The venue: Crossword. The audience: Writers, journalists, book lovers, freedom fighters and commoners alike. The event: Book release ceremony.
My friend, a noted writer, called me on Monday evening (8th) and told me to join him at Crossword. He also told me to get the scrapbook that I had made on ‘Gandhi’s last 200 days’.
The book “Mohandas– a true story of a man, his people and an empire, on Mahatma Gandhi” by former Parliamentarian and writer Mr. Rajmohan Gandhi was released amidst thunderous applause. The book with an attractive cover has more than 600 pages and is priced at Rs.650.
Historian Ramachandra Guha in his introductory note said it was “a major book by a major scholar” and added that “the book breaks new ground”. Choosing to question Mr. Gandhi on the themes of family and politics from Gandhiji’s life, Mr. Guha asked Mr. Gandhi on the Mahatma’s interaction with his wife and children, often perceived as harsh and cruel.
Because the Mahatma had taken up such a large undertaking for the nation, he had little love left for his family, Mr. Gandhi opined.
Mr. Gandhi said that the intention behind writing the Mahatma biography was to make Gandhi look more human. “The Sarla Devi episode in his life establishes his humanity. To suppress any information on Gandhi would have meant doing injustice to what he stood for all his life – truth. I have only presented the facts as a scholar not a sensationalist journalist,” he added.
Mohandas also mentions Gandhi’s practice of brahmacharya in his life. He would sleep nude with his niece Manu. “It’s a matter of historical record. This has been written about many times. Even Gandhi wrote about it. In doing so, he was surrendering his sexuality and that of his partner’s, after passing a huge test,” he said.
In reply to a question by a member of the audience, Mr. Gandhi said that non-violence had a tremendous opportunity in today’s strife-ridden world. To a question whether India and Pakistan would have been different countries had Mahatma Gandhi’s assassination not taken place, he said: “There is a possibility, a likelihood that India-Pakistan relations might have taken a better turn,” adding that he [Gandhiji] could have helped the people of the two countries shed their suspicion and resentment.
When asked on the Mahatma’s transformation from a shy person to a charismatic figure, he said: “Gives hope to all of us, doesn’t it?” As his parting shot, Mr. Gandhi said: “Gandhiji was great and effective not because he had no fear but because he acted despite his fear.”
Mr. Gandhi, grandson of both Bapuji and Rajaji, was pleased to go through my scrapbook and wished me luck . Amongst other articles, he was surprised to see a 1938 newspaper clip, which has a photo of Gandhi, Jinnah and Mahadev Desai. While we posed for a picture, he autographed and advised me to preserve the book for posterity.