Spice Mall in Noida in the National Capital Region is a buzzy little place. Primarily because of the PVR Cinemas multiplex which pulls in a considerable number of people every day with weekends turning into mall-melas now common in Indian metros. When I walked in this morning to buy advance tickets for a weekend movie, I stumbled on to an enormous statue of Mahatma Gandhi made in, what looked like, bronze-painted plaster of Paris, placed right at the mall’s main indoor entrance. At (Mahatma’s) arm’s length sat the three proverbial monkeys also made from the same material. While the goofy expressions on the faces of the pot-bellied monkeys could be blamed on the capricious nature of the species, Missttter Gandhi—as actor Trevor Howard, who played Judge Broomfield presiding in Gandhi’s sedition trial in Richard Attenborough’s film Gandhi, said with emphasis on the “sses" in mister—looked odd to me. For many reasons.

If bringing in a philosopher-politician who was singularly opposed to capitalism to a commercial mall is not the most subtle of Gandhi Jayanti messages, placing him between a Costa Coffee shop, a cosmetics store and Pizza Hut made it even more conspicuous. Presuming that symbolism is the purpose behind this display, we could still argue that Misstter Gandhi had been given the wrong seat in the front row of “India now". What use had he after all for coffee or hair colour; muffins or moisturisers or a pepperoni pizza?

Something else seemed to rankle about this version of the Father of the Nation. For someone who fasted more than he ate and is known for his bare torso images showing a pessimistic abdomen, this image looked that of someone overfed who could do with a diet. “Gandhi bapu, Gandhi bapu," said a little boy in his school uniform of white shorts, white canvas shoes, blue shirt and white tie pointing towards the display. The guard at the main entrance of the mall smiled encouragingly when he caught me staring, camera in hand, and quipped, “Gandhi sirji is a few days ka mehman (guest), take as many pictures as you want." I did. One of them is here.

The more I looked at “Mr Mahatma Gandhi Bapu Sir", the more I realized that we were missing something that was fundamentally amiss with this statue. Instead of sitting erect with his legs tucked beneath him and one of his knees jutting out—he also spun on a charkha in this posture—this Gandhiji sat cross-legged, hands falling softly on his folded ankles and his eyes closed. The artist was probably trying a Buddha on Gandhi, given that Buddha is back in conversational currency with Zee TV’s new serial by that name. Imprisoned in an enclosure, to perhaps discourage children from touching him, there sat the Father of the Nation: wrong seat, wrong address, wrong posture, wrong body type, eyes wide shut.

Since yesterday, I had been wanting to write on why every interpretation of Gandhi and his memorabilia doesn’t really work; so what if it is Gandhi Jayanti? Why it might be okay to put his face on a jhola bag or a table lamp but if the same is used on a jewellery case, a wine and cheese hamper or the handle of a knife, it mixes up the message. Why singing bhajans at Mahatma memorials has relevance but repeatedly asking actor Sanjay Dutt about Gandhigiri is an idea that needs to be buried. Why celebrating Gandhi Jayanti should no longer be about the same old “rediscovery" of Khadi (that’s what I thought when an online store sent a 2 October mailer listing Khadi garments).

Today when I spotted this unlikely Bapu sitting with his eyes closed in a cheeky little mall, I began to agree with a radio channel’s current Gandhi jingle: “Only if you have Gandhi in your heart, you are hot.

Close