Living up to the Mahatma's image, the American way

Living up to the Mahatma's image, the American way


BeAmerican 'Gandhi' Bernie Meyer (left) and Donald McAvinchey (right) in his Gandhi persona interacting with students in Chandigarh. IANS Photornie Meyer, 73, and Donald McAvinchey, 53, have not just adopted the look but also the lifestyle and views of India's Father of the Nation, whose 140th birth anniversary falls Friday.

Roaming bare-chested in a white dhoti, carrying a bamboo stick in hand and sporting the trademark round-rimmed spectacles, the two Americans, who are staunch followers of Mahatma Gandhi, are here to pay tribute to the apostle of peace.

Invited by the Chandigarh-based NGO Yuvsatta for a five-day international peace festival that ended Wednesday, the Gandhi lookalikes said: "We love it when someone calls us Gandhi instead of our real names."

"For the last eight years I have been portraying the character of Mahatma Gandhi. In 2001, I was asked by my fellowship council to dress like Gandhi for a function and it has since become a quintessential part of my routine and living," Meyer, who served as a priest in Ohio in the US, said.

Both have been invited to several educational and social institutions across India and other parts of the world to help make people, including in his homeland, aware of the life and philosophy of Mahatma Gandhi.

At times, they are mobbed by enthusiastic youngsters wanting to get close to them and seeking their autographs.
Meyer added: "I have read a lot about this illustrious man and have adopted his principles of peace and non-violence in my real life; I have automatically become teetotaller after adopting this path.
"Now, wherever I go, I preach the same principles."
Meyer holds degrees in various subjects -- history, urban studies, philosophy and theology. He is also associated with the Ground Zero Center for Non-violent Action.

"There is need to make this world nuclear-weapons free. Barack Obama had stated that he wants their abolition and has begun a process with other countries. So we are quite hopeful," said Meyer, who is on his sixth visit to India and has been a Gandhi fan since 1967.
"If George Bush had been aware of Gandhian ideology, it may have prevented the US-Iraq war," he pointed out.
His colleague McAvinchey, who has followed Gandhi's lifestyle for the last three years, says it is not easy to live up to the image.

"Mahatma Gandhi was a legendary campaigner of non-violence, truth and peace. He had sacrificed everything for the sake of his principles, so it is not at all easy to play his role. It puts immense responsibility on my shoulders," McAvinchey said.

Unlike the hit Bollywood film "Lage Raho Munnabhai" that gave out the Gandhian message with humour within a mainstream format, this duo takes its role very seriously.

"I have researched a lot about this man to play this character to perfection. It has brought countless positive changes in my personal life. I have become more calm. Now I know how to control my anger. I actually practice his teaching in my life," stated McAvinchey, who is working in the department of health at Mexico city in the US.

About his experience in India, he added: "This is my first visit to India. I was very nervous and quite worried about the reaction of local people when they see a foreigner dressed like their father of the nation. However, I have found that people here are very jovial and warm. Wherever I went, people greeted me with open arms."

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