A few years ago, at the People Tree bookstore in Connaught Place (Delhi) I found a delightful little book of essays by the historian/anthropologist, Ramchandra Guha, called ‘An anthropologist among the Marxists’. Ram Guha starts the introduction to the book by saying that inside every thinking Indian is a Gandhian and a Marxist struggling for supremacy. I don’t claim to have met every thinking Indian, but of the some that I have met this is indeed true to some extent. The theoretician of capitalism and the experimenter of truth, the prophet of communism and the messiah of ahimsa, both dreamt of a stateless society consisting of enlightened self-governing individuals. And on my trip to India, in 2003 I was in London and in Delhi, both cities where the two now rest in peace (or in turmoil depending on your point-of-view).
Apart from the hearts and minds of nearly every professor of English, Literature and Cultural Studies (but not of course of Economics) in the United States, Marx is to be found today in a place called Highgate Cemetery in north London. Gandhi apart from adorning thousands of walls in sundry courthouses, government buildings and homes in every city, town and village of India is to be found in Rajghat, east Delhi, not buried of course, but cremated. The bearded German philosopher and the clean-shaven Hindu saint, both today face disfavor in their native lands. Gandhi has been idolized, canonized, revered, worshipped, even to some extent followed and imitated but the fact remains that his country today is farther away from his ideal than it was in his own time. Commenting on the profusion of M.G (Mahatma Gandhi) roads in every major town and city in India, the noted Marathi humorist P.L Despande says, ‘since we can’t walk the road shown to us by Gandhiji, we call the road we do walk on, Mahatma Gandhi Road.
When I visited London, I expressed my desire to visit Marx’s grave in Highgate Cemetery. My host, an erstwhile college colleague was surprised and perhaps not a little displeased but nevertheless accompanied me like the excellent host she was. Ram Guha in the aforementioned book also describes his visit to the cemetery. Mine was a good deal less eventful than his. We took the tube to Highgate station, got out and started walking up Highgate Hill. I had the directions from the internet. On our way we bumped into a spirited old worker belonging to some revolutionary socialist party (I forget which one) hawking the latest issue of the party’s mouthpiece. I was delighted with the fortuitous coincidence, the omen, the sign depending upon your point of view. I bought his newspaper and his magazine (Marxist Review). While parting I mentioned to him that I was visiting from the US and on my way to pay my homage to our beloved prophet. ‘He lives, man’. Said the old guy in a thick version of one of the many London accents. We made our way through the park just adjoining the cemetery and finally reached the cemetery itself. There was a two pound entry fee. I asked the chap at the door if many people came through the visit Marx’s grave. Not so much anymore, he said. When the Soviet Union was still around bucketfuls of students would come from there on government sponsored trips, pilgrimages, one might say. Now it is the solitary person here and there, he said. But hearteningly in the forty-five minutes or so that I spend there, two people ask me for direction to where Marx rests.
In Delhi I was so busy tracking down and trying to meet living socialists and Gandhians that I had no time for the dead old man at Rajghat. I felt rather sad about this. Visiting both Marx and Gandhi on the same trip would have had that symmetry of purpose. But it was not to be. I did pass the Rajghat area on a couple of occasions and that consoled me. Every year on October 2nd, Gandhi’s birth anniversary, there is an official ceremony at Rajghat. Whenever some foreign dignitary graces New Delhi, they are brought to Rajghat to pay their respects. Gandhi, in his death, is smothered with official recognition. In contrast, Marx seems much more incognito in death. As suits a career-troublemaker on the run from the authorities everywhere. Now that the Soviet Union is dead and China is safely capitalist, Marx seems to be in no danger of being smothered by officialdom anywhere. This is as it should be. People like Jesus, Gandhi and Marx only diminish with institutionalizing. It is far easier to be a Christian than to be Jesus-like, far easier to be a Gandhian than to be Gandhi-like, much simpler to be a Marxist than to… I have known many Christians, many Marxists and some Gandhians. A thinking person should have a bit of Jesus, a bit of Marx, a bit of Gandhi but she can never be a Christian, a Marxist, a Gandhian.