A month of quiet and non-violence

Last October turned out to be one of the most inspiring months in recent times.This was the first time that October 2, birthday of Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi declared by the United Nations as the international day of non-violence, was publicly observed in Vienna.German and Austrian television channels showed documentaries and features on Gandhi. Members of non-governmental organisations came together lighting torches under a campaign called Europe for Peace.The University of Vienna, with the Indian Embassy, focused on Gandhi's life and thoughts at a seminar following which Sir Richard Attenborough's 1982 film Gandhi was screened. It was also an appropriate time to remember Madeline Slade, the English disciple of Gandhi, who called herself Mira Behn. A devastated Mira Behn had left India in 1958 saying that nobody understood Gandhi anymore. She made sure she travelled as far away as possible from the India of big dams and big steel factories of the 1960s. She chose to live instead in the even more socialist surroundings of Austria and spent the rest of her life in Vienna, close to the memory of Beethoven, her other love after Gandhi. However, Gandhi has become increasingly relevant today as the circumstances we confront are perhaps similar to dilemmas that “the great soul in beggar's clothes” had faced.Dr Martin Gaenszle, professor, intellectual and cultural history of modern South Asia, Department for South Asian, Tibetan and Buddhist Studies, Vienna University pointed out that in numerous biographies Gandhi is a Mahatma, a great soul, but in his autobiography, he is just a human being struggling with his own soul, trying to listen to what his conscience tells him.Dr Herwig Palme of Vienna University finds Gandhi a perfect example of a leader who was populist and progressive at the same time, able to combine non-violence with action. Gandhi was convinced that the only power human beings have at their command is the power of love. What.Palme also learns from Gandhi is that truth is never known once and for all times but is a continuous process of discovery.This inspiring day was followed by Eid. The festival was spent quietly in Vienna, providing yet another opportunity to celebrate people's social and cultural co-existence. It has been a while since we had seen Naseeruddin Shah on screen. What better way of celebrating Eid here, the family felt, than to watch a new Naseeruddin film accompanied by a modest bowl of sweet vermicelli topped with silver beaten into weightless flakes.It was only a few minutes into Khuda Ke Liye when it became clear that this was to be no ordinary cinematic experience. Naseeruddin has a cameo role only towards the end but what a role it is! In fact, the entire film is rare especially since it surfaced out of Pakistan at a time that is perhaps one of the most volatile in the country's history. This is a desperately ambitious film that tries to cradle into its bosom the most pressing problems of the day on three different continents.The generosity of the film suggests that there is place on this earth for everyone, from hardline religionists to Muslims in love with music. If only one would let the other pay homage to life in the way best known to him. The film hints at the real danger that human beings may lose their capacity to celebrate life in its diversity if we continue to regard each other negatively like we do at the moment. To love what is ours is but natural, but to hate what is not ours must be fought out of the self.One of the most mesmerising aspects of the film is its music. The words of the title song are a heart breaking plea, almost begging those who play in the name of God…not to do so - “God is mine too, don't snatch God away from me in the name of God…understand this in the name of God.” The protagonist in Khuda Ke Liye is reduced to pulp by those who torture him without cause yet hate refuses to touch his heart. This is a difficult message to digest for all those who continue to be wronged in real life, bringing us back to Gandhi.This man died convinced that the only alternative to violence is non-violence.