One is a key component of the irrigation reforms spearheaded by Sheikh Zayed that allowed farmers to feed the nation.
The other is a simple spinning wheel that followers of Mahatma Gandhi used to produce homespun cotton to fight the British taxman.
Together the two symbols of progress and success will form a key part of an exhibition at Manarat Al Saadiyat this weekend that celebrates 100 years since Zayed's birth and 150 since Gandhi was born.
A recreation of Zayed's water wheel and a working model of Gandhi's charkha, the spinning wheel that became the symbol of his constructive programme, will be among about 200 photographs, videos and audio broadcasts at the digital exhibition in March next year. A preview of the achievements of both men is on display until Saturday.
Indian ambassador Navdeep Suri called on the curator of the Gandhi digital museum in India’s capital to work on the Zayed Gandhi project after seeing the permanent exhibition in New Delhi.
“In this remarkable coincidence of celebrations in both countries on the lives of both leaders we wanted to bring their thoughts together and provide inspiration to younger people,” Mr Suri said.
“The founder of the UAE and the Father of the Nation in India were great minds. There is a timeless quality to ideas of Mahatma Gandhi and Sheikh Zayed so the exhibits will endure. Some ideals they espoused are similar whether in terms of empowerment of women, sustainable living, the commitment to peace and a focus on the environment.”
The Indian team has worked on the project with the UAE Ministry of Culture, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Founder’s Office.
“We want this to be a catalyst for young students so they use this to explore the lives of these two leaders. We will juxtapose the water wheel that Sheikh Zayed used to transform the land by combining traditional and modern methods and the charkha that Mahatma Gandhi used to boycott British cloth,” said Birad Rajamram Yajnik, curator of the exhibition.
“There are such interesting stories to be told about both leaders that students can use to start their own journey and make a difference. We would like children to understand the teachings of Sheikh Zayed and his foresight in caring for the environment, trees and agriculture as part of his dream for a green UAE. Gandhi’s exhibits will reflect his concept of a simple life, self-reliance and consumption in an economy within a 100 kilometre radius of where one lived.”
The broader aim is to encourage the younger generation to delve into the national archives in both countries for more information on both leaders, inspire exchange projects, research and cultural ventures.
The displays will also use objects such as an Indian bioscope to illustrate the influences in Gandhi’s life. The bioscope is a portable movie projector once popular in Indian villages and towns. For a look at the images displayed by a hand-held projector, a person must bend and look into a fixed lens.
There is mention of it in a footnote in Gandhi's autobiography, The Story of my Experiments with Truth, when he speaks of people looking through a lens in a box with a light.
Mr Yajnik said centuries-old Indian stories on discipline and truth that Gandhi reflected on in his autobiography will be illustrated through the bioscope.
“We could use images hand painted by an artist to convey the stories to engage the young and old,” said Mr Yajnik, also director of the Mahatma Gandhi Digital Museum in Hyderabad, in southern India.
He has curated a permanent Mandela Gandhi exhibition in Constitution Hill, Johannesburg that examines similarities with Nelson Mandela and their historic work on peace and reconciliation.
“Apart from showing the track and path of Gandhi’s life, we will pick up similar threads of how Sheikh Zayed changed the life of his people. The exhibits will communicate the qualities of the leaders and their values,” he said.
The exhibition is being built so that it can be easily transported to Dubai and Sharjah.