The soul of Mahatma

Very few, truly, know this man. But this man needs no introduction. A simple line sketch of his side profile is enough to evoke recognition from even children. There are numerous biographies, a truthful auto-biography, multiple movies, letters, articles, thesis,…and yet, very few, truly, know this man. 

In trying to search for myself, I stumbled upon Gandhi, again.

Gandhi has always been with me – within and without. There was a time during my adolescence, when I (to say, hated him will be too harsh) disliked him for the meek manner in which Independence was won and yet, in an effort to emulate him(and thereby dissolve the aura around him), turned vegetarian. My experiment with truth lasted for over 12 years, in trying conditions. With age and maturity, my dislike for Gandhi dissolved and realization came about that there was no better way to fight a powerful enemy; ironically, my experiment ended, as the need to emulate him with this motive, had also ended. Without completely knowing Gandhi, I started understanding him and admiring him. Earlier, as a boy-orator, I used to speak, ferociously, on stage, that we needed a leader like Netaji and all our problems would be solved. Looking back, I find this thought to be naive. Without knowing why, I started believing that Gandhi was the most relevant leader for India, and the 20th Century world.

After many aborted half-hearted attempts, I finally read Gandhi’s ‘Experiments with Truth‘. Oh man! No book has moved me so much. He was narrating, not a thrilling tale of adventure, not even the tale of the independence movement, but only simple truths. Truths, they are. There is some mysterious air about this book, I know not whether the credit belongs to Gandhi or his trusted Secretary and translator, Mahadev Desai, that make every word ring true. I could trust the truth of what he wrote more than what I, myself, write. That, I think, is what makes this a special experience. Gandhi was walking on a tight-rope. A little stumble, and he would have come across as a bombastic spiritual guru when he talks about his religious beliefs, as a third-rate romance writer when he writes about his carnal desires, as a real ‘quack’ when he writes about medicine and as a scheming politician when he talks about the way his political thoughts evolved. None of this has happenned; Gandhi, for all the faults that he lays bare, emerges stronger through this book. If, over eighty years after he wrote this, I feel, I know this man more than I know myself, what would have been the impact Gandhi had on his contemporaries?

There is no single truth. Each man has to seek his own truth. And, when a man, believes he has found his truth, there is no stopping him – he becomes a leader; millions are willing to follow him even if  they disagree with that truth. I disagree with a lot, if not most, of what Gandhi says in Experiments with Truth and elsewhere. 

  • I can only gasp at his firm religious belief. To paraphrase Gandhi’s words uttered elsewhere, God and religion would have been nice ideas. 
  • I find his thoughts on sex and brahmacharya to be naive and unscientific; I subscribe to modern scientific view that the more one suppress ones sexual feelings, the more the psychological damage to that person.
  • His thoughts on medicine are idealistic and impractical in today’s world. His reasoning is sound – the cause for an ailment needs to be removed; there is no use in treating the symptom. I follow this most often, in case of common cold and headaches, but it is almost impossible to practise this at all times, particularly, in cases of serious ailments. Mud-therapy and hydropathy sound ‘quacky’ as he himself admits.
  • His views on food are regimental – a diet of only fruits and nuts! I am not willing to test the truth behind his claims.
  • His claims on vegetarianism sound appealing; I have followed it for 12 years, but don’t feel as strongly about it anymore. My tongue rules over my heart now; convenience comes ahead of principle in this case.
  • His thoughts on Swadeshi are dangerous and retrograde. It was a powerful tool in a war of independence but had to be discarded afterwards. I am inclined more towards Tagore’s (and Satyajit Ray’s) The Home and the World, which paints a powerful picture against Swadeshi.
  • His obsession with Varnas is difficult to comprehend and impossible to agree with. A man, whose antipathy towards caste and untouchability was so obvious and admirable, should have given the burial to Varnashashtras, that it deserved.
  • His idea of a rural economy and self-sufficient republic villages look powerful but again Utopian.
  • I find his initial treatment of Kasturba and his later day experiments with young women to be insensitive.
  • I completely disagree with him on his views on Hindi and English, though I do, amusingly, like the idea of North Indians learning Tamil!

Having found so many reasons to disagree, it is a miracle that I still call Gandhi, the most influential leader for me. There lies the strength of his courageous, unrelenting belief in a perceived truth, even if that truth is not my truth. There lies the power of his ideas on Satyagraha and ahimsa; they are weapons of no parallel in history. There lies the charm of his self-sacrifice; one has to look through his self-deprecating belittlement of his abilities as a lawyer, a profession he forsake for social service. There is no doubt that he would have become a great lawyer if he had set his mind on it, evident in his clear analytical approach in building up an argument to establish the truth – the way he explains the irrelevance of history when arguing about the effectiveness of passive resistance in Hind Swaraj is outstanding. (“History, then, is a record of an interruption of the course of nature. Soul-force, being natural is not noted in history.”). 

If I had been born when Gandhi was alive, or if Gandhi is alive today, there is no doubt in my mind that I would have followed him. I am sure, Nehru would have had all the disagreements with Gandhi that I have mentioned here; did he not follow Gandhi ardently, as long as he was alive?

I have found Gandhi. Will Gandhi help me in the search for the unfound ‘me’, it remains to be seen.

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