Book Review | Exploring peace and love for our times

Satish has been the torchbearer of a counterculture for more than four decades
Book Review | Exploring peace and love for our times
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Satish Kumar: Abundant Love [Triarchy Press, UK]

[Publication: 2023; List Price: £12.50; Format: ~ Paperback - 204 pages; Size: 229mm x 152mm​; ISBN: 978-1-913743-70-3]

Satish Kumar is a fascinating personality. He has been a Jain monk, an advocate of nuclear disarmament and a peace activist. Now living in England, Satish Kumar is the founder and Director of Programmes at the Schumacher College International Center for Ecological Studies (named for E F Schumacher, who gave us the treatise, ‘Small is Beautiful’), and is Editor Emeritus of ‘Resurgence & Ecologist’ magazine. One of his most notable accomplishments is the completion of a peace walk of over 8,000 miles in June 1962 for two-and-a-half years, from New Delhi to Moscow, Paris, London, and Washington, D.C., the capitals of the world’s earliest nuclear-armed countries. He insists that reverence for nature should be at the heart of every political and social debate.

The life and work of Satish Kumar are well known though not in India. His story and ideas have been brought alive now in a unique book format – a “long form conversation”. This has produced a readable book ‘Satish Kumar: Abundant Love’ written by Jagdish Rattanani, well-known journalist, along with Sudarshan Iyengar, the former vice chancellor of Gujarat Vidyapeeth (the University founded by Mahatma Gandhi in 1920) and Lisa Pearson, a horticultural therapist in the UK. The “long form conversation” is a new series being published by Triarchy in the UK, with Jagdish Rattanani as its series editor. This is the first book in the series.

Jagdish and the co-authors have also done well to put together a conversation with Satish Kumar which should make the reading much easier for the younger generation whose attention span is now small in today’s era of soundbite journalism. He makes the conversation lively bringing out the fascinating life and philosophy of the Gandhian activist that Satish Kumar essentially is.

Satish Kumar is our living link with the Gandhi-Nehru era. He shows us through his own life and observations the relevance and significance of Gandhi for the present and future. This is a story that deserves to be told particularly in the India of today. In these days of GDP and development mania at the expense of common people, it is refreshing to read about the life, work and views of Satish Kumar. He is so relevant and he has the right approach to technology – not any technology but the appropriate technology.  There is so much on which one agrees with him. To start with, early in the book, his views on food are mentioned. He has the right approach to food. In India, because of the politics of Hindutva, some people treat meat-eating as a sin.  He has a more rational outlook. He says in the U.K. people are starting to reduce meat consumption, whether to halt the juggernaut of the meat and dairy industry or to stop soil degradation.

I have been following this subject for some time. I am occasionally a non-veg eater and I have no bias at all against non-veg food.  But there is widespread evidence that Western (especially American) food and agribusiness and cattle industry are cruel to animals and a disaster for the environment, and particularly the soil. As one who has written extensively on walking as part of my interest in pedestrian rights and public transport, I find his walking across the globe in search of world peace the most inspiring acts of all. Satish Kumar walked with E P Menon, an activist who lives in Bangalore and continues to talk about protesting against nuclear powers even today! In fact, as this is being written, E P Menon at age 88, is off to the US to look for ways to protest against the failure of the UN at stopping the nuclear threat to mankind! Menon and Satish Kumar did this walk with such grit, without carrying any money.  And to think that Nehru himself supported the campaign!

They met Bertrand Russell and Martin Luther King during the journey -- we are lucky to have men of such vintage amidst us. Satish walked around with Vinoba Bhave as well. I saw Bhave as a child on his Bhoodan yatra and then spent three four days with him as a journalist for ‘The Times of India’ when he was on a fast in Wardha on the cow slaughter issue during the Janata party days. Then, when Mrs Indira Gandhi came to meet him, I got introduced to her by Nirmala Deshpande, the Gandhian who was very close to her. That is really something. How many people like that can one come across and meet. I must commend Jagdish Rattanani and his colleagues for putting together the work and thoughts of Satish Kumar.

He is right about England. It is not just about business and industry but also the land of poet William Blake and so much of natural beauty. Satish Kumar also walked in England for nearly 2,000 miles. At the Schumacher College in Devon, which he founded, everyone does his or her own cooking, gardening, cleaning.  The book bristles with such positive ideas. 

Satish Kumar is also right to take issue with Dr Ambedkar on the latter’s insistence that Dalits must escape from caste oppression in villages to urban areas.  Dr Ambedkar is inspiring in many ways but on this issue, one must realise that life is wretched in urban areas for oppressed communities. With all the liberating power attributed to urbanisation, the limitations can be seen in the case openly at least in the case of Muslims -- many find it difficult to get a house in Hindu majority areas even today. Satish Kumar is also so right on biodiversity and soil regeneration, chemical free farming. Soil is not dirty. I am shocked to find in my daily walks at the Joggers’ Park in Bandra in Mumbai, they treat soil as dirty. Thus, we have artificial turf, very damaging to the environment, laid for people to walk on so that their shoes do not become `dirty”.  Mothers no longer allow children to play in the soil. What a pity, they do not realise contact with the soil also gives us immunity.

The big point about Satish Kumar is his clarity on issues. Many ideologues say the right things on most issues but when it comes to capitalism one, finds they quietly support the exploitative nature that often underlies it.  Satish Kumar is clear headed here as well. He stands against profit and accumulation, a system that he has called the “moneyomy” rather than the economy. Satish has been the torchbearer of a counterculture for more than four decades. One of his most impressive achievements is a long innings as editor of ‘Resurgence & Ecologist’ journal which is so influential. Though ‘Resurgence’ has never had a mass audience, by sheer dint of its longevity, it has helped guide the environmental movement as it evolved from its roots in the 1960s. “One of the things about Resurgence is that it has never gone away,” says Greenpeace UK executive director John Sauven. “I think one of the interesting things about it is that it has kept alive the flame of many ideas that were part of the counterculture movement of the early 70s and late 60s.” That is so true, telling us of the depth of impact Satish Kumar has had.

(Vidyadhar Date is a senior journalist noted for his writings on urban transport, open spaces and rights of common citizens)

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are the personal opinions of the author. The facts, analysis, assumptions and perspective appearing in the article do not reflect the views of GK.

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