Tag Archive for 'Mahatma Gandhi'

Ramachandra Guha on ‘Gandhi before India’

Ramachandra Guha has just published “Gandhi Before India“, a new work chronicling the life of Mohandas Gandhi before he became the Mahatma. Interview in WSJ:

WSJ: What do you think Mahatma Gandhi would have made of Narendra Modi, chief minister of Gujarat and prime ministerial candidate for the Bharatiya Janata Party, India’s main opposition party?

Mr. Guha: I don’t want to say what Gandhi would have made of Modi, after all he died 65 years ago. But clearly Modi departs from the Gandhian mode of politics in many ways.

The obvious departure is that under Modi’s regime thousands of Muslims were butchered and hundreds of thousands still languish in conditions of poverty and insecurity.

Gandhi died for the cause of Muslim-Hindu harmony. You could argue that his attempts to keep India united failed, but he recognized this. He spent his last years fasting and taking on the might of Hindu fundamentalism and it was a Hindu fundamentalist from the RSS [Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, a right-wing Hindu organization] who killed him.

Modi is true to the RSS view of Hindu supremacy and in that sense he’s clearly not a Gandhian. But the question is that of personality. Gandhi was an open-minded questing person, always curious about other people’s views, always conscious of his own fallibilities.

Whereas Modi is a megalomaniac; It’s all ‘me, I, myself.’ This is a man who in terms of his authoritarian personality is as far removed from Gandhi as any Indian could be and any Gujarati could be, since he’s also Gujarati.

Of course I don’t want to single out Modi. There are other politicians who dissemble, who lie, who are secretive, Indian politicians who are hypocritical including the Congress party, which violates Gandhi’s teachings on an almost daily basis. More:


A guesthouse that channels the spirit of Gandhi

 After extensive restoration, the original 1907 thatched roof rondavel (hut) has been turned into a museum dedicated to Gandhi and his philosophy. [Image: The Satyagraha House]

After extensive restoration, the original 1907 thatched roof rondavel (hut) has been turned into a museum dedicated to Gandhi and his philosophy. [Image: The Satyagraha House]

In Gardenista [forwarded by my friend Pradeep Sachdeva]:

A hundred years ago, Mohandas “Mahatma” Gandhi lived for a year in a house called The Kraal, built by German architect Hermann Kallenbach. French company Voyageurs du Monde overhauled the property a couple of years ago, creating a guesthouse/museum called Satyagraha House. Johannesburg architect Rocco Bosman oversaw the renovations and the construction of the new guesthouses, while Christine Puech and Amit Zadok of Voyageurs du Monde designed the interiors. With yoga masters on call, a vegetarian menu, and no WiFi or alcohol, an ascetic Ghandi-like experience is guaranteed.

See more images here

Go to The Satyagraha House

The truth about Mahatma Gandhi: by Patrick French

In The Telegraph:

This week, the National Archives here in New Delhi released a set of letters between Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi and a close friend from his South African days, Hermann Kallenbach, a German Jewish architect. Cue a set of ludicrous “Gay Gandhi” headlines across the world, wondering whether the fact the Mahatma signed some letters “Sinly yours” might be a clue (seemingly unaware that “sinly” was once a common contraction of “sincerely”).

The origin of this rumour was a mischievous book review two years ago written by the historian Andrew Roberts, which speculated about the relationship between the men. On the basis of the written evidence, it seems unlikely that their friendship in the years leading up to the First World War was physical.

Gandhi is one of the best-documented figures of the pre-electronic age. He has innumerable biographies. If he managed to be gay without anyone noticing until now, it was a remarkable feat. The official record of his sayings and writings runs to more than 90 volumes, and reveals that his last words before being assassinated in 1948 were not an invocation to God, as is commonly reported, but the more prosaic: “It irks me if I am late for prayers even by a minute.” More:

Aung San Suu Kyi, a true Gandhian

Ramachandra Guha in The Telegraph:

The comparison is natural, not forced. As I see it, there are at least six respects in which Suu Kyi’s career parallels that of the Mahatma: 1. a leavening of politics with morality, which comes in both cases from a religious faith, which is devout without being dogmatic; 2. a commitment to non-violence in word and in deed; 3. a willingness to reach out to one’s rivals and opponents; 4. an openness to ideas and innovations from other cultures; 5. an utter fearlessness, with death holding no dangers for them; 6. great personal charm, a feature of which is a sense of humour.

However, while Aung San Suu Kyi can certainly be compared to Gandhi, she cannot (as she perhaps would be the first to acknowledge) be equated to him. Gandhi came first, crafting the techniques of non-violent resistance of which Martin Luther King, the Dalai Lama, and Aung San Suu Kyi have been such outstanding exemplars. Besides, Gandhi’s range of interests (and obsessions) was far greater.

India is much larger than Burma, and much more diverse in linguistic and religious terms. Gandhi lived and died for Hindu-Muslim harmony, but we know little of how Suu Kyi intends to stem Budddhist chauvinism in Myanmar by giving greater respect to Muslims, tribals and other minorities. India is a far more hierarchical society than Myanmar; so can be no real parallel in Suu Kyi’s life to Gandhi’s lifelong struggle against untouchability. And Gandhi was also a precocious environmentalist.

That said, Suu Kyi is far closer to Gandhi, and a much better Gandhian, than any Indian now living. More

Lines of Mahatma – Trailer

A painting exhibition displays, old drawings of Mahatma Gandhi, done in 1960′s by the eminent Chennai based artist K. M. Adimoolam. At the suggestion of the filmmaker, after a gap of almost 3 decades, K. M. Adimoolam once again attempts to do a sketch of Gandhi. The film reflects upon the spirit of Mahatma Gandhi through the drawings of Adimoolam.

Anna & Co can no way be called Gandhians

Jyotirmaya Sharma in Mail Today. The writer tgeaches politics in University of Hyderabad:

In these fraught and intolerant times, disclaimers are essential. Firstly, the UPA-II has forfeited all legitimacy to rule and has neither a sense of vision nor does it have a sense of purpose. Secondly, by behaving in the manner that it has in the past one year, the Congress and its allies would solely be responsible if the BJP were to come to power in 2014 or whenever elections are held. Caretaker governments have had a greater sense of purpose than the present government, which has rendered itself and the country into a sordid spectacle.

Having said this, the limited point that I want to make here is that Mr. Hazare is no Gandhian and neither is his movement. A Gandhian would follow a methodology that is based on a larger moral and ethical framework. It entails an appeal, first and foremost, to earn the legitimacy in order to question an unjust order. While corruption is a major issue in the country, it cannot be perceived only in monetary terms. To do so is to reduce the idea of fighting corruption into a jingoistic abstraction. In a Gandhian universe, the first level of appeal is to individuals to question moral, ethical and material corruption in their own backyard. For instance, I cannot be working for a corrupt and unethical organization without questioning its legitimacy and raising my voice against what I perceive to be wrong with that organization, and yet join in a movement that questions systemic corruption.

For this reason alone, neither is Mr. Hazare and his followers Gandhian nor is their movement Gandhian. In order to follow a Gandhian strategy, personal interest has to be set aside and considerable sacrifice is entailed. Rather, the Hazare-led campaign is just a middle class movement, which appeals to the impatience of the middle classes and shies away from appealing to the people to earn the adhikaar to question an unjust system. It renders, mindlessly, the idea of `people’ and the `masses’ as automatically virtuous and right, without working for the enhancement of the moral and ethical core of individuals questioning an unjust system. Further, it is un-Gandhian because it demonises not the evil but the evil-doer. It has revelled in creating a rogues’ gallery of all politics and of all politicians without explaining to its followers the subtle, but significant, difference between fighting evil versus the perpetrators of that evil. Hazare and his followers are not remotely Gandhian because they allow the mobs around them to quieten anyone who dares question their means and methods. They have divided India into those who support their cause, and these are by definition, pure, truthful and above board. All those who disagree are relegated to the status of vested interests, Congress agents and immoral self-seekers. Causing such a divide is also violence, never mind the protestations on part of the Hazare supporters that the movement is a non-violent movement.

Read the rest of the article in Mail Today’s e-paper (page 16) of August 18.

Ban the ban

India bans books with depressing frequency, says Ramachandra Guha in The Telegraph.

Earlier this year, the Gujarat government banned a book on Mahatma Gandhi by an American writer. The book was not then available in India, and no one in Gujarat had read it. The ban, ordered by the chief minister, Narendra Modi, was on the basis of a tendentious news report and a still more tendentious book review.

After Modi announced his ban, the first instinct of the government of India was to emulate him. Congress spokesmen called for a countrywide ban. The then law minister, Veerappa Moily, indicated that he would follow their lead. There was a spirit of competitive chauvinism abroad; how could the Congress allow a non-Congress politician to claim to be defending the reputation of the Mahatma?

In the event, the government of India did not enforce a ban on the book. This was principally because of two quick, focused interventions by Rajmohan Gandhi and Gopalkrishna Gandhi. Both are grandsons of the Mahatma; both, besides, are scholars and public figures in their own right. Rajmohan and Gopalkrishna wrote signed articles in the press saying that a ban would be contrary to the spirit of Gandhi, a man who encouraged and promoted debate; it would also call into question India’s claims to be the world’s largest democracy. more

BBC documentary on Gandhi

Via Shunya’s Notes:

A three-hour BBC documentary on Gandhi (2009) is now on YouTube. The three episodes are: The Making of the Mahatma, The Rise to Fame, and The Road to Freedom.

Click here to watch all video clips consecutively on YouTube.

(The person who posted the video has inserted “British Propaganda” in the title)


A different Gandhi

Anita Desai reviews Great Soul: Mahatma Gandhi and His Struggle with India by Joseph Lelyveld in the New York Review of Books:

Even in his lifetime the legend of Mahatma Gandhi had grown to such proportions that the man himself can be said to have disappeared as if into a dust storm. Joseph Lelyveld’s new biography sets out to find him. His subtitle alerts us that this is not a conventional biography in that he does not repeat the well-documented story of Gandhi’s struggle for India but rather his struggle with India, the country that exasperated, infuriated, and dismayed him, notwithstanding his love for it.

At the outset Lelyveld dispenses with the conventions of biography, leaving out Gandhi’s childhood and student years, a decision he made because he believed that the twenty-three-year-old law clerk who arrived in South Africa in 1893 had little in him of the man he was to become. Besides, his birth in a small town in Gujarat on the west coast of India, and childhood spent in the bosom of a very traditional family of the Modh bania (merchant) caste of Jains, then the three years in London studying law are dealt with in fine detail and with a disarming freshness and directness in Gandhi’s Autobiography: The Story of My Experiments with Truth. Lelyveld’s argument is that it was South Africa that made him the visionary and leader of legend. He is not the first or only historian to have pointed out such a progression but he brings to it an intimate knowledge based on his years as a foreign correspondent for The New York Times in both South Africa and India and the exhaustive research he conducted with a rare and finely balanced sympathy.

Having accepted the brief of assisting as a translator in a civil suit between two Muslim merchants from India, Gandhi presented himself in a Durban magistrate’s court on May 23, 1893, just the day after his arrival, dressed in a stylish frock coat, striped trousers, and black turban, and was promptly ordered to remove the turban. He refused, left the courtroom, and fired off a letter to the press in protest. This was his first political act, predating the incident of being thrown off a train by an Englishman who objected to traveling with a “colored man” made famous by Richard Attenborough’s film Gandhi and Philip Glass’s opera Satyagraha. Remarkably for an Indian, this seems to have been his first encounter with colonial arrogance and in his autobiography he said it made him resolve to stay and “root out the disease” of “color prejudice.” It was the start of what Erik Erikson was to call his “eternal negative” but it is also a simplification, Lelyveld points out, of a much more convoluted attitude toward race, color, and caste that he brought with him from India. More:

Mission: Save Bapu

Threats by the Indian government to ban Joseph Lelyveld’s biography on Mahatma Gandhi, Great Soul: Mahatma Gandhi and his Struggle with India are part of a now familiar pattern to ‘save Bapu’. But to preserve his legacy we need to read and learn more about this complicated and great man, writes Namita Bhandare in Hindustan Times.

When they’re not scamming the country, disrupting Parliament or schmoozing with businessmen and film stars at cricket matches, our netas fall back on their next favourite past-time: Saving Bapu.

We have a fine tradition of Saving Bapu. In 2009 liquor baron Vijay Mallya saved Bapu by coughing up Rs 9.27 crore for assorted memorabilia including his sandals and glasses. In 2007, the government threatened YouTube for a video of admittedly bad taste that showed Gandhiji dancing. And, of course, we will Save Bapu from companies who use his name to sell overpriced fountain pens.

Now the Save Bapu movement is on full swing as this government mulls a law that would ban ‘insults’ to Mahatma Gandhi. The provocation comes not so much from a book but reviews of that book that conclude that author Joseph Lelyveld claims that Gandhi was both bisexual and racist. more

Elsewhere in the Hindustan Times, Indrajit Hazra is the first Indian reviewer to actually read the contentious book. Read that review here.

Another foolish ban: Hartosh Singh Bal in Open:

In this constant quest, homoeroticism, if it existed, would have been another battle the Mahatma fought. It is unlikely that he would not have described it in detail. If public censure was what he was afraid of, well almost everything he detailed of his sexuality was equally shocking for the times. But if it were true that Gandhi had indeed been prey to homoerotic impulses and had suppressed a conscious recogni­tion of it, it would make a differ­ence not in terms of his political legacy, but in those very terms that he chose to judge himself. For this reason, it is up to Lelyveld to make his claim in substantive terms, not on the basis of one line in a single letter. He would not be the first Westerner to make a mess of understanding Subcontinental male behaviour, perhaps just another case of an acquired homophobia from the observer’s own culture transferred on to what is largely an innocent holding of hands in public spaces. Read full article here

Gujarat bans book hinting Mahatma Gandhi had gay lover

From WSJ:

A state in western India banned Pulitzer-Prize winning author Joseph Lelyveld’s new book about Mahatma Gandhi on Wednesday after reviews saying it hints that the father of India’s independence had a homosexual relationship.

More bans have been proposed in India, where homosexuality was illegal until 2009 and still carries social stigma.

Gujarat’s state assembly voted unanimously Wednesday to immediately ban “Great Soul: Mahatma Gandhi and His Struggle With India.”

The furor was sparked by local media reports, based on early reviews out of the U.S. and U.K., some of which emphasized passages in the book suggesting Gandhi had an intimate relationship with a German man named Hermann Kallenbach.

The book has not yet been released in India, so few here have actually read Mr. Lelyveld’s writings. More:

Mahatma Gandhi ‘racist and bisexual’ claims new book

A new book by Pulitzer Prize-winning former editor of The New York Times Joseph Lelyveld has quoted correspondence to suggest that Mahatma Gandhi was in love with Hermann Kallenbach, a male bodybuilder and German-Jewish architect.

In The Telegraph, UK:

“Gandhi wrote to Kallenbach about ‘how completely you have taken possession of my body. This is slavery with a vengeance’,” the book said, going on to claim that Gandhi nicknamed himself “Upper House” and Kallenbach “Lower House.”

It goes on: “He made Lower House promise not to ‘look lustfully upon any woman.’ The two then pledged ‘more love, and yet more love . . . such love as they hope the world has not yet seen.’”

In The Indian Express:

When contacted in New York by The Indian Express, Lelyveld said that the correspondence between Gandhi and Kallenbach is “amply documented” in the Collected Works of Mahatma Gandhi published by the Navajivan Trust (a publishing house founded by Mahatma Gandhi).

“Of course, there are only letters from Gandhi to Kallenbach and none from Kallenbach to him in Volume 4 or 5 of the Collected Works,” he said.

Lelyveld, 74, said he was aware that he had stumbled upon “sensitive material” when he first read the letters. “I knew this was delicate material and I approached it with a great deal of respect. I was very careful about this subject and this is the first book to deal extensively with the Kallenbach correspondence and it speculates very carefully upon the letters.”

In The Times of India:

Lelyveld told TOI, “I do not allege that Gandhi is a racist or bisexual in ‘Great Soul’. The word ‘bisexual’ nowhere appears in the book.” He also denied having called Gandhi a racist. “The word ‘racist’ is used once to characterise comments by Gandhi early in his stay in South Africa, part of a chapter summarising his statements about Africans and his relations with them. The chapter in no way concludes that he was a racist or offers any suggestion of it.”

Psychoanalyst Sudhir Kakar, one of the first to write on Gandhi’s sexuality in ‘Intimate Relations: Exploring Indian Sexuality’ and later in ‘Mira and Mahatma’, is yet to read the book but has gone through an ocean of archives on Gandhi and says he never discovered anything that the reviewers claim the book consists of.

Kakar remembers finding references to Kallenbach during his research but not the way the reviewers have portrayed it. He says if the book has what reviewers claim then it is plain “stupid.” “Gandhi always talked of complete love but it was of platonic kind,” he says.

And in The Daily Mail and WSJ

Previously in AW: How Gandhi became Gandhi, the review in The New York Times


How Gandhi became Gandhi

In The New York Times a review of Mahatma Gandhi and His Struggle With India by Joseph Lelyveld (Illustrated. 425 pp. Alfred A. Knopf. $28.95):

Some years ago, the British writer Patrick French visited the Sabarmati ashram on the outskirts of Ahmedabad in the Indian state of Gujarat, the site from which Mahatma Gandhi led his salt march to the sea in 1930. French was so appalled by the noisome state of the latrines that he asked the ashram secretary whose job it was to clean them.

A sweeper woman stopped by for an hour a day, the functionary explained, but afterward things inevitably became filthy again.

But wasn’t it a central tenet of the Mahatma’s teachings that his followers clean up after themselves?

“We all clean the toilets together, on Gandhiji’s birthday,” the secretary answered, “as a symbol to show that we understand his message.”

Gandhi had many messages, some ignored, some misunderstood, some as relevant today as when first enunciated. Most Americans — many middle-class Indians, for that matter — know what they know about the Mahatma from Ben Kingsley’s Academy Award-winning screen portrayal. His was a mesmerizing performance, but the script barely hinted at the bewildering complexity of the real man, who was at the same time an earnest pilgrim and a wily politician, an advocate of celibacy and the architect of satyagraha (truth force), a revivalist, a revolutionary and a social reformer. More:

The dissident Mahatma who never won the Nobel

Shashi Tharoor in The Times of India:

With the Nobel Peace Prize presented in the absence of this year’s laureate, the imprisoned Chinese dissident Liu Xiaobo, it might be wise to think of a man who never won the prize: Mahatma Gandhi. Despite that omission, there is no doubting Gandhiji’s worldwide significance – including for Liu.

The Mahatma’s image now features in advertising campaigns for everything from Apple computers to Mont Blanc pens. When the film “Gandhi” swept the Oscars in 1983, posters for the film proclaimed that “Gandhi’s triumph changed the world forever.” But did it?

The case for Gandhi-led global change rests principally on the American civil-rights leader Martin Luther King Jr, who attended a lecture on Gandhi, bought a half-dozen books about the Mahatma, and adopted satyagraha as both precept and method. In leading the struggle to break down segregation in the southern US, King used non-violence more effectively than anyone else outside India. “Hate begets hate. Violence begets violence,” he memorably declared. “We must meet the forces of hate with soul force.”

King later avowed that “the Gandhian method of non-violent resistance…became the guiding light of our movement. Christ furnished the spirit and motivation, and Gandhi furnished the method.” Last month, Barack Obama told Parliament that were it not for Gandhi, he would not be standing there as America’s president. More:

So Nehru killed Gandhi!!!

Shekhar Gupta in The Indian Express recalls a meeting with the former RSS (Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh is a right-wing Hindu organisation) chief K.S. Sudarshan. Sudarshan is in the news for calling Sonia Gandhi a CIA agent; he accused her of plotting assassinations of her husband Rajiv Gandhi and mother-in-law Indira Gandhi. Both BJP and RSS have distanced themselves from his statements.

The key to understanding India’s plight, he said, right elbow resting thoughtfully on his raised knee, is to understand the Nehru parivar, how they have “conspired” to take control of this country, and to systematically destroy all that should have been dear to all “Hindustanis”. He started the story of this “conspiracy” from Gandhi’s assassination for which the RSS and Hindu Mahasabha were “unfairly blamed”. This was the usual RSS lament I thought, until he asked me, eyes wide with genuine disbelief: “So, do you also believe that Godse killed Gandhi?”“Is there any doubt?” I asked. “The courts convicted him.”“You people are so gullible,” he said. “You do not even look at the facts.”Then he started to explain the “facts”. See that picture of Godse with folded hands in front of Gandhi. “If he had actually shot him, the bullet would have entered from a higher point in his body and exited from a lower point,” he said. He asked me, further, if I knew the difference between someone being shot with a revolver and a pistol.“I am not sure I do,” I said. “But how is that important?”“Because the entry wound of a pistol shot is smaller than the exit wound and, in Gandhi’s case, it was the other way round. Yet they claimed Godse shot him with a pistol.”“And how is that important?” I asked, now worried that our dinner, where we were supposed to discuss areas that our interview would explore the next morning, was going into some kind of jadoo territory.“Because, from all evidence, Godse did not kill Gandhi. And you know what,” he continued, “Nehru made sure no post-mortem was conducted on Gandhi’s body. Because he did not want the truth to come out.”“So then, Sudarshanji, who killed Gandhi?” I asked.“Why ask me?” he said, with a smile that was as conspiratorial as QED. “You can see who stood to benefit from Gandhi’s assassination. Everybody knows Gandhi was going to make Patel prime minister.”“But, Sudarshanji, somebody did shoot Gandhi in front of hundreds of people,” I asked.“Yes, somebody did. But not saamne se, kintu peechhe se,” he explained. “It was a do-dhaari ki talwar (two-edged sword),” a conspi-racy to give the Nehru parivar unfettered power and to blame the Hindus for killing Gandhi.“And how do you know this, Sudarshanji?” I asked.“There was this book written by a former police officer in Andhra Pradesh. I believe he exposed all these facts,” he said. Of course, he said he had not read the book himself, did not remember its title or the name of its author and closed the argument with the finality of death, literally, by saying that the supposed cop-writer, whose name nobody could recall, had also obviously been dead for some time. More:

Gandhi’s invisible hands

Behind the rise of Mahatma Gandhi was a little-recognized team of followers he carefully recruited. Ian Desai in the Wilson Quarterly. Desai is a postdoctoral associate and lecturer in South Asian studies and history at Yale. He received his doctorate from Oxford, where he studied on a Rhodes scholarship.

On September 4, 1915, in the sticky heat of late summer, Mahadev Desai and Narahari Parikh walked without speaking along the Sabarmati River, on the outskirts of Ahmedabad, a city in northwestern India. Desai and Parikh were best friends who shared everything, so the silence between them was uncharacteristic. Their day, however, had been highly unusual, and they were both lost in reflection on what had transpired. When they reached the Ellis Bridge, which spanned the surging waters of the Sabarmati and supported a steady flow of carriage, mule, foot, and, occasionally, car traffic from the bustling city, they stopped and faced each other. They were both thinking about a meeting they had had a few hours earlier with a 46-year-old lawyer who had recently returned to India after living for two decades in South Africa.

Desai finally broke their prolonged silence: “Narahari, I have half a mind to go and sit at the feet of this man.” This statement, in which Desai contemplated abandoning his nascent legal career in order to devote himself to the service of someone he had met for the first time that day, changed the course of his life. It also helped change the course of history for a colonized nation seeking freedom and its entrenched imperial rulers. With these words, the 23-year-old Desai began a journey that would produce one of the most important partnerships the modern world has known. The lawyer they had met had extraordinary ambitions that were growing by the day, and he had started to assemble a team of gifted individuals to help him achieve his visions. That lawyer’s name was Mohandas Gandhi, and in Mahadev Desai the future Mahatma had found a crucial partner for his historic cause.

In March 2005 I was in Ahmedabad, now a major industrial metropolis. It had not rained for nine months, and the temperature hovered above 100 degrees. Although the room I was in felt like an oven, it happened to be a library housed in a museum on the site of Gandhi’s former residence, the Satyagraha Ashram. Wiping my hands clean, I reached for a book from the rusting metal case in front of me. Gently brushing off dust, cobwebs, and an insect from the surface of the volume, I opened it and examined the elegant signature on the inside cover identifying its owner as “Mahadev Desai.” What the signature didn’t tell me was that this book, along with several thousand others, was read, used, and shared jointly by Desai (no relation to me) and his boss, Mahatma Gandhi. More:

Obama invokes Gandhi

Jim Yardley in The New York Times:

New Delhi: Not long after Barack Obama was elected president, the United States Embassy in India printed a postcard showing him sitting in his old Senate office beneath framed photographs of his political heroes: the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Abraham Lincoln and the great Indian apostle of peace, democracy and nonviolent protest, Mohandas K. Gandhi.

The postcard was a trinket of public diplomacy, a souvenir of the new president’s affinity for India. Now that Mr. Obama is visiting India for the first time, on a trip pitched as a jobs mission, his fascination with Gandhi is influencing his itinerary and his message as he tries to win over India’s skeptical political class.

“He is a hero not just to India, but to the world,” the president wrote in a guest book on Saturday in Gandhi’s modest former home in Mumbai, now the Mani Bhavan museum.

Yet if paying homage to Gandhi is expected of visiting dignitaries, Mr. Obama’s more personal identification with the Gandhian legacy — the president once named him the person he would most like to dine with — places him on complicated terrain. More:

Also read:

America and India: The Almost-Special Relationship

Mr. Obama’s trip is an attempt to reboot or refocus the relationship away from these disputes and de-emphasize the tangible goodies (for example, contracts) that politicians call “deliverables.” Instead, the two sides are discussing how they can partner on education, clean energy, agriculture, technological development and military cooperation. More in NYT

Unmaking of Modern India

In Open, Hartosh Singh Bal interviews Ramachandra Guha on his new book, Makers Of Modern India:

Q How would you define modern India?

A Some have argued for 1858, the year after the Mutiny, when the British take direct control of India. But I go further back. For me, modern India begins in the early 19th century. The industrial revolution has taken place at the end of the 18th century and the ideas of democracy and nationalism are emerging at this time.

Q Do you think your choice of 19 thinkers will arouse many passions, raise many questions?

A A very dear friend of mine, an IIT and IIM graduate, works with the poorest Adivasis in West Bengal and has set up an ashram for tribal children. His reaction was, why is Vivekananda not there? Swami Agnivesh, a man I greatly respect, called me and said, why is Dayanand Saraswati not on the list? I think Gandhi supercedes Vivekananda, and then, it is difficult to relate to Vivekananda’s writing, his archaic and exhortative prose. So, this is a book that certainly reflects my biases.

Q Could I run through four names that do not figure in the list and try and understand why they were left out? a) EMS Namboodiripad, for making it possible for Marxists to co-exist with democracy.

A Namboodiripad calls for a good biographer. It would be enlightening to read the story of a Congressman—in fact, a landlord who joins the Congress—and then joins the Marxists. His writings on social and economic matters are voluminous, but they are not impressive. I did look closely at another Marxist, MN Roy, who is a slightly better stylist, but again he is not original. More:

What happens when BR Ambedkar and Mahatma Gandhi look down from heaven?

In Mint Lounge, Chandrahas Choudhury reviews The Flaming Feet, D.R. Nagaraj’s book of essays on the Dalit movement:

It is 1997, the 50th anniversary of India’s independence—an independence about which both men were, from the very beginning and for different reasons, sceptical. Ambedkar and Gandhi occupy adjoining rooms in heaven, and look down somewhat disconsolately on an India that has moved on. Ambedkar speaks of his immense antipathy to religious superstition and myth-making, and acknowledges that “my intimate enemy, that Gujarati Bania Mr. Gandhi, also does not like these things”, even if Gandhi is always seen as a man of religion. Gandhi, meanwhile, is found contemplating “how Hind Swaraj would be if my nextdoor neighbour, the learned Babasaheb, had written it”, and thinks that Ambedkar, a trained economist and the quintessential rationalist, would have found an enormous array of statistics to improve the argument.

Nagaraj, a great lover of fiction and its ability to tell the truth about the world even more powerfully than reasoned argument or autobiographical testimony— unusually for an analyst of politics and society, his work is full of references to Indian novels—is found here taking the fiction writer’s licence to compose “two imaginary soliloquies”. Perhaps no one in the pantheon of Indian intellectuals has earned this right more than he. Although clearly written from a Dalit perspective, Nagaraj’s essays repeatedly dramatized the epic clash between the two titans over the nature of a 20th century India that would finally grant Dalits a life of dignity and self-respect. More

The human face of our national idols

In his book A Contemporary’s Estimate, Walter Crocker says Nehru would push and slap the people who got too close to him in public, as Indians tend to do. Aakar Patel in Mint Lounge:

Indians revere their leaders, but don’t read them. This comes naturally to a culture that worships physical forms, rather than ideas. But it means that the leader remains unexamined. Here are some facts about great people that we would rather not know.

In his book A Contemporary’s Estimate, Walter Crocker says Nehru would push and slap the people who got too close to him in public, as Indians tend to do.

Nehru was irritable, but also bombastic and verbose, making too many speeches (often three a day) and spending too much time lecturing the West. He was careless with his time, once giving 3 hours to a high school delegation from Australia, while his ministers waited.

Crocker, who served in Delhi as Australia’s ambassador, thought Nehru “had no sympathy for Gandhi’s religion, or for religiousness at all”. But there is a photograph in Mushirul Hasan’s The Nehrus that shows Jawaharlal entering the Ganga wearing a janoi, the Brahmin’s sacred thread. The thread looks new, however, and it’s not visible in two other photographs of him bare-chested, one in swimming trunks and the other doing shirshasan.

Nehru’s annexation of Goa was illegal, though only Rajagopalachari and Jayaprakash Narayan opposed it. Crocker writes what many of us will not believe: If Portugal had insisted on a plebiscite, Goans would have preferred Portuguese rule to Indian. More:

When Bapu kicked the ball

Mahatma Gandhi was a fan of the game, and considered it more egalitarian than cricket. in South Africa, he even used football as a vehicle to disseminate his ideas about non-violence. Mario Rodrigues in Mint Lounge:

When he was young, Gandhi was not impervious to the romance of cricket. He played the game at the Rajkumar College in Rajkot, also the alma mater of his contemporary, Ranjitsinhji of Nawanagar. There are a few anecdotes about Gandhi and cricket, and the one most remembered is his disapproval of the communally oriented Quadrangular/ Pentangular cricket tournament in Mumbai during the freedom struggle in the 1930s and 1940s because of its divisive agenda. But according to existing knowledge, he was not directly involved in the game.

Unknown to most Indians, Gandhi was a huge football aficionado and his involvement with the game was long and passionate. He never became a professional or became famous as a player, but he preferred football to cricket.

When he began his struggle in South Africa, Gandhi used the game to promote his political philosophy of non-violent resistance and to socially uplift and integrate the Indian community in the “rainbow republic”. More:

Gandhi’s dalliance with desire

Khushwant Singh in Outlook:

I confess I had no desire to read Jad Adams’s Gandhi: Naked Ambition. I have read enough of Gandhi written by himself and his innumerable biographers. He has become a bore. But I was provoked by the subtitle. I went on to read the introduction. It pointed out a couple of contradictions between what Gandhi said and actually did. They were trivia of no consequence but enough to raise my hackles. Then I could not put the book down till I came to the last page. Adams is a modern historian as well as a media person. He knows how to hold his readers’ attention. So, amidst serious events, he puts in a lot of Gandhi’s eccentricities about diet, bowel movements, relations with women and experiments to control carnal desires. Consequently, reading this biography is both like taking a refresher course in the events of his life, from his birth to his assassination, interlaced with his experiments to control his sexual yearnings. Adams goes out of his way to repress nothing but ends up as a fervent admirer of Gandhi.

Born a Bania, Gandhi’s family’s Hinduism was strongly influenced by the Jain belief in ahimsa, non-violence, and sanctity of all life. At school he befriended a Muslim boy, Sheikh Mehtab, who convinced him that they could not get the better of the English until they became as physically strong. And the English were strong because they ate meat and most Indians did not. So young Gandhi tried meat. At first he threw up but persisted and tried a dozen times before he gave it up altogether. He was also persuaded to have sex and taken to a brothel. He failed to perform and the whore threw him out. He got married in 1883 to the 14-year-old Kasturba Kapadia, who was totally illiterate. She was not much of a companion, but provided him with all the sex he wanted. The most traumatic event of his early married life was when one night, while he was engaged in sex, his ailing father died in the next room. It convinced him that sex was sinful and only permissible if the couple wanted a child. More:

Gandhi vs. Gekko

Eric Bellman in The Wall Street Journal:

While I have noticed my relative net worth stagnate as some Gekko worshipers have bought rare paintings, airplanes and villas in Phuket, it wasn’t until I moved to India that I really became a fan of the avaricious character portrayed by Michael Douglas.

In discussions, interviews and debates with friends about India’s economy, I often have to stop myself from paraphrasing Mr. Gekko and saying “greed is good.”

I don’t think people should break rules and hurt others to get what they want like Mr. Gekko. But the point I am usually trying to make is that a capitalist system that allows people to act in their own self-interest often finds better solutions to problems than depending on some old babus in New Delhi to decide how the economy is run.

India since it started unbinding its economy in 1991 is a better example of the power of profits than anything in the movie “Wall Street.” China started tapping the power of “greed” more than a decade earlier.

It is profit-seeking companies, not the government, that have brought cell phones to more than 500 million Indians. Ratan Tata has launched the world’s least expensive car, the Nano, because he thinks he can make money out of it. Millions of people in the middle class can afford mortgages now because banks can raise and distribute money as they please. More:

Thrill of the chaste: The truth about Gandhi’s sex life

Jad Adams, author of Gandhi: Naked Ambition, in The Independent:

Gandhi was born in the Indian state of Gujarat and married at 13 in 1883; his wife Kasturba was 14, not early by the standards of Gujarat at that time. The young couple had a normal sex life, sharing a bed in a separate room in his family home, and Kasturba was soon pregnant.

Two years later, as his father lay dying, Gandhi left his bedside to have sex with Kasturba. Meanwhile, his father drew his last breath. The young man compounded his grief with guilt that he had not been present, and represented his subsequent revulsion towards “lustful love” as being related to his father’s death.

However, Gandhi and Kasturba’s last child wasn’t born until fifteen years later, in 1900.

In fact, Gandhi did not develop his censorious attitude to sex (and certainly not to marital sex) until he was in his 30s, while a volunteer in the ambulance corps, assisting the British Empire in its wars in Southern Africa. On long marches in sparsely populated land in the Boer War and the Zulu uprisings, Gandhi considered how he could best “give service” to humanity and decided it must be by embracing poverty and chastity.

At the age of 38, in 1906, he took a vow of brahmacharya, which meant living a spiritual life but is normally referred to as chastity, without which such a life is deemed impossible by Hindus.

Gandhi found it easy to embrace poverty. It was chastity that eluded him. So he worked out a series of complex rules which meant he could say he was chaste while still engaging in the most explicit sexual conversation, letters and behaviour. More:

Gandhi and women

Mohandas Gandhi held India back when it came to women’s rights — and his own behaviour around them could be bizarre, writes Michael Connellan in Guardian’s Comment is Free

Courtesy: Outlook India

Mohandas Gandhi whose death anniversary falls on Saturday, was an amazing human being. He led his country to freedom and helped destroy the British Empire. Little wonder India worshipped him, and still worships him, as the Mahatma – “Great Soul”. In the west he is viewed as a near-perfect combination of compassion, bravery and wisdom.

But Gandhi was also a puritan and a misogynist who helped ensure that India remains one of the most sexually repressed nations on earth – and, by and large, a dreadful place to be born female. George Orwell, in his 1949 essay Reflections on Gandhi, said that “saints should always be judged guilty until they are proved innocent”. If only.  more

War correspondence

In the Indian Express, Mahmood Farooqui reviews Rajmohan Gandhi‘s A Tale of Two Revolts (Viking):

A tale of two revoltsFar too often histories of India remain too narrowly focused on the subcontinent. Medieval histories could certainly benefit from comparisons with Turko-Persian kingdoms in other parts of the world. 1857 too has been reduced to an Indian story, presented either as an account of Indian valour or of Indian failure whereas it was at once neither of these things as well as much more than them. As such, Rajmohan Gandhi’s attempt to compare the uprising of 1857 with the American Civil War (1861-65) is highly laudable.

Britain, of course, was a common link between the two events, as were invocations to religion, race and notions of governance. While the Indian uprising aroused significant interest in America where both sides read it as a confirmation of Indian perfidy, the “leading Indians” (Gandhi’s phrase) of the time unequivocally supported Abraham Lincoln’s Unionists and the abolition of slavery. More:

How did Mahatma Gandhi spend August 15, 1947?

Historian Ramachandra Guha in The Telegraph as India celebrates 62nd Independence Day:

It is well known that when India became free on the August 15, 1947, Mahatma Gandhi declined to join the festivities in New Delhi. While his follower, Jawaharlal Nehru, spoke in the Council Hall about India’s tryst with destiny, and the crowds danced on the streets outside, Gandhi was in Calcutta, seeking to restore peace between Hindus and Muslims. His refusal to join his colleagues in New Delhi has been interpreted by some commentators as a sign that he was in mourning. This interpretation is not entirely tenable. While Gandhi was distressed by the religious rioting that accompanied Independence and Partition, he did not gainsay the value and achievement of political freedom. But he remained concerned with what his fellow Indians would make of their hard-won, and somewhat belated, swaraj.

The Collected Works of Mahatma Gandhi has seven entries dated August 15, 1947. The first is a letter written to his Quaker friend, Agatha Harrison, in London. Gandhi says here that “my way of celebrating great events, such as today’s, is to thank God for it and, therefore, to pray”. Agatha Harrison had apparently asked whether he followed the debates in the British parliament on the Indian Independence bill. Gandhi said he did not get time to read newspapers; in any case, he commented, “What does it matter, who talks in my favour or against me, if I myself am sound at bottom?”

Item four describes a visit to Gandhi’s temporary home in Beliaghata of the new governor of West Bengal, C. Rajagopalachari. When the governor congratulated him on the “miracle he had wrought” (namely, the cessation of violence in the city), Gandhi answered “that he could not be satisfied until Hindus and Muslims felt safe in one another’s company and returned to their own homes to live as before. Without that change of heart, there was likelihood of future deterioration in spite of the present enthusiasm”. More:

Get the ‘Gandhi Experience’

Rama Lakshmi in the Washington Post:

gandhi_siteTour participants might drop in for tea with a member of the Gandhi family, attend a musical prayer session, or participate in a hands-on workshop where they squat on the ground and learn how to operate a wooden spinning wheel like the one Gandhi used to make handspun cloth in a protest against imported textiles.

One company offers a four-hour tour called “The Assassination of Gandhi,” in which tourists are taken to the site of Gandhi’s 1948 killing. A historian tells the story of that wintry January day when Gandhi made his way to his daily prayer meeting, flanked by his two devoted nieces. The tourists hear readings from the police report that was filed after a man pulled out a black Beretta automatic pistol and fired three shots into Gandhi’s chest. More:

Beer baron gets some glasses

Posted by Namita Bhandare: My column in DNA (Mumbai) on why the hoo-haa over ‘saving’ Gandhi’s legacy is a load of crap

The controversy over the auction of Mahatma Gandhi’s meagre possessions –his glasses, a pair of leather slippers, a pocket watch and a brass bowl and plate — has ended in a bleeding shame.

First, is the irony of a liquor baron ‘saving’ Gandhi’s ‘legacy’. The ‘king of good times’, Vijay Mallya, is hardly the model of the Gandhian ideal of renunciation and sacrifice. And I’m certainly not suggesting that prohibition is the way forward but unless the Indian government has had a change of heart (and it is high time — pun unintended –it stopped serving apple juice instead of wine at official banquets), surely there is some awkwardness in getting Mallya to act on its behalf.


Gandhi’s glasses for sale

From The Telegraph, UK:

 Gandhi: Gandhi gave his metal rimmed, circular lensed glasses to an army colonel with the words: 'These gave me the vision to free India'  Photo: AP

Gandhi gave his metal rimmed, circular lensed glasses to an army colonel with the words: 'These gave me the vision to free India'

The sandals were given to a British army officer in 1931 prior to the Round Table talks in London that were held to discuss Indian self rule. Gandhi gave his metal rimmed, circular lensed glasses to an army colonel with the words: “These gave me the vision to free India.”

His Zenith pocket watch was given to his grand niece, Abha Gandhi, his assistant of six years, in whose arms he died after being shot in 1948.

As Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi, commonly known as Mahatma, had few possessions these items are of huge interest and are expected to well exceed the estimate of £30,000.

More here and here: