On Rajmohan Gandhi's biography of Mahatma Gandhi from The Middle Stage by Chandrahas This essay appears today in the Scotsman, and is the second of an informal four-part series of pieces on the Middle Stage over the month leading up to the sixtieth anniversary of Indian independence. The first of these, featured last week, was "Jawaharlal Nehru as a writer of English prose".
The life of Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi is one of the most well-documented and minutely analysed lives of the 20th century. Yet, as the editor of Gandhi's collected works, which run into 100 volumes, remarked, the Gandhi story is inexhaustible, "like the Ramayana and the Mahabharata combined". This is because Gandhi's abiding concerns - the working out of disputes large or small without descent into hatred or violence, the need for every human being to arrive at self-rule in the individual sense before demanding authority in any other sense, and the belief that worthy ends are nothing without equally worthy means - remain eternally relevant, so that he speaks afresh to every age. Now, the historian Rajmohan Gandhi, a grandson of the Mahatma, vividly brings to life in his massive biography the texture of Gandhi's days as he progressed from a timid anglicised student to the fearless loincloth-clad opponent of empire and other licensed injustices, the development of his thought across his engagements with conflict situations in England, South Africa, colonial India, and free India, the attitudes borne towards him by his many friends and foes, and the mood and colour of his age... Gandhi emerges in Rajmohan Gandhi's portrait as both an acute strategist and a doubting, sometimes fallible, man, viewed by some as a saint and others as a crank. Despite his misgivings ("I often err and miscalculate") he was one of history's greatest moral visionaries, the inventor of universally relevant pacifist concepts that aspired towards breaking down adversaries nonviolently. His genius extended beyond immediate conflict resolution; by the practice of never talking down or humiliating his opponents, he was also usually successful in foreclosing future conflicts. As Diana Eck has written, Gandhi "saw clearly that if conflict is cast in terms of winning or losing, of us prevailing over them, then ... the next round of the conflict is only postponed". Rajmohan Gandhi's splendid biography delivers to us both the Gandhi of his time and a Gandhi for our times. Chandrahas, 9:01 AM