‘Great Soul’ by Joseph Lelyveld – the controversy on Mahatma Gandhi
Posted on April 2nd, 2011

By Mario Perera, Kadawata

The book “ƒ”¹…”Great Soul: Mahatma Gandhi and His Struggle With India’ by Joseph Lelyveld (Knopf, 2011) , is said to contain passages that claim or imply that Mahatma Gandhi, when he was in South Africa, had a relationship with a male German national, and that he had left his wife to live with his “ƒ”¹…”lover’ for almost two years. Lelyveld, a Pulitzer Prize winning author denies that he uses such terms with bizarre sexual connotations. When the book appeared there was already an apprehension that it would be banned in India. Indeed this apprehension was not ill founded. The Gujarat State, birth region of the Mahatma has already done so, and it seems that other States might follow suit. Such action is in the purview of the State concerned for reasons it deems fit. So the legitimacy of such a measure is not in issue. What is in question is the reasonableness of that decision, and who should be its judge.

There will always be those trying to ferret out information about historical personalities and give them the colouring they desire. The more renowned these personalities are n the more such themes catch the eye. However what is well known and obvious can no more elicit curiosity by the reading public. The reading passion for new books must be aroused. What greater arousal than that of weird sex especially about a hallowed personality? Today if an author, be he a budding one or a well established writer as Lelyveld is dwells on topics through stereo-type literary moulds, the chance of a sellout of his book would be uncertain. The immediate reaction would be one of “ƒ”¹…”dƒÆ’†’©jƒÆ’†’  vu’. It is also known that more than what is explicit it is subtle innuendos that get rooted in the imagination and begin gnawing on human curiosity, just like a rat gnawing on every obstacle in the way of an appetizing smell. That would be the attitude of the general reading public. So the argument that such or such word or phrase was not explicitly used or not intended to give such or such a meaning is already a poor defense.

Now the question is as to the reasonableness of the ban on that book in some Indian States which would seem to herald similar action in the country as a whole. Those in favour of Lelyveld adduce arguments that are nothing new. They are: democracy, the right to be informed, education, impartiality, the quality of the writer and so on. Anyway whatever be the effect of the ban, those who wish to procure this book will do so. That is then not the issue. The issue is the reasonableness of the ban. To answer this question one has to first assess the significance of the Mahatma to the Indian nation. He is not just a politician to them. He ranks with the greatest teachers of humanity. When they call him the “ƒ”¹…”father of the nation’ it means much more that that of liberator from the yoke of subjugation to the while master. His title derives from “ƒ”¹…”Maha-Atman’ being a revelation of the divine. This, people of Western civilizations cannot comprehend.

The ban therefore is the affirmation that the Indian nation rejects this book with all its bizarre innuendos about the Mahatma’s personal life being an affront to the divine in him. That “ƒ”¹…”sense of the divine’ left the european culture a long time ago. There is hardly anything “ƒ”¹…”new’ in the so-called research done by the author. There is nothing there that would have escaped the attention of Indian scholars and historians. We all know the saying that time and tide wait for no man. The author, a man of the Western hemisphere would seem to have confounded the time-space framework of the life of the Mahatma. Words, phrases, sentiments and relationships are not susceptible to such manipulations. Also the terminology in vogue in our times cannot resume, sum up, synthesize, illustrate or reveal situations of other climes and times and other mental and spiritual frameworks especially relative to a unique human being of the stature of the Mahatma. This is probably where the author led himself into error or committed himself to such interpretations of his writing.

This book appears to represent the great Mahatma as common place individual with regard to certain basic inclinations characterizing ordinary mortals. The point precisely is that the Mahatma was NOT an ordinary human being. The interpretation of his personality is rendered all the more complicated by assimilating him into the gravitational field of sexual currents and desires which identify modern society and inseparable with its claim to be an advanced civilization. The more bizarre the sexual innuendos regarding persons and the more overt such appellations as homo or gay, bisexual, transsexual, the more the book is made to seem “ƒ”¹…”up to date’, and the author declared to be “ƒ”¹…”forthright’, “ƒ”¹…”truthful’ and “ƒ”¹…”fearless’. Just as in the case of hypocritical wars declared for subjugating nations and plundering their wealth (examples are galore, the most recent being “ƒ”¹…”Libya’), they also have a “ƒ”¹…”legion’ of supporting staff of “ƒ”¹…”prestigious newspapers and journalists’ to second their effort and to impose their righteousness on the readers…a sort of “ƒ”¹…”believe us because we who are the strongest say so and do so’.

The Mahatma has gone into history for what he was, what he did and what he said. The literature emanating from him or written about him is of the sphere of the “ƒ”¹…”sacred’. That chapter is now closed, and new interpretations can only be called apocryphal. As such personalities takes their place on the pedestals of history their memories recede in time wafting them beyond the grasp of reason. This is what Einstein meant when he said of the Mahatma that generations to come will scarcely believe that a man such as this in flesh and blood ever walked the face of the earth. He now hold his place in history and in the hearts of his nation and the world, clothed in light as an object of eternal homage and reverence.

Mark Twain said “ƒ”¹…”East is East and West is West and never the twain shall meet’. The foolhardiness of the so-called “ƒ”¹…”western literary genius’ is seen in its rushing in where angels fear to tread. This work derogatory of the great Mahatma can only be seen as a reckless show of western superiority: an insensitive attempt to tell the Indian nation that what the West knows about their “ƒ”¹…”father’ borders on the shameful and the perverse. It is a subtle scheme to undermine his liberation struggle by tainting the moral fiber of this extraordinary man, the foremost facet of his personality and his shining armament in his struggle on behalf of his nation. It must be seen for what it is, a disgraceful attempt to tarnish Gandhi’s image in the eyes of posterity.

One Response to “‘Great Soul’ by Joseph Lelyveld – the controversy on Mahatma Gandhi”

  1. M.S.MUdali Says:

    Gandhi still irritates the WHITEs for losing India. Now India is the main obstacle for the WHITE colonial expansion in the region. WHITES tried to carveout Sri Lanka to get a foot hold in Sri Lanak but it was failed by the Indian support to President Rajapasa.

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