Who needs a statue of Gandhi – we’ve got Leslie

Austin American-Statesman - - OPINION - Pin­gali is a pro­fes­sor of com­puter sci­ence at the Uni­ver­sity of Texas; pin­gali@cs.utexas.edu. Ke­shAv PIN­GAlI

Al­though I grew up in In­dia, I agree with many Aus­tinites who wrote to this news­pa­per in op­po­si­tion to plac­ing a statue of Gandhi in Zilker Park.

Jim­mie Smith of Cedar Park is surely right in ob­ject­ing to the statue be­cause he “can­not seem to re­mem­ber when Gandhi vis­ited Texas.” Un­like Gandhi, I have lived in Texas for the past four years, so I know that Tex­ans fall into two cat­e­gories:

Peo­ple whose bumper stick­ers say “Na­tive Texan.”

Peo­ple whose bumper stick­ers say “I wasn’t born in Texas but I got here as fast as I could.”

Sadly, Gandhi did not fall into ei­ther cat­e­gory. Not only did he not own a car, but ow­ing to an un­for­tu­nate over­sight on the part of his par­ents, he was born in the city of Por­ban­der in In­dia. To com­pound this mis­take, Gandhi does not seem to have been in any hurry to get to Texas, hav­ing got­ten dis­tracted by mi­nor mat­ters such as lead­ing the in­de­pen­dence strug­gle of 200 mil­lion In­di­ans.

In fact, the words “Austin” and “Texas” do not oc­cur any­where in Gandhi’s au­to­bi­og­ra­phy. This is shock­ing be­cause Austin is the most im­por­tant city in Texas, which is the most im­por­tant state in the U.S., which is the most im­por­tant coun­try in the world. And yet Gandhi seems to have been ut­terly un­aware of our ex­is­tence.

Hav­ing lived in Mas­sachusetts and New York, I know that non-Tex­ans like Gandhi fall into two cat­e­gories: Peo­ple who have never heard of Texas. Peo­ple who have heard of Texas but wish they hadn’t. We must con­clude that Gandhi is in the first cat­e­gory of non-Tex­ans, which is bet­ter than be­ing the sec­ond cat­e­gory, but scarcely mer­its a statue in Zilker Park.

Michael Bishop raises the prob­lem that Gandhi was “a skinny dude in a di­a­per,” so his statue would not in­spire Tex­ans. How can one dis­agree with his beef ? In the old days, peo­ple tried to em­u­late their role mod­els, but in this narcissistic age, our role mod­els are sup­posed to re­sem­ble us.

Gandhi was in­deed a skinny dude, but ev­ery­thing is big­ger in Texas, es­pe­cially Tex­ans. Most Tex­ans look like Moby Dick squeezed into a pair of cut-off jeans, so Gandhi can­not be a role model for them.

In the in­ter­est of ac­cu­racy, I must point out that Gandhi’s gar­ment is ac­tu­ally called a “dhoti,” not a di­a­per. You can ask U.S. Sen. David Vit­ter of Louisiana if you don’t be­lieve me.

Per­haps the most telling crit­i­cism comes from Bill Fis­cher of Cedar Park, who writes that as an ad­vo­cate of civil dis­obe­di­ence, Gandhi has no place in Texas be­cause “we (in Texas) vote for what we want, and, if we don’t get it, we try to con­vince oth­ers to agree with us and wait till the next elec­tion.”

This re­spect for demo­cratic norms has been a salient fea­ture of Texas since its birth. Some say that Texas se­ceded from Mex­ico be­cause Santa Anna was a staunch abo­li­tion­ist, but visit the Alamo and you find out that the real is­sue was that Santa Anna was a dic­ta­tor who had no re­spect for the prop­erty rights of Tex­ans, forc­ing them to se­cede peace­fully from Mex­ico.

Af­ter that, the U.S. Congress voted peace­fully to move the border be­tween Texas and Mex­ico south from the Nue­ces River to the Rio Grande. Un­for­tu­nately, Mex­i­cans once again had no re­spect for our demo­cratic de­ci­sions, which led to more un­pleas­ant­ness. For­tu­nately, we are all friends now be­cause al­though most Mex­i­cans were not born in Texas, they are get­ting here as fast as they can.

Who, then, de­serves pride of place in Zilker Park? Al­though I am not a na­tive Texan and I took my time get­ting here, per­mit me to sug­gest a wor­thy can­di­date: Leslie Cochran, the flam­boy­ant Austin trans­ves­tite who walks around in a feather boa and leopard-skin thong and makes his liv­ing pos­ing for pic­tures with be­mused tourists.

This choice should please Jim­mie Smith, be­cause un­like Gandhi, Cochran has been a fix­ture of the Austin scene for decades. Cochran has run for mayor of Austin sev­eral times, which should sat­isfy Bill Fis­cher’s demo­cratic yearn­ings. There is a small pos­si­bil­ity that Michael Bishop might ob­ject to a skinny guy in a leopard-skin thong, but then you can­not please ev­ery­one.

Fi­nally, Cochran makes an ex­cel­lent role model for our kids — now that the State Board of Ed­u­ca­tion has got­ten rid of evo­lu­tion, as­tron­omy, Newton and Thomas Jef­fer­son from the cur­ricu­lum, our kids too soon will be earn­ing a liv­ing pos­ing for pic­tures with rich tourists from other coun­tries, the way so many kids still do in Gandhi’s coun­try.

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