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Posted at: Dec 6, 2014, 11:57 PM; last updated: Dec 6, 2014, 11:57 PM (IST)

For the one who shall forever stand tall

Kishwar Desai
Kishwar Desai
We have to pause and reflect about the power of Mahatma Gandhi. He still has the ability to stir those who know about him, and understand his contribution, to step forward.

A sculpture by Philip Jackson to be placed at Parliament Square, London.
I doff my hypothetical hat to those who raise funds for philanthropy. To those of you who have ever tried to collect money for noble causes, let me say it is probably the most difficult thing to do. However, sometimes one just gets lucky, and comes across people who are happy to share and to donate for a good purpose. Or at least give towards something that chimes with them, and appeals to their philanthropic side. 

Alas, this is not a usual occurrence because usually people think a thousand times before they part with money for something that might not benefit them directly. Most people (quite unfairly perhaps?) accuse Indians of being poor donors. In fact, the most common complaint is that we donate only to temples, to do a deal with our God to forgive us our trespasses. Or perhaps to bribe the higher powers we believe in to give us what we really want: that great job, the wonderful marriage, the house we have always longed for, good health, lots of wealth...there are many reasons to place our money at the feet of the God we worship.

Rarely do we find people donating altruistically. But when it does happen, believe me, it's a fantastic moment. 

And so it happened to us. My husband, Meghnad Desai, had, earlier in the year, set up the Gandhi Statue Memorial Trust to raise money for placing a statue of Mahatma Gandhi at Parliament Square in London. The sculpture has been created by the renowned Philip Jackson, and it will stand, coincidentally, almost in the centre of Parliament Square, next to the statues of Nelson Mandela and Abraham Lincoln. It is an honour that this last remaining space in this square has been given to an Indian; and that too an Indian who fought the British. If we wanted a symbol of how far the relations between India and Great Britain have evolved, there could be none better than this. And to have the British government actually express happiness that this prime spot will be given to Mahatma Gandhi is equally appreciable. But of course, like every other statue in the Square, Mahatma Gandhi's statue also has to be funded through public contribution. The government does not fund it, as that has never been the tradition.

Thus like with every other sculpture, our experience of gathering funds has had its share of troughs and peaks, but to our delight some help has arrived through extremely well-known and beneficent Indian artists. Many of them have come together spontaneously to support the Gandhi Statue Memorial Trust urged by an enthusiastic and passionate art curator, Sunaina Anand. And now next week, in a completely unique strategy of fund raising for a statue, the works of 28 Indian artists will be sold, and the proceeds shared with the Trust. This has never been done before, and of course it is creating ripples of excitement all over the world because all the artists, sculptors and photographers, who will be represented in the exhibition, are very well known. 

All the works have been inspired by the life and work of Mahatma Gandhi. 

When something like this happens, we have to pause and reflect about the power of Mahatma Gandhi, even after his death over six decades ago. He still has the ability to stir those who know about him, and understand his contribution, to step forward. Many among these artists, such as Paresh Maity, Jatin Das, Arpana Caur, Sudip Roy, Haku Shah, have taken time out of their busy schedules to create works that reflect their understanding of him. The divergence among each of the pieces (in the exhibition and sale which will begin next week at the British High Commissioner’s residence in Delhi) also demonstrates how, for each one of us, Gandhi continues to be relevant. 

It is possible that he is the one truly international icon we possess; a fact that comes home to us every day as people donate on the Trust website, from across the globe. When people give personal donations, most of them narrate a 'Gandhi story'. Either it is a real life incident about someone in their family meeting the Mahatma, or about Gandhi's influence in their life, through his teachings and philosophy. 

Gandhi still has the power to move and inspire us. Like the artists who have created these very insightful works, perhaps we should also search for what he and his philosophy means to us today. 

The exhibition which goes online early this week will be visible on the Art Alive gallery website and also on www.gandhistatue.org. It will be formally inaugurated on December 13. Who says Indians don't donate to good causes? Certainly, not me!


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