Most biographies of Mahatma Gandhi tell the story of a great political leader who led India to freedom. But for Gandhi, his politics was a part of his spiritual quest. Swaraj meant self-rule and not merely political autonomy, and Gandhi's struggles were meant to aid the quest for individual self- perfection. Everything he did-the Dandi march or his for self-purification-was part of this struggle for self-realisation.
This English translation of Narayan Desai's epic four volume biography in Gujrati, maru Jivan Ej Mari Vani-hailed as one of the finest insights into the life of Gandhi-brings alive Gandhi's quest as one indivisible whole, in which " the political" is not outside the realm of "the spiritual". My Life is My Message liberates the Gandhi story from the constraining tyranny of political discourse and gives centre stage to his "soul-searching". The struggle within and the struggle without, are both seen as aspects of the same reality-just as the inner journey of the self is depicted in its interaction with the life of the collective. What emerges is full pictures of Gandhi.
Drawing from a wealth of sources- what Gandhi wrote in letters, books and newspapers, spoke in intimate conversations with his fellow "servat co-workers", and in speeches and interviews besides what those around him wrote and spoke about him- the narrative is illumined, above all, by the author's own life as an inveterate "Gandhijan", ever his childhood years in Gandhi's ashrams.
Volume I (Sadhana) deals with the first 45 years of Gandhi's life-a fascinating story of how a shy r ndian student of average intelligence, who grows up with his London education into an uncertain and hesitant lawyer, becomes the advocate of the Indian community in South Africa and, finally, leads thousands of indentured labourers in their struggle for dignity. From serving his parents, he goes on to serve the cause of vegetarianism and, later, that of the Indians in South Africa. Through "humble homage and service and by repeated questioning", he masters the knowledge of truth, worships it, and then experiments with its force by forging the weapon of Satyagraha. From a pledge taken before leaving Indian shores for the first time, not to touch "meat, wine and women", to a decision at the Pietermaritzhurg station to suffer but not to leave the country like a coward, Gandhi marks every major change in his life with a vow. With intimate portraits of his close associates, of Indian Opinion, and of life in his first ashrams-the Phoenix Settlement and the Tolstov Farm-the story spans three continents.
Volume II (Satvajrraha) records the sixteen years following Gandhi's return to India from South. Africa in 1915 - the years in which he implemented the political, social and spiritual experiments that he had been formulating in South Africa. We see Gandhi as the central figure influencing an entire generation of Indians during this eventful period of Indian history, when the country witnessed the Charnparan movement, the Jallianwalla Bagh massacre, the Khilafar movement, Non-Cooperation Movemcnt, satyagrahas at Ahmedabad, Kheda, Bardoli, Vvkom, Dandi and other places, and instances of both unity and discord between Hindus and Muslims. The volume chronicles Gandhi's relationships with Tagore, the Ali Brothers, the Nehru, Jinnah, Mirabehn, Maganlal Gandhi, Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose and manv other historical figures. But, above all, the book gives us an insight into the Gandhian way of life and the constructive programmes that he initiated and inspired. This period of Gandhi's life was also marked by prolific writing, fasts, imprisonments, illness and experiments with food. Here is a life, lived intensely and passionately, eyer-conscious of its commitment to truth and non-violence.
Volume III (Sarvaparh) covers the years between 193(1 and 19411, a period of intense dialogue in Gandhi's life. It begins with Gandhi's trip to lurope to participate in the Second Round Table Conference and deals with his imrncnsclv rich dialogue with the people of England and with European intellectuals like Romain Rolland" Gandhi's subsequent imprisonment and his fast against the Communal Award lead us to his dialogues with Dr .vmbedkar and the Harijan Yarra. The volume provides a rnoviru; account of Gandhi's fast for self-purification and explores his relationships with Subhas Chandra Bose, the Socialists, Vinoba, Charlie Andrews and Herman Kallenbach. It also provides a detailed analysis of Gandhi's "Constructive Work" The narration guides us to the last and most mm"ing phase of Gandhi's life, which would commence with the Quit India movement.
Volume IV (Svarpan) focuses on the last phase of Gandhi's life. It begins with the failure of the Cripps Mission and Gandhi's call for the "complete and immediate orderly withdrawal of the British from India," thereby launching one of the largest non-violent civil disobedience movements ever seen-the Quit India Movement. It offers poignant glimpses into the lives of Gandhi and his associates inside the Aga Khan Palace Prison, as well as the deaths of Kasturba and Mahadev while still in custody. Moving on to the complex negotiations between Gandhi, the INC and the British government following the release of the Congress leaders, the author provides clear insights into the different and, at times, clashing personalities involved. There is an incisive account of the emergence of Jinnah on the political scene, his subsequent rise as the leader of the Muslim League, and the demand for Pakistan. Svarpan covers Gandhi's last journey through Noakhali, Bihar and Calcutta, and the miracle of non-violence this lonely pilgrim sought to bring about. The last few chapters describe his last day in detail-the day Nathuram Godse pulled the trigger on him. The book ends with a discussion on the relevance of Gandhi today, more than sixty years after his death.
Born in 1924 to Durgaben and Mahadev Desai, Narayan Desai chose not to have a formal education. He had his father's and Gandhiji's blessings for this. He worked with his father in Gandhiji's secretariat from 1936-46, and participated in the freedom movement. An active participant and leader in Vinoba Bhave's Bhoodan movement from 1952-60 and later with Jayaprakash Narayan from 1960-76, he walked 12,000 kilo metres and received gifts of 3,000 acres of land for distribution. He was National Secretary of the Shanti Sena, the All India People's Committee, Chairman of the War Resistors International, and Founder Member and Director of the World Peace Brigade. An accomplished author and editor, he has written over 50 books in Gujarati, Hindi and English and has edited Bhoomiputra, Yaqueen, Buniyadi Yaqueen, Tarun Mun and Sarvodaya Jagat. He has won many awards that include the Bharatiya Jnanpith Murtidevi Award, the Sahitya Akademi Award and the Ranajitram Gold medal (highest literary award in Gujarati). He also received the Jamnalal Bajaj Award for constructive work and UNESCO Award for Non-Violence and Tolerance. He is Chancellor of the Gujarat Vidyapeeth, founded by Gandhiji in 1920, President of the Gujarati Sahitya Parishad. He is currenty engaged in rendering Gandhi katha in India and abroad and taking Gandhiji's message to the youth.
Tridip Suhrud is a political scientist and a cultural historian, working on the Gandhian intellectual tradition and the social history of Gujarat of the 19th and 20th centuries. He has translated the works of Ashis Nandy and Ganesh Devy into Gujarati and novelist Suresh Joshi into English. He translated and edited C.B. Dalal's Hari Lal Gandhi: A Life (Orient Blackswan, 2007). His other books include Writing Life: Three Gujarati Thinkers (Orient Blackswan, 2008), Hind Swaraj Vishe and An Autobiography or The Story of My Experiments with Truth: A Table of Concordance. He has worked (with Suresh Sharma) on a bilingual critical edition of Hind Swaraj (forthcoming, Orient Blackswan). At present he is working on the English translation of Govardhanram Tripathi's four-part novel Sarasvatichandra. He is a Professor at Dhirubhai Ambani Institute of Information and Communication Technology, Gandhinagar
I am grateful for this opportunity to pay tribute to Mahatma Gandhi because I consider myself to be his follower. Indeed, he has been a source of inspiration to me ever since I was a small boy growing up in Tibet. He was a great human being with a deep understanding of human nature, who made every effort to encourage the full development of the positive aspects of the human potential and to reduce or restrain the negative.
Gandhiji took up the ancient but powerful idea of ahimsa or non-violence and made it familiar throughout the world, particularly during India's struggle for freedom. However, non-violence means more than the mere absence of violence. It is something more positive, more meaningful than that, for the true expression of non-violence is compassion. Some people seem to think that compassion is just a passive emotional response, rather than a rational stimulus to action. But to experience genuine compassion is to develop a feeling of closeness to others, as Gandhiji did, combine with a sense of responsibility for their welfare. His great achievement was to show through his own example that non-violence can be implemented effectively not only in the political arena, but also in our day-to-day life. This is why the title of this biography, My Life is My Message, is so apt.
Even today, in our modern world, Gandhiji's principles of non-violence and reconciliation are relevant on a personal and political level. It may be possible to gain something through violence, but such gains tend to be only temporary. We may solve the immediate problem, but in the long run, we create another one. So the best solution is non-violence. It may take time, but it will generate no negative side effects.
Violence may still be rife in our world, but the trend of global opinion is to recognise that the future lies in non-violence. I wonder if this would have been the case were it not for Gandhiji's leadership? As a young man, I was deeply inspired first and foremost by his adoption of non-violence in India's struggle for freedom and I have, therefore, put this into practice in my own efforts to restore the fundamental human rights and freedoms of the Tibetan people. But, in addition, I admired the simplicity and discipline of Gandhiji's way of life. Although he had received a full modern education and was well versed in modern, western ways of living, he returned to his Indian heritage and cultivated a simple wholesome life in accordance with Indian philosophy. Consequently, he was acutely aware of the problems of the common people, who everywhere constitute the majority.
This monumental biography of Gandhiji was originally composed in his mother tongue, Gujarati, and has now been translated into English. It benefits not only from the author's personal connection-his father Mahadev Desai was Gandhiji's personal secretary-but also from Narayan Desai being himself a dedicated Gandhian in both thought and deed. I feel sure that many readers will take inspiration from Gandhi's example as it is recounted here, and I believe that if we can each cultivate compassion, kindness and respect for truth within ourselves as he did, we will be fulfilling his legacy to us.
Ever since Lytton Strachey's Eminent Victorians started the trend, biography writing has almost come to mean a debunking of myths regarding the protagonist. Let me warn the reader at the very outset that this book does not belong to this genre. I have been moved to write it and add to a plethora of books about Gandhi simply to share with readers the joy of being in Gandhi's constant presence. There was also the added incentive that there was no comprehensive biography of Gandhi in his own language.
As a child, Gandhi was more a friend to me than a leader or a Mahatma. In my adolescence he was my task master when I helped my father in his secretariat. Even after Gandhi's passing away, I have tried to live a life that I think would have met his approval. Spending one-third of my life in his physical presence and the rest in his spiritual presence, has been a most blissful experience for me. Sharing one's joy with the rest of the world is, perhaps, the surest way to multiply the joy.
Six decades after his death, Gandhi has become more relevant today than when he was alive. People cursed with oppression, exploitation, poverty and inequality need truth, non-violence, purity of means, fearlessness and selfless service even more today in this world of violence, terrorism and war. Gandhi, who maintained a positive attitude towards life even in moments of grave crises, can turn cynics into optimists. His deep faith in the goodness of every individual and his unflinching belief that humanity is proceeding towards ultimate well-being, give hope for the future.
Most of Gandhi's biographers deal with his political life in far greater detail. In doing so, some of them often neglect the other dimensions of his life. Gandhi cannot be properly understood in parts. He must be studied in totality. One cannot comprehend Satyagraha without connecting it with Constructive Work or the Ashram observances. Gandhi, the statesman and the fighter for freedom, could not have been like what he was, had he not been Gandhi, the social reformer, and Gandhi, the saint. In this book I try to trace the common thread between these four seemingly diverse dimensions of Gandhi's life. It is the quest for truth in all its glory that creates Gandhi, the man.
Gandhi never pretended to be consistent with previously held views in his life. He readily abandoned his stands when he felt the need to do so. The Gandhi who organised ambulance units during wars in South Africa and who tried to recruit soldiers for the Indian army during the First World War, ended up as a staunch war resister. Until 1918 he was a loyal citizen of the British Empire. In 1919 he turned into a rebel. Until the 1930s he was a supporter of caste marriages. Then he vowed not to attend any wedding in which either the bride or the bridegroom was not an "untouchable" and the partner from an "upper caste". Gandhi who had once termed entry into an assembly a "sin" later supported the Congress in fighting general elections. These "inconsistencies" often infuriated his antagonists, who felt that he was a "slippery" politician. I think his inconsistencies were more a reflection of an ever-growing personality to whom consistency was less important than being true to the inner light of truth as understood at any given point of time.
There was much physical and mental suffering throughout the journey of Gandhi's life. But the pilgrim climbs higher and higher from one peak of truth to another. The journey is as arduous within as it is trying without. The end is as glorious as it is tragic. Gandhi's offering of his life at the alter of truth reminds us of the life of people like Socrates and Jesus Christ.
Gandhi's life is an epic of faith and valiant endeavour. Faith in the goodness of human beings egged him to keep walking in Noakhali and his valiant endeavour sustained him through his epic fasts. Often, during his last troublesome days, he would quietly but confidently proclaim: "I feel fire burning around me on all sides, fire below me and fire above me. But within me I feel infinite quiet and peace, because I have surrendered myself entirely to God."
Gandhi's faith manifested itself as faith in himself He was therefore able to confidently tell Gokhale in South Africa: "The minimum number of Satyagrahis we expect is sixteen and the maximum anywhere between sixty and sixty-five, but even if there is only myself left, I am going to fight this unjust law till the end." He also had faith in his colleagues. In introducing the Ashram at Sabarmati he could tell C.F. Andrews: "It is these colleagues that give credit to the Ashram and not the Ashram that gives credit to them." Gandhi also had a firm faith in the cause for which he was fighting. The cause as described in the constitution of the Ashram was: "To serve the country in a way that never goes against the good of the world." Personally for him the cause was to achieve self realisation and his method to achieve this end was to serve mankind. Gandhi had unfaltering faith in his weapon of Satyagraha. He had faith in his people that enabled him to draw out the infinite strength that was latent in them.
The source of Gandhi's faith was his faith in God that was best expressed through the term, truth. Non-violence to him was a law of life-a law that ruled mutual relationships with fellow human beings as well as with nature. His aspiration was to be one with even the smallest creatures on earth. His non-violence, however, was not just a negation of harm or violence; it was the positive manifestation oflove that could move mountains.
For me personally, every minute lived with Gandhi was replete with joyful education. This book is just an endeavour to share my joy with you in all humility. To sum up, I would like to quote Kabir who said, "But still there remains the thirst for more."
I am most grateful to Tridip Suhrud for rendering the English translation and to Orient Blackswan for publishing it.
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