He was a small man, a frail figure in a simple loincloth. But 60 years after his death, Mahatma Gandhi still looms larger than life, and as much of a role model - maybe more - as he was when he lived. From Gandhigiri in Singur to proposals to name streets in Ottawa and Leicester after him; from Danish newspaper advertisements that focus on his principles to US presidential candidate Barack Obama declaring he is inspired by him - the Mahatma's magic lives on. Mahatma Gandhi's great grandson, Tushar Gandhi says, "Bapu's simplicity was his greatness. His speeches and thoughts are as relevant today as they were a century ago and that is where his emotional appeal lies." It appears to cut across borders, generations and time. Ironically, in the age of the internet and YouTube, even large foreign companies invoke the Mahatma brand to get their message across. That is why Italian telecom giant Italia declared 2008 the 'Year of Gandhi'. This means the man Winston Churchill famously derided as a "half-naked fakir" will be the focal point of Italia's advertising campaign, highlighting the need for dialogue and communication between different communities and countries. The larger message of Italia's Gandhi campaign is that "all the problems facing the world today can be sorted out through dialogue." It is a theme Italia touched upon in an earlier award-winning ad, which struck a chord with millions. The ad carried the tagline "Imagine the world today if he could have communicated like this." In the ad, we see Gandhi seated before a webcam to make a speech, with his image projected onto disparate video screens. The ad shows an extract from his 1947 speech to the Inter-Asian Relations Conference, which says: "If you want to give a message, it must be a message of 'love'. It must be a message of 'truth'. I want to capture your hearts. Let your hearts clap in unison with what I'm saying, and I think, I shall have finished my work." Many believe it holds relevance even today. Italia was hardly being original. A decade ago, an Apple Computer ad had a black and white image of a frail Gandhi, at his spinning wheel, with the tag line "think differently". T Ananthu, a Stanford graduate who has been experimenting with a different, possibly 'New Age Gandhian' way of life at Navadarshanam, a self-sufficient community near Bangalore, says the rush to re-interpret Gandhi underlines the timelessness of his message. "Gandhi had solutions to all the problems facing the world today, be it the nuclear issue, global warming, terrorism or war." Ananthu, who is currently busy preparing for a workshop for young adults on Hind Swaraj, Gandhi's 30-page booklet that is said by the faithful to hold the key to knotty world issues. Tushar, the Mahatma's great-grandson, agrees. "Gandhian ideas transcend time; the values of non-violence, peace and truth are as old as civilization itself. He didn't discover them and they are as relevant today as they were a century ago." So, what would have Bapu done to end global terrorism? "He would have definitely tried to find out what's propelling them (youngsters to terrorism). The present approach to end terror with terror is cannon fodder in the hands of people. We cannot find a solution to terrorism unless the cause is treated... many violent conflicts in the world have come to an end through a peace process," says Tushar. He believes people will continue to look to Gandhi in times of crisis. "When there is no hope, Gandhi's ideas give hope," he says, recalling how after 9/11, he received a deluge of emails from Americans who wanted to know what Gandhi would have done if faced with a similar situation. In another incident, following a peace march in Washington DC, someone left a placard near the Gandhi statue outside the Indian embassy. The placard said: "Wish you were here." Tushar says the sentiments represent "the kind of longing for Gandhi's ideas in a world plagued by crisis." The longing is leading some to ashrams, such as Ananthu's Navadarshanam. Murthy Jarugumilli, a 40-year-old software engineer from California, is one of the new Gandhians. He moved to the ashram a week ago because he was concerned about his growing carbon footprint. Murthy admits he was always totally disinterested in Gandhi, but is discovering him gradually. "It's about decentralization of power, self-sufficient communities, organic farming and using natural resources wisely," he says. At Navadarshanam, Murthy's laptop runs on solar power; he is fed from organically-farmed produce; he drinks water from a well and lives in a naturally-ventilated mud house. The model is meant to underline the truth of the Gandhian homily: "The Earth provides enough to satisfy every man's need, but not every man's greed." Accordingly, Murthy and seven other families are trying to live the Gandhian way, with a few well-judged changes. They stay connected to the world through laptops and mobile phones. There's entertainment too. Bangalore is a mere 40 km away. "I can catch a movie if I want," says Murthy. It is Gandhianism remixed and rebranded for the 21st century.
6 months ago