I enjoy watching a good movie. Who doesn’t, right? But so far there are only a few I appreciate well enough to buy and re-watch regularly. One of those is Richard Attenborough’s 1982 film Gandhi. Starring Ben Kingsley as The Mahatma, together with a star-studded and talented array of actors, this film won 8 Academy Awards including Best Picture.
As depicted by Attenborough about 45 minutes in, Gandhi is shown returning to his native India from South Africa. Shortly afterward he’s reunited with his friend Professor Gopal Krishan Gokhale during a high-society garden party. Gokhale was a social reformer, member of the Indian National Congress, and later its president. Gokhale first learned of Gandhi from his civil rights work in South Africa and had visited Gandhi there a few years earlier.
In this garden party scene, Gokhale has led Gandhi to a secluded spot away from the other partiers for a private discussion. Part of that dialogue reads:
Gokhale: We are trying to make a nation, Gandhi, but the British keep trying to break us up into religions, principalities, providences. What you were writing in South Africa, that’s what we need here.
Gandhi: I have so much to learn about India. And I have to begin my [law] practice again. One needs money to run a journal.
Gokhale: Nonsense. … Now, you forget about your [law] practice. You have other things to do. India has many men with too much wealth. And it’s their privilege to nourish the effort of the few who can raise India from servitude and apathy. I’ll see to it. You begin your journal.
Gandhi: I have little to say
Gokhale: Come, let’s sit down.
Gandhi: India is an alien country to me.
Gokhale: Change that. Go and find India. Not what you see here [during a plush garden party] but the real India. You’ll see what needs to be said, what we need to hear.
Let’s pause for a minute to recall what we wrote in Better Capitalism about the ‘from above’ and ‘from below’ relationship:
The core conviction that “God provides” fundamentally (re)shapes our relationship to economic goods and to our fellow human beings, whether from above or from below. From above, in the perspective of plenty, we receive God’s provision and invest it securely and productively with one another rather than anxiously hoarding for our divided selves. From below, in the perspective of poverty, we receive God’s provision gratefully as part of a glorious Creation rather than anxiously comparing ourselves with those who appear to have more. God provides for our needs—economic and relational, countering our underlying anxieties about both—through our partnership with each other. In partnership together, loving neighbor as self, God secures our material resources and our psychology that are otherwise prone to insecurity.
Only recently did I catch this ‘from above/from below’ conversation between Gokhale and Gandhi, and only then could I spot the miracle Attenborough points his camera to. Read that conversation again. Surely, you now see it too.
Gandhi, at the time of this scene in 1915, is an emerging hero. Not yet the instantly recognizable face and name that he would later become, his fame is nevertheless increasing even as he denies it in a previous scene. As the dialogue depicts, he’s also burdened by the financial concerns of supporting himself and his family. Many if not most of us would think, ‘Of course, that’s only sensible and practical.’ But is such a view really the only one (and therefore sensible and practical), especially when it impedes the real value we bring to this world?
Fortunately, Gokhale saw that it was not the only option. Gokhale suspected that Gandhi was too valuable to have his talents and energies diverted. Gokhale also knew those from above – the “many men with too much wealth” – had the privilege to nourish the effort of the few who could be transformative. Through his observing, thinking, and speaking, Gokhale shows a partnership perspective and he chooses to exercise it.
That’s the miracle birthed in that dialogue, a from above/from below partnership that launched and supported Gandhi in his transformative work. The from above/from below economic partnership forged by Gokhale and Gandhi, which we see as influencing Gandhi’s economic initiatives (and perhaps India’s modern economy), is as instructive and doable where you now live or work, as it was in 1915 Bombay, India.
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