CHENNAI: A bald, bespectacled man, holding a stick stands outside an unassuming building at Vyasar Street in T Nagar. He has an uncanny resemblance to an iconic leader — Mahatma Gandhi. His appearance is only short of a loincloth, a piece of clothing that Bapu wore to identify himself with the country’s poor.
A warm smile and a few pleasantries later, he disappears into a room and reappears a few minutes later — this time in a white dhoti, a shawl, a pocket-watch, and sandals. S Kanagaraj, known as Gandhi Kanagaraj, is a 69-year-old writer, actor and freelance journalist. He is not only a spitting image of the Mahatma but also a staunch Gandhian, who has been promoting Gandhian ideologies for almost two decades.
A better India
As volunteers at the Federation of Anti-Corruption Teams, India (FACT) office in T Nagar are busy sketching a plan of action to create awareness on uprooting corruption, double-dealings and deceit, Kanagaraj, founder of FACT, says that this is one of the missions he has taken up to make India a model country — one that Gandhi envisioned. “Gandhi said, ‘In a gentle way, you can shake the world’.
That’s what I plan on doing to do away with corruption and other malpractices. This work space-cum-living station was provided by N Sethuraman of Meenakshi Mission Hospital and Research Centre, Madurai,” says the sexagenarian as he climbs to the terrace.
He seats himself under a green spot and shares that Gandhian ideologies and values are manifold. “Truth, simplicity and non-violence are some. Incidentally, even before I was introduced to his teachings, I was a follower of these ideas. I never attempted to lie, I was never perturbed by unpleasantness despite adversities and I’ve always lived a minimalist lifestyle. So when the time came to immerse myself in his journey, it was easy to absorb his principles,” shares Kanagaraj, who is from Bommakottai, Virudhunagar.
After graduating from the American College in Madurai, he started his career as a medical representative for an international pharmaceutical company in Chennai. “Gandhi used to walk a lot and promoted it as good exercise. Ever since I was 24, I’ve had the pleasure of walking. I walk a minimum of 10 km every day and eat only organic food. I don’t have any ailments,” he smiles.
In the spotlight
In 2000, Kanagaraj met film director-producer A Balakrishnan of Ramana Communications, after which life took a different turn. “I’ve always wanted to become a director. When I met Balakrishnan, he offered me the role of Gandhi in the serial (later adapted into a film) Kamaraj, and I grabbed the opportunity. I am eternally grateful to Balakrishnan,” shares the actor, who has reprised the role of Gandhi in serials and feature films including Kamaraj, Mudhalvar Mahatma, Indru Netru Nalai, Pasumpon Theyvam, Dharma Pirabu, and Welcome Back Gandhi, which is due for release this year end.
During the filming of his debut movie in 2000, Kanagaraj was given several books on the Mahatma by the director. The Gandhian enrolled in a crash course offered by Thakkar Bappa Vidyalaya, T Nagar. “The Know Your Gandhi course introduced me to a world that I had never experienced before. Since then there’s been no looking back,” he says.
Kanagaraj floated two social initiatives — Mahatma Gandhi Moral Academy and the Good India Movement, which promoted both Gandhi and his “practical ideologies”. The Academy in Chromepet offers an educational programme that brings the younger generation closer to the Mahatma’s ideas and shapes them to be future Gandhians.
Welfare and progress
The Good India Movement is a large-scale community initiative that is based on the concept of welfare and progress of all (Sarvodhaya), an ideology conceived by Gandhi. Six months back, the movement was registered as a trust under the same name and has so far curated nearly 15 events. “The vision is to see an India free of poverty, crimes, child labour, illiteracy, accidents and ailments,” he says.
Currently, 10-15 full-time volunteers have been tirelessly working to take the movement to every nook and cranny of the city. “Several issues will be addressed, family trusts will be started, leadership development and disaster management units will be set up. We will also be advocating practices for a sustainable world. We have started teaching people about recycling bio-waste. This way they can also earn an income,” he shares.
The Good India Movement will branch into several initiatives including Mission Great Chennai. The goal is for individuals, social bodies, the Corporation and corporates to come together, adopt neighbourhoods and make it clean, green and safe. “The Federal Bank is one of the organisations that has come forward to fund us. Our volunteers are ready to take the initiative forward but we need assistance from everyone. Slowly we are achieving it,” he says.
Gandhi at 150
As part of Gandhi’s 150th birthday, the movement is making its way into 150 schools and apartments across the city. “The ultimate aim is to work in tandem with society and educate people on different aspects that will lead us towards creating a better India,” he says.
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