In the name of the Mahatma

It is indeed sad that we should ban a book on the life of a man who embodied openness, who invited generations to follow after him to read and interpret his life as that was his message, a man who through his autobiography and other writings on himself and his experiments provided a cultural frame through which the story of a soul in quest of truth could be told and comprehended. Joseph Lelyveld's book Great Soul: Mahatma Gandhi and His Struggle with India has met just that fate. It has been banned on the ground that the book calls Gandhi a "racist" and the author alludes to a possible homosexual relationship between Gandhi and Hermann Kallenbach, one of his closest associates during the South African phase. For the record, the author does not describe Gandhi as a racist. Lelyveld, a foremost authority on apartheid and racial politics in South Africa, actually traces the journey of Gandhi's intellectual development on the racial question. He shows the great "cultural leap" that Gandhi takes on the racial question, a journey that allows him to feel the pain of the Zulus. On the question of alleged bisexuality, the book does not either use that term or invite that reading. Gandhi's intensely intimate relationship with Hermann Kallenbach has not been a closely guarded secret waiting to be revealed. Gandhi wrote about him in Satyagraha In South Africa as also the Autobiography. It was Kallenbach who provided the 1100 acres of land that they together named as Tolstoy Farm. It was to Kallenbach that Gandhi hurriedly dictated the English paraphrase of his seminal philosophical work the Hind Swaraj. It was Kallenbach who taught Gandhi the art of making leather sandals. Gandhi-Kallenbach correspondence has been part of the public domain ever since the Government of India acquired it in a public auction in South Africa; this correspondence forms part of the Collected Works of Mahatma Gandhi (CWMG) and is published as volume 96 of the same. The editors of the CWMG describe these letters as "invaluable". To them Kallenbach and Gandhi were "soul-partners", who shared a "rare intimacy". They state that for Kallenbach Gandhi was "friend, companion, mother and mentor".

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