mistake as commander in chief. It is not only troops who die; civilian death is perhaps less visible, but just as tragic. Furthermore, the American Constitution is not to be trampled upon to extend our sense of nation, God, and freedom onto other countries. And lastly, “government of the people, by the people, and for the people” ought never be imposed in imperial fashion.
So what is to be done? Humphrey W. Dumbfree has been invited to benefit from our next meeting of Martyrs Metonymous. While some say that he may be attending as a desperate measure, as one final means of salvaging his presidency, I do not believe this to be his primary motivation. Having sat at the same seat of tremendous responsibility, I am convinced that this president genuinely wants to right what has gone terribly wrong. What shall we suggest to him in these trying times?
One thought I have is to engage the next generation. Perhaps we should extend the invitation to the president’s daughters. It might be illuminating for President Dumbfree to contemplate his children surging off to war. Indeed, I suggest the following test for all leaders: When at the precipice of a conflict that is certain to take thousands of lives, first be prepared to sacrifice a loved one.
Mohan, I pray that the Qari war is over before America marks the bicentennial of my birth. For if it is not, then your thoughts and mine are worth less than a Lincoln Penny. Can you imagine the incessant parade of death in Qar competing with Presidents’ Day celebrations on Main Street, USA?
I remain yours,
My Dear Friend,
Do you recall how the United Nations host introduced the two of us at the first meeting? With sober jocularity, he said, “Here are two most ugly men who made the world a more beautiful place.”
I believe your sacrificial test similarly attempts to integrate two opposing principles: himsa and ahimsa, violence and nonviolence. You suggest familicide to avoid genocide. Desperate times may call forth such desperate measures, but I do not share your enthusiasm for this test of family. While it attempts to bring less violence into our world, it does not pass the greater test of truth. Just as the feverish death of your dear son Willie did not stop you from pursuing the Confederate Army in what you thought was a just war, there are those who would sacrifice their children for what they believe to be a greater good.
While on principle I’m opposed to all violence, I do believe that there are men and women of integrity who dedicate their lives to the so-called art of war. But these warriors do not enter battle lightly. They understand war and truthfully weigh the loss of life and limb against the need to resist an aggressor. Satyagraha demands that we hold fast to the truth. In order to know the truth of war, leaders must have their eyes open to violence in all its incarnations. Perhaps President Dumbfree fancies himself chosen to extend the American sense of manifest destiny. His language reminds me of Kipling’s “White Man’s Burden.” It is the poetry of empire builders. Unfortunately, young Humphrey does not appear to be carrying much of a burden. He is too facile with the truth to see its inherent beauty, and too unaware of the ugliness of war to be encumbered by its cost.
Abe, you went to Gettysburg and looked directly at the coffins of dead soldiers and into the battle-weary faces of these men’s families. Let us hold future meetings of Martyrs Metonymous in the battlefields and cemeteries of Qar. Let the president’s insulated eyes be scarred by limbless men, widowed women, and orphaned children. Let us use the bullets of John Wilkes Booth and Nathuram Godse to end the horror. I retain hope that our words have not been burdened by silence. Let us give voice to peace.
M. K. Gandhi
Katha 2007 Results
The Sacrifice by RAVIBALA SHENOY, Naperville, Ill.
First Date by SHRUTI SWAMY, Watsonville, Calif.
Abe and Mohan’s Burden by RAJESH C. OZA, Palo Alto, Calif.
On the Verge by
SRI PRIYA SRIRAM, Houston, Texas
Colors of the Sky by
SUMANA KASTURI, Cupertino, Calif.
|After a long run in the corporate world, Rajesh C. Oza now balances his life between family and friends, organizational alignment and consulting, reading and writing, India and America. He has published fiction and nonfiction and is presently writing a memoir about his childhood in India, Canada, and the United States. Raj can be reached at [email protected]|