To many of us common man, whatever we know about Gandhi comes from what we read in school or what we saw in Richard Attenborough’s film on Gandhi. And we leave it to historians and scholars to weave their way through the realms of biographies and writings on and by Gandhi, and present us with the finished portrait.

Ramchandra Guha’s new book Gandhi before India has done precisely that albeit with a focus on deciphering Gandhi before he became Mahatma. A simple austere ceremony to release the book on the eve of Gandhi Jayanti itself symbolised the Gandhian way of life. A stage bereft of any decorations except a podium, small red carpet with two chairs and a table, Chiki Sarkar introduced the book and the author. The author then went to talk about his obsession with Gandhi, his plans for two more books on the subject given his voluminous research work.

 

Ram Guha talked about Gandhi as one who talks about oneself, as if he had observed Gandhi in action. He attempts to portray characters – family, friends and foes who influenced Gandhi to understand the making of the man inside. He peppered his talks with revelations on how Muhammad Ali Jinnah corresponded with Gandhi in 1897, 50 years before the partition of India. Would history would have been different if the two would have become legal partners? Or would Gandhi would have been a different man if South Africa hadn’t happened to him?

As Guha cautions not to emulate Gandhi as a father or a husband, he believes that understanding of Gandhi’s vision for modern, inclusive and tolerant India is still relevant for the change that we want to see in the world…

 

Pooja

October 2, 2013

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