What Gandhi said

2010-10-09 00:00

WELL, he didn’t say it out loud, of course, nor did he say it softly in the presence of decent Christian Brits of the Raj, but he said it all right: If a man can’t find a better way to defy imperial authority, then peeing in a letter box will do. In its modest way it would disrupt their system enough to give his morale a bit of a boost. The Mahatma didn’t specify what ladies should do whose morale needed a bit of a boost, but I’m sure there were always plenty young gents passing by who would do the job for a small fee. And anyway if you look at today’s female athletes at the Commonwealth Games and things, it’s quite easy to imagine how one such could do it while standing on one leg.

Anyway, I’m sure it was something like this sabotage my Auntie Aggie had in mind when she said money was dirty. She didn’t mean it had been unlawfully gained, nor that money was the root of all evil, nothing moral like that. She meant you shouldn’t stick it in your mouth because natifs pick their noses and wipe it on the coinage in revenge for Blood River. Being as I was but a little tiny boy at the time, I became confused at this point. My big sister Polly had started doing History at school, you see, starting at the beginning where God had said let there be all those things. And the next important thing after that was how beastly Dingane had been to Piet Retief and his Jollie Kêrels, who were a decent enough type despite not actually being British and didn’t deserve all those beastly things that Zulus do to folks. Well oukei then, P. Retief’s people from PMB had said, so if that’s how you want to play the game we’ll play it too. And having no Queen Victoria to appeal to, they done a deal with God instead, whereby if He would lend a boot in kicking the s**t out of Dingane’s army in Round Two, they would build Him a hel of nice church back in town.

And that’s what confused me. Polly was also doing Art, see, and she had a book with photos in it of huge pointy cathedrals in France, their insides 30 metres high, not counting the steeples as high again on the outsides. Altogether as high as a 30 storey office block, and surely if th’Almighty wanted one of those He could just go POUF! and one would appear as high as World’s View in the middle of Maritzburg. I mean it’s not as if His credit rating with the banks was in such bad shape; the only way He could score a titchy little church behind the market square was via a contract with a bunch of bloody cowherder frontiersmen down the gatkant van Afrika­, the terms of which contract obliged Him to put a goor on certain of His children and lay great ubuthakathi on their king and kill off this king’s army at a place called Blood River.

There’s one thing especially that must have put the Grootbaas in a bit of a moral fix, because you see if you look at it all objectively, we-e-ell candidly, actually, Dingane was in fact dead right when he said to his special forces Bulalani abathakathi ! Kill the wizards! because (ar come on, man!) Piet Retief & Co were trying to nick his land by that lovely classical process called prestidigitation, quickfingeredness, sleight of hand.

They knew bloody well Dingane didn’t know about bits of paper representing the whole of his kingdom south of the Tugela, and a cross drawn by his hand giving this half of his peoples’ pastoral territory to a bunch of foreign pastoralists. Come on, man! let’s put it in modern language: they were trying to lay a foefie on him, to steal him blind. And the method of settling such title deeds in those days was not in any court of law, it was by the musket ball and the stabbing spear.

But I digress, as usual. A bad habit. We were with the Mahatma, who was not the same sort of sententious old poep as was Mother Teresa, though devotees tend to place him there. Indeed he had a wry sense of humour such as could get under peoples’ skin, as they say. Not so much cruel as itchy. I mean there’s that authenticated story of Gandhi in his weird cotton threads plus sandals and specs being conducted through the corridors of the Colonial Office by a genteel Brit in a suit and a tie on some important diplomatic and political mission of great importance. And there in a certain recreational place they come upon two men at a game of billiards. Aah, ping pong! says Gandhi. Er, says his escort, ah, no, that is billiards. Same thing, says Gandhi, two men playing with a ball.

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