Now I would be the first to admit that award ceremonies and Mahatma Gandhi are not two phrases that are easily associated. However, to mark the anniversary of the birth of the great man, we were honoured to attend the 'Bapu Awards', organised by the Gandhi National Memorial Society to recognise those who most exemplify the spirit of Gandhi.
The location of the event was in itself historic, as it was the building where Gandhi was interned by the British between 1942 and 1944, and now converted into a small museum. It is at moments like this that I find myself torn between my British and Indian heritages. On one side, one is slightly discomfited by the ability of the British to deny the flow of history, and on the other, one is proud that the liberal urge for self-determination was maintained in such a place.
Our presence was noted by the organisers, and we were given a front row seat for the musical performance that opened the event, and for the speeches and awards that followed.
To give you an idea of the sort of achievement that was recognised, the first award winner was from eastern Maharashtra, where he and his wife provide a medical service under very difficult circumstances. The villages they serve are remote, electricity and running water are not always available, and the Naxalites are active despite the best efforts of local police. It would undoubtedly be easier to work somewhere else, but they continue to serve those in greatest need.
Unexpectedly, our tour secretary re-introduced us all, and our glorious leader spoke movingly about the links between Gandhi and Martin Luther King, about the glory of a man who lived humbly but led a vast nation to freedom against an authoritarian imperial power (that would be the Indian in me...) and about his prescience in calling for a society where we tread more lightly upon the earth. It was a speech made all the more impressive by the fact that he hadn't been expecting to speak at all!
On reflection, one wonders what Gandhi would make of our world today. Doubtless, he would marvel at the advances we have made in medical science and in food production, enabling our planet to support more people and to ensure that they live longer. And yet, he would despair at our politics and at our ability to manufacture crisis and disharmony amongst nations, just because we can.
Perhaps the world needs a global Gandhi of our generation...