After all we are talking about a human being
WORDS WITHIN BY FIRDOUS SYED
Pulitzer prize-winning author Joseph Lelyveld’s latest book Great Soul; Mahatma Gandhi and His Struggle With India has triggered an uproar in India. States like Maharashtra and Gujarat have recommended ban on the book. Indian Law Minister M. Veerappa Moily had also indicated that centre too is contemplating banning the book “The disgraceful statement on the Father of the Nation is demeaning the nation... will consider prohibiting the book.” The story of Gandhi having an ‘intimate relationship’ with an East Prussian Jewish architect Hermann Kallenbach during his stay in South Africa has triggered the controversy. I am yet to read the book, it is not locally available; however some of the reviews are quite sensational.
Anita Desai’s book review carried by ‘New York Review of Books’ is tantalising: “Lelyveld found that he now more or less abandoned his wife and children in Natal for months at a time, despite bitter complaints of neglect from his wife and eldest son Harilal...He lived for a while with the young copy editor Henry Polak and his wife Millie, then moved in with the East Prussian Jewish architect Hermann Kallenbach. Together they created another rural “utopia,” Tolstoy Farm, southwest of Johannesburg, and Gandhi seems to have been happier there than he had been anywhere—enjoying bicycle rides and picnics and the friendship of Kallenbach”. Defending the book Lelyveld is reported to have said “It does not say Gandhi was bisexual. It does not say that he was homosexual”. Seemingly what has caused furore all-around is a one-liner in the book where Gandhi is reported to have told Kallenback: “How completely you have taken possession of my body. This is slavery with a vengeance”. Some reviewers have suggested that “the only evidence Lelyveld gives the reader, suggesting the bonding of the two men was at least homoerotic if not homosexual.”
Some Indian historians have accused Lelyveld’s attempts to “sensationalise the life of the icon of non-violence, showed the 'negative' mindset of the author”. The accusations against Joseph Lelyveld the former editor of New York Times does not cut much ice. Defending his colleague of NYT days, Pranay Gupte writes in ‘The Hindu’ “Joseph Lelyveld may be many things — not all of them pleasant — but a falsifier of facts and misinterpreter of men he's definitely not. That's why the over-the-top assaults by Indian politicians on his authorial integrity seem so clueless and churlish”. Lelyveld who has worked in India as NYT correspondent confesses of having found memories of India, Gupte further explains about him: “He's actually just plain old-fashioned Joe, a by-the-book newspaperman who rose from being a copyboy — a peon — to executive editor of one of the world's elite dailies, The New York Times. You don't get to the top of an international publication's masthead by fibbing your way around”.
Mahatma Gandhi is an iconic figure in India; for a population of billion plus he is the father of the nation. Any suggestion that he was ‘bisexual’ is bound to hurt the feelings of millions who consider him a saint. The insinuation that he was a ‘racist’ may further enrage the sentiments of the Indians. Gandhi is reported to have written a letter in which he complains: “We could understand not being classified with the whites, but to be placed on the same level as the Natives seemed too much to put up with. It is indubitably right that the Indians should have separate cells. Kaffirs are as a rule uncivilized—the convicts even more so. They are troublesome, very dirty and live almost like animals”.
Any attempt to denigrate Gandhi with a malicious intent needs to be condemned unequivocally. However in case the idea is to throw light on some hitherto unknown facts of his life and struggle to satisfy the academic quest should never be castigated as a hate campaign. A work of extensive research like that of Lelyveld’s has to be judged in a right perspective. Gandhi is a historical figure, authors and writers will continue to write about him according to their own understanding of the time and the events. People will judge him according to the high moral standards Gandhi had laid down for himself. It will be worthwhile here to quote from George Orwell’s essay “Reflections on Gandhi”, written in 1949: “Saints should always be judged guilty until they are proved innocent”.
I respect Gandhi for leading a non-violent struggle against British imperialism. Forgive me for my ignorance about Gandhi. Whatever little knowledge I have about this great Indian personality regrettably is based upon newspaper articles. For me he comes across an enigmatic figure. Gandhism is a rage these days, however Kashmir have has a bitter experience of self professed Gandhians, here they are known for their double-standards. Truth is absolute; it cannot be deployed selectively to serve the interests of the state. So called Gandhi ‘peace missions’ have been repeatedly deployed here to subvert the genuine people’s resistance against the injustices and suppression. Truth here has been used as a yarn in the tapestry of statecraft by the Gandhian’s, only to depict a benevolent image of the state. Apologists for the state in the garb of protagonists of non-violence have never condemned the violence of the state apparatuses against the hapless people of Kashmir. This is altogether a different debate; Gandhi and not the Gandhian’s is the topic of this column.
Some of reviews about the book certainly are bad in taste, position taken by ‘The Wall Street Journal’, that the “book provides evidence that Gandhi was a sexual weirdo, a political incompetent and a fanatical faddist.” is simply insulting. There is no doubt about the fact that Gandhi was genius of his time, his social actions had a far-reaching impact, but some of the actions of his personal life are simply inexplicable. One gets confused about a person trying to experience truth can indulge in weird behaviours even contradictory to the high lofty ideals of truth and morality he professes. Lelyveld is not the first author to reveal that in his “experiment with truth” Gandhi use to sleep with his nephew’s seventeen-year-old daughter, Manu “wearing as little clothing as possible” on a cot. This is widely known and well-documented fact after coming to know this “filthy practice” several of “his most devoted followers were shocked, and many left”. Nephew’s daughter meaning grand-daughter sleeping naked with the grandfather is simply disgusting. Lelyveld explains this bizarre behaviour as an effort by Gandhi “to test his commitment to celibacy. He seems to have thought that if he could subdue the impulse to animal arousal in his body, then the country could subdue its lust for violence”.
Even if Gandhi was committed to celibacy and was trying to test his sexual desires to attain spiritual well-being sleeping with a young child ‘naked’ is itself is an immoral act. Presumably, Gandhi was able to control what he calls “impulse to animal arousal in his body”, yet he may have been guilty of using the child as a sex object to test his desires. Sleeping with young naked daughter is not celibacy; by all accounts it is an inhuman macabre and immoral act. Leaving wife and children alone to mend for themselves in a miserable condition, speaks cruelty. Moreover wowing celibacy in some traditions may be considered as a pious act, in reality it is against the basic human nature.
At times with the increased consciousness man starts viewing many of his human conditions and traits as animal instincts. Detesting the animal behaviour ---consuming food and excreting the residue indeed is a animal function ---similarly producing babies may look to be a beastly act--- are critical elements of our humanly functions, without which life cannot exist or flourish. It is not possible to alter these basic conditions; however one can only control the lust, the wicked desire and gluttony. When necessity is turned into a drive for pleasure that is to be controlled not the development of life: any unnatural act is immoral also. The quest to attain spirituality is not to change the natural conditions but to find a balance between---required and excess--- pleasure and necessity---- moderate and extreme. Gandhi has been the great votary of means should justify the end and not end justifying the mean; apparently it seems Gandhi failed to live up to his own expectations. In search of reason man sometimes behaves in the most unreasonable ways; truth can never be attained through untruthful ways that is the lesson history teaches us again and again.
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Lastupdate on : Fri, 8 Apr 2011 21:30:00 Makkah time
Lastupdate on : Fri, 8 Apr 2011 18:30:00 GMT
Lastupdate on : Sat, 9 Apr 2011 00:00:00 IST
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