On Friday night, the film series that my colleague and fellow traveler, Cathleen Cummings, and I coordinated came to an end. We’ve been showing movies and documentaries about the intersections between Gandhi’s principles of nonviolent resistance in the road to India’s Independence and the efforts of Martin Luther King, Jr. to model a peaceful means to justice.
Though I’ve lived in Birmingham for roughly 15 years now and have traveled to India and seen firsthand both the beauty and the inequity that persists in the culture, I have learned much from the images and stories we’ve shared with students and faculty and community members throughout the city these past few weeks.
There’s the story told through the documentary The Dhamma Brothers of a form of meditation called Vipassana brought to Donaldson Correctional Facility, a maximum security prison in Alabama which I visited several years ago to give a lecture to some of the inmates. The meditation program is based on a similar approach devised by Kiran Bedi, first female director of the largest prison in the world, Tihar Prison in Delhi.
We’ve heard stories of lesser-known civil rights leaders in the US and India, including Bayard Rustin, who stood beside and at times before MLK but whose contributions are lesser known.
Several of the selections have offered glimpses into the simplicity of Gandhi’s example: the famous salt march to refute taxation on a natural resource, spinning cotton to avoid relying on British goods, fasting and praying–all against a backdrop of escalating violence by those ill-equipped to deal with nonviolent means to change.
The series included memorable films like Finding Gandhi about a mechanic charged with repairing the engine of an old V8 Ford that once carried the ashes of Mahatma Gandhi and I Did Not Kill Gandhi (Maine Gandhi Ko Nahin Mara) about a man who believes he is implicated in the assassination of Gandhi because of his involvement in a childhood game the same day as Gandhi’s death.
A short called Gandhi at the Bat satirized Gandhi’s “peaceful” approach to knocking it out of the ballpark for The New York Yankees.
For the past several weeks, I’ve been caught up in the violent outbursts of my brother. His drug and alcohol addiction and entrapment in bipolar disease have created an atmosphere that is far from peaceful. Edwina has been caught up in her own agony as well, watching her son being ordered back to jail for failing to comply with the conditions of his probation.
Each of the past five Friday nights has offered a chance to sit and reflect on powerful and more productive paths through adversity and pain.