Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Review: Gandhi


Gandhi, by Jad Adams: Eccentric, mystical, primitive and a bit creepy. Your crazy uncle let loose, who wows the world. C+

From Gandhi: The True Man Behind Modern India, by Jad Adams:

Open quote 

Gandhi did not in the end command his followers to commit suicide, but in the light of the late-twentieth-century cults of Jim Jones at Jonestown, David Koresh at Waco and Marshall Applewhite at Rancho Santa Fe, Gandhi's exhortations have an uncomfortably modern ring."

You would think there have been enough biographies of Mohandas "Mahatma" Gandhi published by now. You're probably right. The tip-off is right there in the title of this book. Any author who promises the "true" story of anything is pretty much admitting up front that there are already plenty of versions of this story already in print. This one is going to have a new angle to entice you to read yet another version. That quote above is over the top, and is extreme, even for this unconventional biography, but it uses the life of Gandhi to make the case that saint and madman are not necessarily mutually exclusive.

After the jump, my review.

Grade: C+

Gandhi: The True Man Behind Modern India focuses on the more eccentric aspects of Gandhi's life. His dietary habits are whack. No matter what the physical ailment, he prescribes a diet or a fast. Enemas are a part of his daily routine. Gandhi had a lifelong obsession with sex, or rather, with not having sex. Gandhi does everything except have sexual intercourse, just to prove to himself, and everyone who will listen, how he can resist temptation. He sleeps with naked young women. He bathes with them. They give him massages (and enemas). But he remains celibate, if you can call that celibacy. It's creepy.

Adams also covers the more common story of Gandhi perfecting the practice of non-violence (civil disobedience, passive resistance, or as Gandhi called it, satyagraha) and using it to advance Indian independence (but also his own personal spiritual advancement). Here, Adams downplays Gandhi's influence on Indian history, showing how Great Britain was inevitably headed towards granting self rule for multiple reasons, but was trapped, unable to figure out how to grant it without India tearing itself apart. In Adams' telling, Gandhi proved to be as much obstacle as prod to Britain's efforts. In the end, the British just left, and Hindus and Muslims separated in an orgy of violence that Gandhi himself was unable to stop.

I'm not a Gandhi expert, but I don't think Adams reveals any original information about Gandhi. He quotes liberally from Gandhi's own writings and the writings of those who lived and worked with him. Adams avoids hagiography without doing a hatchet job on Gandhi's life, either. If you're already familiar with the complexity of Gandhi the man, you can skip this book. But if think of Gandhi as a saint, this account might surprise and enlighten you.


Gandhi had long been refining his proscription of sex to include married couples, and it was no longer obvious that he felt sex was permissible even for the purpose of procreation.

It is difficult to escape the conclusion that his family was treated like so much baggage of which he had to be divested if he wanted to reach spiritual perfection.

Gandhi was suffering from exhaustion, amoebic dysentery and a bronchial cough. His cure for these ills was, of course, to propose a fast."

Gandhi wanted a return to conditions before the industrial revolution that had made economic prosperity the main object of politics.

Instead of addressing the quality of the evil that was being unleashed on the world in the 1930s, Gandhi sought a moral equivalence. He considered that the British were just as bad as the Nazis.

No comments: