Jawaharlal Nehru once wrote: “Gandhi and Tagore. Two types entirely different from each other, and yet both of them typical of India…” How true. Although Gandhi and Tagore shared a bound of affection, called each other “Mahatma” and “Gurudev”, they also used that very bond for their tug of war over their diverging opinions.
They had different sentiments when it came to matters such as science, progress, idols, the West, cultural exchange, and patriotism. One of their most interesting disputes was over weaving, respectively the khādī, which Gandhi wore himself for the major part of his later life.
The khādī is not just a fabric or cloth, but a spiritual, political, and historical symbol. Spiritual, because Gandhi saw weaving – which he proposed for every Indian to do 30 minutes on a quotidian basis – as a method of self-realization and sacrifice. (Unsurprisingly, one of the alleged etymologic origins of Sufism derives from the word ṣūf, which stands for wool.)
Political, since Gandhi believed weaving the khādī to be a way of gaining economic independence, an increased Indian identity, as well as stronger relations between the affluent and the poor. Historical, for until today the Indian flag is unexceptionally made out of the khādī-fabric.
In addition, the spinning-wheel, the charkhā, adorned the center of the same flag, symbolizing the strife for economic and political independence, until it was replaced by the Dharmachakra, the wheel of law.
On the one hand, Tagore doubted Gandhi’s economic strategy, and was thereby most likely right. On the other hand, Tagore thought weaving did not make anyone reflect about anything. “The charka does not require anyone to think; one simply turns the wheel of the antiquated invention endlessly, using the minimum of judgment and stamina.”
However, essentially both of them said the same: successful change or revolution in the exterior world always depends on the interior, both by reflecting and meditating. Not just, as some actionist might think, on bombing and shooting our way to freedom.
Nowadays we try to change the world, we protest, rebel, but most of us are not able to articulate the real problem, use crude simplifications, or get lost somewhere on the way altogether.
For example, what did people do in the London riots 2011? After taking it to the streets for a reasonable cause, protesters started destroying private property, looting, and attacking innocent people. The stolen Nike shoes on their feed were symbolic: Agitated by the system and yet caught up in it. Perhaps Gandhi was not at all wrong weaving his own garments.
We say it is the fault of banks or governments. Yet, there would be no government or bank without us. We complain about pollution, but do not mind taking the next aircraft for a short weekend trip to Goa. We are pointing fingers, while we forget that three are pointing right back at us at the same time.
Jean Baudrillard, Michel Foucault, Charles Taylore, and many other philosophers attempted to show that there a certain underlying structures in each epoch, which rule not only the world outside but also inside of us.
Especially today the system we are living in infested all of us, making it impossible to criticize it without critiquing ourselves. There will be no second French or American Revolution. Back then, to plagiarize Hegel, it was of no difficulty for the slave to point out the master and insurge against him.
But with our new alleged freedom and self-determination this dualistic concept got messed up, leaving behind two souls in our chest. We chose our destiny ourselves – or did we not?
Another example: I remember an interview with Arundhati Roy, the activist and Booker Prize winner. As usual she was about to rant and rave about the capitalistic system, when the journalist asked her, why she is using an iPhone, if this is the case.
It is not only about the iPhones and the flat screen TVs, but our attitude towards the world, the others, our way of living itself. And that is what Gandhi and Tagore (despite their little differentiation) both knew: revolution begins in the mind and the heart.
Next time we try to change something or someone, we should first toil on the construction site in between our temples. There is much more to be done than we can imagine. And there is, not at last, a strong causal link between the universe inside and the one outside of us.