A curious mix of luminaries including an industrialist, the president of the Bharatiya Janata Party and a high court judge came together to launch former BJP politician and journalist Sudheendra Kulkarni's book, Music of the Spinning Wheel: Mahatma Gandhi's Manifesto for the Internet Age.
Sometime in the second half of Kulkarni's book launch, it was pointed out that it is almost impossible to write anything new on Gandhi and his ideology. And yet here we were, alongside the who's who of Mumbai in a jam-packed auditorium in South Mumbai at the launch of Kulkarni's book on the very topic.
Music of the Spinning Wheel is a 700-odd page tome that the author suggests is 'Mahatma Gandhi's manifesto for the Internet Age'.
Kulkarni borrows the phrase from Gandhi himself who refers to it in his works and draws parallels between the spinning wheel and the Internet.
The book, Kulkarni said during the launch, was born out of 'my rediscovery of Gandhi and the discovery of the possibilities of the Internet'. Kulkarni, a student of the haloed Indian Institute of Technology, spoke of how he first discovered Gandhi years ago before being influenced by Marxist ideologies and then returning to the fold.
"He wasn't opposed to modernity," Kulkarni said as he made his opening remarks, "He had a deep and romantic fait in the potential of technology."
In an earlier piece, talking about his book, Kulkarni said that the book sought to find out if 'digital technologies have the potential to promote universal brotherhood, ensure sustainable development, transform today's globalisation into benign 'glocalisation', and help build tomorrow's non-violent, harmonious and ethically guided world?'
Addressing the audience on the day of his Mumbai book launch, he seemed to suggest that they did. "Technology," he said, "must help promote harmony in the world," adding that the future would be beautiful and just. He concluded his speech with a call for action for all netizens to be 'Internet Satyagrahis'.
By his side on the dais was a curious mix of luminaries including Justice Chandrashekhar Dharmadhikari, BJP president Nitin Gadkari, industrialist Mukesh Ambani, Tata Sons Director R Gopalakrishnan and poet Prasoon Joshi.
While each of them came around with a perspective that was unique, the common thought that ran through almost everyone's speeches was the fact that Gandhi was never against technology.
Dharmadhikari pointed out that Gandhi used the telephone and the typewriter and travelled by train and was always open to machines as long as they didn't replace human beings. "It is one thing if a hammer helped a man work better but another matter if the hand was cut and replaced with a hammer," the retired Justice said.
He added that the charkha was a symbol of revolution and was probably as important as zero in mathematics but added that zero by itself was of no value. "Add 1 before it and you get ten. Gandhi was the man who made 10 out of a zero," Dharmadhikari said.
Gadkari too nodded in agreement with Dharmadhikari and though he stayed away from making any political statements, the BJP leader couldn't help making a veiled attack on the government for the lack of good governance.
He said however that this was the age of biotechnology and IT and that it was possible to keep the spirit of Gandhi alive and take it forward using technology.
Ambani, who funds the Observer Research Foundation, the non profit think tank of which Kulkarni is a part, stressed on the transparency that the Internet had brought about enabling us to follow the Gandhian value of the pursuit of truth.
Ambani also spoke about the value of self reliance (the pun was unintended and sadly lost on him as on most in the audience) and how the Internet helped one achieve it. "Gandhi's values are timeless. Embrace technology and it can help spread these values faster," he said.
It was Gopalakrishnan who was probably the most prolific speaker of them all. His speech was succinct, insightful and lightened up the otherwise serious air in the auditorium.
Gopalakrishnan drew parallels between the charkha and the internet pointing out that neither of the two inventions is to this day patented and in so many ways both have helped empower billions across the world.
"Both allow individuals to work flexi time," he said, "Both enhance the economic well-being of the individual without having to migrate to the big city and neither cuts the arm (referring to Dharmadhikari's quote earlier) but rather enhance the bahubal (strength) of the user."
Joshi, the last of the speakers, started out with a recitation of his poem that was also the title song of the television show Satyamev Jayate at the request of Sudheendra Kulkarni.
Click here to watch Prasoon Joshi read out his poem
However, he chose to play the devil's advocate suggesting that it was perhaps a little 'too early to declare the Internet as a partner to Gandhi's thinking'.
Joshi spoke of his tryst with Second Life, a virtual reality game that allowed you to live a parallel life and pointed out that the Internet in some ways has been a source of escape to its users.
While admitting that Internet 2.0 that saw real people taking real actions on social networking sites was more real, he said that there was a lot of impatience that came with it.
"A lot of young people seem to expect that change should be at the speed of a click. This need for instant gratification worries me. The Internet needs to mature a lot before (we can announce it as a partner to Gandhi's values and thinking)," he said adding, "Internet can be a means to an end but not end in itself."
It was left to Dharmadhikari though to conclude the event ('The last word has to be of a judge' he joked). "There can be an end to one's need but certainly no end to greed," he said before seemingly taking a pot shot at Gadkari, "These days there are no leaders, only dealers."
He also seemed to be against the idea of 'think global act local' that is gaining much ground. "It can't work," he said simply, "(Whatever the change may be), it has to start from the grassroots."