December 31, 2008
The following was first written as a comment on this blog. A particular piece dealt with an interview of Mahatma Gandhi’s grand-daughter, Ms. Usha Gokani. Ms. Gokani happened to be dining at the Trident/Oberoi Hotel in Mumbai, a scene of the terror attacks, on 26 November 2008. Ms. Gokani managed to escape unhurt. She had the following to say in an interview with an Indian daily:
The fact that I chose to dine at the India Jones restaurant at the Oberoi Hotel that fateful night of 26/11, and the manner in which I escaped death by a whisker, reinforces my belief that there is a driving force that governs the entire universe. While the staff at Oberoi’s ushered us into safety through the service entrance, I kept praying to Santoshi ma. It is her grace that I could make it out alive that night.
My comments (slightly modified) appeared as follows:
Your post reminds me of two anecdotes:
The first deals with George Orwell. In 1937, while fighting for the Republicans against Franco’s fascists in the Spanish Civil War, Orwell was shot in the neck and nearly died. The episode is described vividly in “Wounded by a Fascist Sniper” and also in Homage to Catalonia. Later friends would often tell him how “lucky” he was to have stayed alive. Orwell wrote that he found this a a rather curious definition of good luck. Rightly so, it would have been far nicer to not have been shot in the first place !!
The whole Santoshi ma (SM) rubbish is just the same! Either Ms. Gokani hasn’t been paying ALL her dues to SM, or SM has just been a bit sloppy at work lately. Either way, its clear that the expectations for good luck are pathetically low! (alas! only to the benefit of SM)
It also seems from the whole episode that in this case the apple hasn’t fallen too far from the tree. In 1934, Mahatma Gandhi wrote that the Bihar earthquake of that year was providential retribution for India’s failure to eradicate untouchability. This ridiculous remark led to a spirited rebuttal from Rabindranath Tagore (well chronicled in the book, “Mahatma and the Poet”; a review can be found here), who argued that an earthquake was caused only by physical forces. Gandhi, however, remained unconvinced. As great as the Mahatma truly was, in this matter he was certainly out of his mind ! (Surely, by his own logic, Britain deserved a few earthquakes of her own!)
To attribute a divine provenance to overwhelmingly good fortune (or tragedy) remains an enduring symbol of our credulity and stupidity; even the greatest seemed to have erred on this count.