Today’s photo comes from a lonely page left behind in the train. (It has become a habit of mine lately to base my interaction with the happenings of this world upon the poetic and ironic powers of chance).
It is the ‘image of the day’ published in The Times yesterday, October 2 2007. Children dressed as Mahatma Gandhi during celebrations in Lucknow, northern India, marking the 138th anniversary of his birth.
There is something ambivalent and strange that I feel looking at this photo. Maybe it’s about the way that we teach the young generations history and identity, in a ritualistic way that appears too limited, that suddenly reminds for me those words from Genesis, that ‘God created man to his own image’. Or maybe of course we created God in our own image… and now, all the same, we socially reproduce the future too. Amid childish innocence and loughs, we are moulding our own cultural image upon the placid unwritten space of the new generations.
Where all these thoughts lead me… do they mean and imply that culture -despite all the recent celebrations- is (also) a limitation? In particular when culture actually means enforcing a restricted national ‘We’?
Maybe the photo becomes ambivalent and strange for me after all, because it awakens memories of my childhood, being dressed to resemble the national heroes of my own country. It reminds me the absolute faith and pride of those years, although so tarnished and contrasted by the later critical ideas of growing up. And there is still a national ‘we’ that keeps struggling with the critical ‘I’.
Those social rituals, nevertheless, are not fixed-end processes, neither are reduced to a mere self-centered enforcement. They depend on the meanings invested upon them. The Times accompany the photo with Gandhi’s words in bold letters about how to achieve peace: “If we are to teach real peace in this world, and if we are to carry on a real war against war, we shall have to begin with the children.
As much as I aspire in the paper’s universalised approach on general peace and the world’s general youths, a quite idealised and harmless approach, so much I think that it misses one further point, maybe a stronger one; and probably it misses it because of its own national bias. Gandhi, as well as my own national heroes who I was dressing up to resemble when I was kid, apart for peace and tolerance, they fought for independence and what this means is mainly freedom.