& occasionally about other things, too...

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Gandhi High

Meghnad, my father, would’ve been 75 yesterday. It’s been 12 years since he died.

Yes, he died young.

Two good things happened yesterday. One planned, other delayed.

The planned one was going to see the play Gandhi High. The delayed one was Prabodh Parikh accepting my invitation to be a ‘friend’ on Facebook.

Both made me smile.

I had decided to take Mahrukh and Che to see the play on Meghnad's birth anniversary after I got to know of the play through Janice Goveas (Diaspora Dialogues).

Jehan, a Muslim adolescent

Gandhi High is a play about Jehan, a Muslim adolescent fighting his inner demons. Jehan has had a troubled childhood. He is unfairly compared to his over-achiever elder brother who’s a decade older than him.

A laggard at school in Vancouver, Jehan constantly got into trouble, the last one being involved in a car theft. His exasperated parents move to Toronto, hoping that Jehan would somehow stabilize.

Jehan finds solace among a group of young people. Like him, they're as angry with the world as they are with themselves.

He falls in love with Carly, starts drinking with his friends and becomes a cat burglar.

Jehan and his father are constantly bickering, neither wanting to hear the other’s point of view.

His father is fascinated by the teachings of the Mahatma and wants Jehan to study his life. Jehan feels that the likes of the Mahatma have no place in today’s world.


When he’s robbing a home that belongs to a South Asian family, Jehan has a sudden transformation.

While working on a school project he discovers that in the late 1980s, a move to name a school after the Mahatma in Toronto was blocked by those opposed to the ideals of religious tolerance.

Just when Jehan seems to be coming to grips with the realities of life, his father suddenly dies, leaving him emotionally stranded.

His world is crashing all around him. His friends are spiralling down in the dungeons of youth crime that is seemingly all pervasive in most of greater Toronto’s schools.

Jehan launches a hunger fast to focus attention on the safety of his young friends and to name his school after the Mahatma.

Inner demons:

But his inner demons get the better of him. Jehan he tries to commit suicide by taking an overdose of drugs and jumping off his apartment window.

The lesson that Jehan learns reading about the Mahatma’s life and times is that it is virtually impossible to get together people who don’t wish to be together; or to teach tolerance to intolerant people.

However, that doesn’t mean one gives up.

On the contrary, one keeps trying. Jehan’s friends are annoyed with him, but mend their ways so that their friend ends his fast. The community begins to support his demand to name the school after the Mahatma – hence the name of the play - Gandhi High.

Gandhi's teachings

MJ Akbar recently wrote – half in jest – that the Mahatma is a lesser of a draw than Jinnah. The exigencies of Indian politics may make it seem so.

On a larger canvas, Gandhi’s teachings of tolerance continue to inspire millions – right from President Obama, who tells an audience of 9th graders that he’d want to have lunch with the Mahatma, to a Jamaican-Canadian middle school teacher in Toronto, who says that the Mahatma’s views helps him tolerate other people’s prejudice against the colour of his skin.

Prabodh Parikh

Now, for the second occurrence that made me smile – Prabodh Parikh.

Prabodh is a writer, poet, litterateur, filmologist, teacher and more than anything else, a splendid human being. He is a true renaissance man, the likes of whom aren’t made any more.

When Meghnad died, Prabodh got together a few poets and writers and organised an impromptu tribute.

For me, that singular gesture really made Prabodh stand apart from the legion of friends that Meghnad had when he was alive.

Sathyu's Garam Hawa

Just before I immigrated, I had the occasion to go and see Garam Hawa (1973), the MS Sathyu film on the wounds of the subcontinent’s partition.

Prabodh organised the screening of this classic. I met him at the screening quite by chance and he was as ever effusive and warm.

I want you to listen to a qawwali (Maula Salim Chishti) from the film.

It was Meghnad’s favourite.

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