The essential Gandhi on CD-ROM

Print edition : February 05, 2000

CD-ROM on Mahatma Gandhi, produced for the Publications Division, Ministry of Information and Broadcasting, Government of India, by Icon Softec, New Delhi, 1999; Rs.2,500, $59.50.

WE see how Gandhi, with expressions of unconcealed joy and purpose on his face, and in remarkable physical vigour, sets the swift pace for a swelling band of satyagrahis through the dry 365-km route from Sabarmati Ashram to Dandi on the Arabian Sea coast in 1930. Now appears the familiar picture of a group of satyagrahis marching single file along what seems to be a tank bund. Gandhi's sturdy staff and even sturdier legs are sharply reflected in the water of the field along which they stride. Here is Ga ndhi bent forward grasping a fistful of salt as Sarojini Naidu watches.

There are yet other images - a sombre Gandhi walking though the ravaged villages of East Bengal and Bihar in 1946, people converging upon him from all directions. His lisping, sing-song accent in Hindi telling people that he is a "Sanatani Hindu" but no less a Muslim, Sikh, Parsi and Christian.

Images of Gandhi in yet another context, in England in 1931 when he goes to attend the Round Table Conference. We see Gandhi, his bare legs and sandalled feet emerging from a swathe of white shawl, being mobbed by warmly clad Londoners. He visits the hom es of the Lancashire Cotton Mill workers, jokes with children and thanks the people for the "opportunity to see the houses of the poor".

And so on through some of the most dramatic moments of the freedom movement brought alive through sound and action. These video and photographic images of some of the epoch-making events of Gandhi's life are part of a CD-ROM recently brought out by the P ublications Division. The CD-ROM also contains almost the entire corpus of Gandhi's writings. Gandhi-centred imagery of the freedom struggle, once widely disseminated through clips put out by the Films Division, exhibitions, photographs and posters, pamp hlets and popular books, is today far less in circulation. This CD-ROM can certainly help bring an important part of Gandhi's life and times back into classrooms, libraries and homes.

The core of the collection is of course the 50,000 pages in 100 volumes of Gandhi's collected works from 1884 to 1948. This is invaluable for researchers both Indian and foreign, and all those who would like access to Gandhi's writings without having to search for a library that has a complete set of his collected works. There is an indexing system which helps entry to this section. The multimedia section has 30 minutes of film footage, over 550 photographs, and 15 minutes of Gandhi's voice. This intera ctive multimedia section is designed presumably for a different audience. Schools and libraries would certainly want to possess it, especially abroad where the kind of Gandhi source-base that exists in India is absent. The interactive section in turn has several components. There is a short introduction to Gandhi which takes the viewer through his life with narrative, images, and tributes, though alas little good analysis. There is a very interesting section called Landmark Events which brings together 40 important events of Gandhi's life, presented with photographs, footage and speech. A section on Gandhian concepts offers explanations on some of his principles and philosophical concepts.

IN an otherwise much-needed and imaginative effort, there are some inexcusable omissions and a disregard for details. The most glaring gap in the narrative, both in the Introduction and under the Landmark Events section, is the failure to mention the nam e of Gandhi's assassin. That it was Nathuram Godse, a Hindu fanatic and one-time member of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) who murdered Gandhi is a fact of history which has never been contested. Gandhi was assassinated on January 30, 1948, the nar rative solemnly informs us, and it then moves on to reactions to his death, as if the identity of the assassin and his political convictions are really of no special consequence! While viewers will draw their own conclusions from this omission in a compi lation brought out by the Publications Division in 1999, the credibility of this whole effort at history-making is severely compromised. A user will surely wonder what else has been omitted.

There are other, less damaging, problems with the production. For example, there are practically no dates given in the section 'Introducing Gandhi', which is a short illustrated narration on Gandhi's life and his contribution to India's freedom struggle. This narrative has only three dates - 1915, which is the year he returned from South Africa; 1930, the year he undertook the Dandi March; and January 30, 1948, the date he was killed. All other important events of his life are described, but with no men tion of when they happened. The other noticeable evidence of lack of attention to detail is the careless translation of speech to text. A voice recording from Martin Luther King on Gandhi gets written into text with the important word "oppressed" left ou t. A voice recording of C. Rajagopalachari is rendered into text with avoidable errors of punctuation.

While the photographic, videographic and voice reproductions in the production are remarkable for their clarity of image and sound, the production has some navigation problems which subsequent updates could perhaps seek to solve. The most obvious one rel ates to sub-menus. For example, from the Landmark Events menu page or screen, it is possible to click into any of the 40 landmark events that have been listed. However, once on an information page (entitled 'Dandi March' or 'The Rowlatt Acts', for exampl e), it is not possible to click back directly into the Landmark Events mainscreen. Instead, the user must go back to the main menu - a user-unfriendly step. The other inconvenience that the user faces is a main navigation bar at the bottom of the screen that in some screens is black and therefore unnavigable. The user must literally navigate in the dark with the pointer, and make several errors before hitting upon the icon she/he wants.

This CD-ROM is compatible both on Macintosh and Windows platforms and comes packaged with Quick Time 2.1 and Adobe Acrobat Reader software.

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