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The Value of Gandhi's Spectacles
|by Rajesh Talwar|
The Hari Putar Dialogues - 51
(The Telegraph; 1 April; New York: With a business empire built on alcohol and a reputation for being the 'King of Good Times', Vijay Mallya's life couldn't be further removed from that of Mahatma Gandhi. But he was hailed a hero in India after vowing to donate the independence leader's spectacles, sandals and watch to the nation after buying them for $1.8 million ('1.3m) at a New York auction. The owner of United Breweries, whose flagship brand in Kingfisher beer, and Kingfisher Airlines said that he had taken a personal decision to buy the items amid huge outrage in India over the sale. He co-owns Formula One racing team Force India and Indian Premier League side Bangalore Royal Challengers, which 'bought' Kevin Pietersen for $1.55 million last month. It is not the first time he has shown interest in historic items. In 2004 he successfully bid for the sword of Tipu Sultan, an 18th century Indian ruler who fought the British, at an auction in London and brought it back to India.)
Putar: According to a report in the British newspaper, the Telegraph, the businessman Vijay Mallya has bought Gandhiji's spectacles, sandals and watch for 1.8 million dollars at a New York auction.
Hari: I haven't read the report, putar? Vijay Mallya has always struck me as being the Richard Branson of India.
Putar: The owner of Virgin Airlines also has a flashy lifestyle. That's true.
Hari: Has Mallya bought other things at auctions before?
Putar: Yes. Along with the Indian Empress ' one of the largest private yachts in the world at over 311 feet ' Mallya also owns Kalizma, which is an Edwardian motor yacht that was once a gift from Richard Burton to Elizabeth Taylor. He also bought Tipu Sultan's sword.
Hari: It is an irony that Mallya who manufactures whisky should have bought Gandhi's possessions. Gandhi was a strict teetotaller and campaigned against its consumption.
Putar: When faced with the Gandhi quote "Alcohol is not the answer to life's question", Vijay Mallya once responded "At least it helps you forget the question".
Hari: Mallya has a reputation for his lavish lifestyle, which is far-removed from Gandhi's simple living philosophy.
Putar: That's true, but if he had a simple living philosophy he wouldn't have made so much money. It may well be that because he had a desire to have a lavish lifestyle that he became good at making money.
Hari: That's true, I suppose. Do you remember the story of Red Riding Hood and the Wolf?
Putar: Yes, of course.
Hari: The wolf dresses up as Red Riding Hood and she asks him those questions as to why her eyes are so big, her ears are so big and her teeth are so sharp. The wolf answers saying the eyes are better to see Red Riding Hood better, the ears are bigger to hear better and the teeth are sharp ' to eat Red Riding Hood better. Mr Mallya is not a wolf, and has done something for the nation for which he deserves a great deal of credit, for Gandhiji's possessions are part of the nations heritage, but I wonder how he would respond if he was asked the same questions about the things he has bought.
Putar: I know what he could have said.
Hari: Go on.
Putar: Why did you buy the sandals, Mr Mallya? He could answer that he bought the sandals because Gandhi's sandals would help him to walk the straight and narrow path.
Hari: Doesn't sound like Mallya but go on. About the specs.
Putar: Why did you buy Gandhiji's specs Mr Mallya? He could respond that it would help him get a clearer vision on the world's problems.
Hari: Again, it doesn't sound like Mallya. What about the watch?
Putar: About Gandhiji's watch, he could say he bought it so that it would help him understand our times better.
Hari: Clever, but doesn't sound like Mallya.
Putar: Tell me something Papaji.
Hari: Bol, Putar?
Putar: Would you agree that Gandhiji believed in simple living and high thinking?
Hari: I guess so.
Putar: And Mallya believes in high living and simple thinking.
Hari: That is also probably true. But why do you call his thinking simple. He is a very intelligent man.
Putar: Yes, but his focus in life is clearly on generating wealth for his company and indirectly for the nation. That is the relatively simple approach of a conventional businessman. A high thinker will be concerned with important philosophical questions, with spiritual and moral questions and possibly with tackling the world's problems.
Hari: I suppose that is right.
Putar: But is high living necessarily in contradiction with high thinking? Can't one believe in high living and high thinking?
Hari: I don't know, Putar.
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