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In celebration of India-U.S. ideological influences

Amritha Alladi

Gita, Thoreau, Gandhi, Martin Luther King Jr. …. the link infuses the exhibition

— Photo: S.Thanthoni

Striking similarities: U.S. Consul for Public Affairs Frederick J. Kaplan explaining to a group of students about Martin Luther King Jr.’s pilgrimage to India, at an exhibition that opened on Monday at Khadi Gramodyog Bhavan, Anna Salai.

CHENNAI: From the Gita to Henry David Thoreau’s “On Civil Disobedience,” and from Gandhi’s salt march to Martin Luther King Jr.’s realised dream, the idea of non-violent protest to secure freedom for the oppressed is a thread that ties the U.S. and India. It is this direct link between Indian and American free thinkers that the “Journey to Freedom” exhibition celebrates.

U.S Consul for Public Affairs in Chennai Frederick J. Kaplan inaugurated the exhibition at the Khadi Gramodyog Bhavan, Anna Salai, on Monday.

It explains how American transcendentalist Thoreau was influenced by teachings in the Bhagavad Gita, and Mahatma Gandhi, in turn, was able to articulate the idea of non-violent protest after reading Thoreau’s “On Civil Disobedience.”

“Until I read that essay, I never found a suitable English translation for my Indian word satyagraha,” Gandhi is quoted as saying on one of the panels on display at the exhibition.

Mr. Kaplan said that rather than being housed at a museum, the exhibition is floating to various locations around Chennai to increase the chances of passers-by haviang a look at and learning about how these countries have influenced each other.

The exhibition was set up this year to commemorate 50 years since King’s trip to Gandhi’s homeland, he said. King was greatly influenced by Gandhi’s writings, which he had read during his college days before joining the Civil Rights Movement in the U.S. Despite the exhibit’s commemorative purpose, Mr. Kaplan said dialogue between India and the U.S. did not end in the 1950’s. Ideological links continue to manifest themselves even today and will only extend into the future, he said.

“Because of Gandhi, we have MLK, and because of MLK we have Barack Obama,” Mr. Kaplan said, in reference to Obama’s historical win as the first U.S. African-American president in the 2008 election.

The exhibition is open till April 29.

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