Sunday, April 18, 2010

REVIEW: Gandhi

Gandhi: Naked Ambition
Jad Adams
Rs 799
Pp 288
ISBN : 9781849162104

A brand-new biography of the ‘father’ of modern India…..The pre-eminent political and spiritual leader of India’s independence movement, pioneer of non-violent resistance to tyranny through mass civil disobedience (satyagraha), honoured in India as ‘father of nation’, Mohandas K. Gandhi has inspired movements for civil rights and political freedom across the world.

Jad Adams offers a concise and elegant account of Gandhi’s life: from his birth and upbringing in a small princely state in Gujarat during the high noon of the British Raj, to his assassination at the hands of a Hindu extremist in 1948 only months after the birth of the independent India which he himself he had done so much to bring about. He delineates the principal events of a career that may truly be said to have changed the world: his training as a barrister in late Victorian London; his civil rights work in Boer War-era South Africa; his leadership of the Indian National Congress; his focus on obtaining self-government and control of all Indian government institutions, and the campaigns of non-cooperation and non-violence against British rule in India whereby he sought to achieve that aim (including the famous ‘Salt March’ of March/April 1930); his passionate opposition to partition in 1947 and his fasts-unto-death in a bid to end the bitter and bloody sectarian violence that attended it.
Jad Adams’s accessible and thoughtful biography not only traces the outline of an extraordinary life with exemplary clarity, but also examines why Mahatma Gandhi and his teachings are still profoundly relevant today.

Father’s foibles Mint
Mohandas Gandhi left an enormous paper trail of his thoughts. His collected works run into several volumes. Then there is his autobiography. His close associates Mahadev Desai and Pyarelal wrote extensively about Gandhi. His grandson Rajmohan wrote the comprehensive and objective Gandhi: The Man, His People and the Empire. The sheer size of the material can be daunting, and biographers could always sift through Gandhi’s thoughts (and he had thoughts about almost everything) to build a theory explaining his life. Jad Adams, a British broadcaster and historian whose previous works include an account of the Nehrus and biographies of Rudyard Kipling and Tony Benn (the leading light of “old” Labour), has read those sources to retell Gandhi’s life.

There is a buzz about the book because Adams wrote an article in TheIndependent newspaper a fortnight ago about Gandhi’s complex attitude to sex. But that’s only part of the book. The article focused on Gandhi’s idiosyncratic, peculiar, misogynist views about sex. And not only views, but also practices, such as sleeping naked with young women to test his resolve to overcome basic instincts. This, while he was married to Kasturba.

Until I read this book, Mohandas Karamchand (or Mahatma for short) Gandhi had always been a very shadowy figure. I was familiar with the picture of the loincloth-clad man who fell victim to an assassin's bullet shortly after Indian independence, but knew little more.

This book tells the full story admirably. Born in Gujarat in 1869 during the high noon of the British Raj, he trained as a barrister in London during the late Victorian era. After being so used to the commonly-seen pictures of him in later life, it is almost startling to see one of him as a dapper young man in his 20s in frock coat and wing collar. He undertook civil rights work in South Africa during the second Boer war, then returned to India and assumed leadership of the Indian National Congress. This was the stage at which he became a force to be reckoned with, and his campaign to obtain self-government and control of Indian government institutions made him world-famous. As a pioneer of satyagraha, or resistance to tyranny through mass civil disobedience, a philosophy founded on ahimsa or total non-violence, he inspired movements for civil rights and freedom across the world.

When he returned to Britain in 1931, shortly after being chosen as 'Man of the Year' by US 'Time' magazine, it was not as a lawyer, but as sole representative of the Indian National Congress at a Round Table Conference in London. As we see in another photo of him, this time bare-legged in his usual clothing alongside smartly-attired British and European men with hats and umbrellas in the English rain shows, he looked somewhat out of place. Irreverent East End children would shout after him, Gandhi, where's your trousers?, while when he was asked after meeting King George V whether he thought himself underdressed, he said that the King had enough on for both of us.


Gandhi Financial Times
A section of the popular Bahri Sons bookshop in New Delhi’s Khan Market is devoted to books about Mohandas K Gandhi, India’s liberation leader. Now, 62 years after the Mahatma’s death, yet more books are about to be added to its well-stocked shelves. Ramachandra Guha, a Bangalore-based historian and author of India after Gandhi, is writing a two-volume biography, while former New York Times editor Joe Lelyveld’s book on Gandhi is to be published next year.

Jad Adams has got in there ahead of such distinguished rivals with his readable and provocative Gandhi: Naked Ambition. A British historian and research fellow at London University’s School of Advanced Study, Adams has already published books on Rudyard Kipling, as well as on India’s ruling Nehru-Gandhi dynasty. Here, he focuses on Gandhi’s personal and political contradictions in a chronological account of his life. He begins with Gandhi being married off at the age of 13, when he was a not particularly promising student in Gujarat, and ends with the body of one of the world’s most celebrated advocates of non-violence being drawn by 200 uniformed servicemen in a state funeral in Delhi.

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