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Fifty-Fifty: Fade-Out For Brand Mahatma Gandhi?

Digitalisation of payments (and everything else) was impacting the use and exchange of currency notes – and reducing the OTS (Opportunity To See) of Brand Mahatma Gandhi.

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It was very late in the night. I was in deep slumber. There was a knock on the door. I did not stir. The knocking got louder. I half-awakened. Then fell asleep again. The knocking got more purposeful, and louder. I finally got out of bed, and opened the door.

Standing in front of me was Mahatma Gandhi, the Father of the Nation. 

Was I awake? Or was I asleep? Actually it didn’t matter. Gandhiji was here. And I was standing there in his presence. That was all that mattered. It was my Munna-bhai moment. 

“Happy birthday, Bapu! Happy 151st birthday!” I said in welcome. Bapu nodded, but he did not smile. He seemed tired, anxious and somewhat withdrawn. I escorted him to a sofa in the bedroom. He sat down cross-legged. I took his walking stick and propped it against the wall. He refused the glass of water that I offered him. I could see the deep worry lines around his eyes.

“You are an expert on human brands? You write about them?” he asked me. I nodded, glad to be acknowledged by none else but the Mahatma himself. “I am a PhD in Human Brands”, I replied rather self-importantly. “I even wrote a piece on Gandhi vs Gandhism vs Gandhigiri that went wildly viral on your 150th birthday last year”, I gloated, though I tried saying it as matter-of-factly as I could make it sound. “Yes, I read it”, he said, looking up at me. I went from gloat to bloat in an instant. 

“But I think what you wrote last year about me is increasingly getting irrelevant,” the Mahatma said. “My ‘brand’, as you term it, is headed to a speedy fade-out”, he said resignedly. “Why?” I asked, not quite comprehending Gandhiji’s concerns. 

“It is these Gujarati boys … would you believe it, my own Gujarati boys … that are doing this to me. Narendra Damodardas Modi is pushing ‘digital this’ and ‘digital that’ all day, all night, everywhere … and Mukesh, apno  Dhirubhai’s son, is hell bent on bringing everyone from Google to Facebook into Jio Digital so that he can revolutionise everything from payments to retailing to entertainment …”, complained the Mahatma, almost breathless, and seemingly exasperated. “So what’s that got to do with you, Bapu”, I asked, not quite sure where this was headed.

“You don’t understand?” he asked, almost amazed. I shook my head.

“If everyone starts paying online for everything … their Swiggy orders, their veggies on Big Basket, their Amazon goodies, their salaries to Krishna bai and Suresh bhai, their police challan, their school fees, their bijli bill … everything by apps and data, then who will use currency notes? Brand Mahatma Gandhi’s biggest visibility is really on the Rs.5, Rs.10, Rs.20, Rs.50, Rs. 100, Rs. 200, Rs.500 and Rs. 2000 notes … the Rs. 1000 one was so much in demand too … wonder why they withdrew it.” Oh! The realization finally dawned on me. Digitalisation of payments (and everything else) was impacting the use and exchange of currency notes – and reducing the OTS (Opportunity To See) of Brand Mahatma Gandhi. One was getting to see less-and-less of him everyday. The Mahatma had it all figured out. Smart. Very smart!

“And no one is going to the temples because of Covid these days”, he continued. “So no coins too going into the donation boxes … my images on the Rs. 10 and Re. 1 coins, and the 50p and 20p coins are near wasted. The darshans and gifts to the Gods are all happening digitally. I am nowhere in the picture”, he lamented. Correct, again. And astute!

“The one saving grace were the postage stamps. I remember how the first stamp on me was to be released on my birthday in 1947 but I stopped it … there was so much of blood and gore around. It wouldn’t have been appropriate to indulge is such aggrandizement. But Jawahar, the sweetheart that he always was, personally involved himself in getting four stamps designed, and released on August 15, 1948” reminisced the Mahatma. “But do you know that the first lot was actually printed in Switzerland?!” he laughed, for once. “Then the US released a postage stamp on me in 1961. Congo did it in 1967. In 1969, more than 40 countries celebrated my 100th with stamps. Poland even released a post card on me; Romania a ‘rememberance envelope’. The UN released a postage stamp on my 140th birthday”, he beamed with satisfaction. “You know they even released a khadi stamp on me at the World Philatelic Exhibition in 2011? That was really cute. Never thought khadi would get used for postage”, he smiled. He was right. As many as 69 countries celebrated Mahatma Gandhi’s 150th birthday with a stamp in salutation, last year. “But what’s the use? Everybody only uses e-mail or Whatsapp or Zoom calls these days. No postage stamps. All communication is digital”, he sighed. I hadn’t figured that till the Mahatma mentioned it : what use are postage stamps that no one sees?

“But Bapu, there are still more roads named after you than anyone else …”, I tried to cheer him up, “Guntur to Ongole to Daman to Vadodara … Winnipeg  to Ghent to Bonn to Beirut … over 200 roads carry your name. You live on through them.” “Bah! No one calls them Mahatma Gandhi Roads … just the abbreviated MG Road is what they now call it … no mention of me … in Delhi in fact MG Road is Mehrauli-Gurgaon Road …you can’t just flatter me – I am 151 years old, don’t forget.” I didn’t have an answer to that.

“Your statues are everywhere …”, I begun. He cut me short. “Don’t start that one. Narendra Damodardas Modi, my Gujarati boy, he built the world’s tallest statue for Vallabh bhai that too in my home state …?!” The Mahatma was inconsolable.

“But  Mont Blanc launched a Rs. 14 lac Mahatma Gandhi pen …”, but he cut me short. “No one writes with pens any more. Hey! Ram ”. 

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