Review of a book written by Dr. NagasuriVenugopal
Is it another biography of the Mahatma? No, definitely not. It is not even the intention of the author to write one. Then, what is it supposed to be? It is an honest attempt to show the multifaceted personality of the great man which was ignored or underestimated by the authors who wrote so much about him.The most reputed editors of Telugu daily papers have also commented that Gandhi was irrational and did not like science and scientific outlook. The author being himself a qualified journalist felt disappointed to see such comments about the Mahatma. He took trouble to search all the literature on Gandhi and picked up the details of his personal life to prove that he was always a progressive person with high regard for science and scientists. He tried to bring the real Gandhi nearer to the readers in Telugu and wrote this book in Telugu entitled Asalainaviplavavadi..sisalaina siddhantakarta (meaning A True revolutionary and a Radical Thinker).
He never visited any temples
All the writers tried to stress on his political importance as a leader of freedom movement and as a spiritualist who prays every day. He is acknowledged to have contributed Satyagraha and non-violence. As a spiritualist he never visited any temples, but he used to pray every day. Obviously, he was not an orthodox spiritualist. In fact he adopted to religious teachings only to ensure that people come nearer to him and heed to his call for unity in the fight for freedom. The very fact that people of all religions followed him is proof enough that he succeeded in that attempt. But once the country became independent, all the suppressed and controlled animosity between different religions, provoked by self interested politicians, flared up to prove man is the wildest of all animals. It brought in the worst carnage of human history. He could control even that to some extent by putting his own life on line. His heart refused to derive any kind of satisfaction on achieving the long standing dream of independence from colonial powers. It was not as he expected. He could not digest it. The learned author brought out the various instances where Gandhi was able to pacify the wild emotions and prevented carnage.
Non-violence, Satyagraha evolved in S. Africa
Satyaagraha and non-violence are accepted as the most valuable contributions of Gandhi. Most of the Indians, including the Telugu people were under the impression that Gandhi developed those concepts while fighting for freedom of India. The author explained that the concepts took shape while he was in South Africa supporting the local people and Indians who migrated and settled there. Then itself they realized that they cannot resort to violence against the mighty force of the state. It would only result in bloodshed and the victims would be from their own cadre. So “passive resistance” was considered as an alternative way of resisting violence. But Gandhi felt the name was not carrying the full weight of the concept. Somebody suggested “sadagraha”as its name. It was explained as “Sat + graha” that is, understanding the Truth. Gandhi modified it as “Satyaagraha” But it is also misinterpreted. It is “Satya + aagraha”. “aagraha”is anger and anger makes you revolt which involves violence. But Gandhi did not like violence from any side. Anger has to be controlled by Satya and brought to the level of indignation which remains inside. Satya, Truth is supreme for him. The oppressor is using violence to subjugate you and destroy your spiritual freedom which is unjust. That makes you feel indignation which boils your blood, cooks your heart and churns your viscera. You cannot keep quiet. But you will not revolt and also ask followers not to revolt. What happens is violence on non-resisting people.
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The man wielding baton should pause, think
Batons have no mercy, but the man wielding batons has to pause and think ‘why are these people submitting themselves to my baton charge?’ Instead of batons they may be sending bullets which would be more fatal. But that is what the victims were prepared to face expecting change of heart on the part of aggressor.The anger he is feeling is righteous because he knows Truth and justice are on his side and he is tolerating the offence to save that eternal Truth and justice. That is how Satyaagraha has become “Righteous Indignation”. It is this burning indignation that makes the victim tolerate the unjust violence and bear with the inhuman treatment. We are told that it was Rabindranath Tagore that called Gandhi “Mahatma.” The author of this book unearthed the hidden fact that Gandhi was called Mahatma on 8 November 1909 for the first time while he was in Africa. It was Dr.Pranjivan Mehta who described Gandhi as Mahatma in his letter addressed to Gokhale.
No compromise on basic convictions
Gandhi had basic convictions that he never wanted to compromise. God was one such conviction accepted as the ultimate truth. At the same time he was also not so rigid as to refuse to accept reasonable modifications even in basic faiths. The renowned atheist GoRa stayed with him for some time in the Ashram and had bouts of discussions and deep arguments about God and Truth. GoRa was able to convince Gandhi that Truth is different from God and also that Truth is superior to the concept of God. Gandhi did not discard the concept of God and GoRa also did not insist on that. But to accept superiority of Truth itself is a big change on the part of Gandhi. Nobody can blame Gandhi as an orthodox religious bigot. He was willing to change if persuaded rationally.
Scientists had immense respect for him
But his dependence on religion to bring together all people earned him the label of orthodox and antiscientific attitude which is far from truth. In fact it is the main burden of this book to dispel that concept. The author Dr. Nagasuri , himself having made substantial contributions for popularization of science in Telugu, could not relish that scientific attitude of Gandhi was not brought out to the public. He zealously tried to prove that Gandhi had immense respect for science and scientists. He had respectable relations with eminent scientists of the day. His only complaint with them was that they should come closer to the people instead of living in ivory towers. If he was not progressive in his outlook he could not have earned the respect of scientists like C.V.Raman, Mashelkar, Yellapragada, H.J.Bhabha, Dr.P.C.Ray. In fact, C.V.Raman used to conduct lectures in honor of the memory of Gandhi every year at his Indian Institute of Science in Bangalore from 1948 until his death in 1970.
The context of spinning wheel
At one stage he had to exhort people to use the spinning wheel to make cotton thread for weavers. It has become a source of ridicule without understanding the context of it. There was a movement to discard all the imported goods of which a major part is textiles. Even now we see countries restricting imports for various reasons. To fill the gap it was necessary to supply thread to the weavers. The only equipment available in all the villages was the spinning wheel. When Gandhi gave the call its use has become a domestic industry and many of the rural people, particularly women, got engaged in the process. But Gandhi did not overlook the fact that it was a very rudimentary equipment, not giving proper value for the work on it. But it was what was available. Simultaneously he was trying to improve it. He invited designs for it, conducted competitions and offered rewards also. Consequently the spinning wheel took different shapes resulting in reduction of work and increasing production of thread giving better remuneration. Even then it was not adequate, we know. But it served a purpose then.
Steve Jobs was all praise for Gandhi
Gandhi encouraged students to study science and even sent students to MIT. One of his grandsons, Kanuram Das Gandhi was a graduate from MIT. Gandhi used to think in a different way from his contemporaries. Steve Jobs was all praise for Gandhi for his different way of thinking. That helped Jobs to succeed in his ventures by inventing different gadgets of practical use. R.A.Mashelkar, the former Director General of the Council of Scientific and Industrial Research called Gandhi’s way of thinking as “Gandhian Engineering” The basic principle is “More from less for more”. Insist on less inputs and get more output. That is after all the basic principle of any economic activity. Along with C.K. Prahlad, the renowned management consultant, Dr.Mashelkar wanted to popularize the concept of Gandhian Engineering. But the untimely death of Prahlad put an end to the effort. It was the duty of Prahlad to make managements accept the concept while Mashelkar explains what it is. The author Dr. Nagasuri succeeded in establishing that Gandhi was not only interested in science, but also has become an inspiration for scientists and innovators.
It is true that Gandhi did not give a full picture of the economy he wanted. Such a picture was drafted by E.F. Schumacher in his SMALL IS BEAUTIFUL published in 1973. Even Dr. Ram ManoharLohia was of the same intention and liked Gandhi for it. When he visited America he was repeatedly asked to describe how the socialist economy could be in practice. It was not a subject to be explained in an interview or discussion. It needs a book and that was supplied by Schumacher in 1973. By that time neither Gandhi was there nor Lohia. This concept of Gandhian Engineering was on similar lines as “Intermediate Technology” suggested by Schumacher. Gandhi did not concentrate much on this aspect as winning freedom was of immediate requirement and in his opinion, development matters can wait till then.
Gandhiji never differentiated between his personal and public life. It was an integrated life, no dichotomy. But when the man is trying to teach morals to the public his personal life would be dissected and displayed under microscope. More criticism was directed against his practice of celibacy. It is stated that after observing the delivery of his fourth son by his wife (which he had to help as a midwife) with fragile health he felt it inhuman on his part to seek family pleasures and decided to lead a celibate life from then onwards. There is also another version on this. While in Africa he was moved by the struggles of the poor people to make both ends meet. In such a life there would be no place for any pleasure or comforts. Gandhi felt guilty to lead a life of pleasure while others are suffering for want of minimum necessaries. It is reported that he decided to forsake pleasures of family life without consulting his wife, but she conceded without a murmur. It was a voluntary celibacy. That started when he was in Africa. After coming to India, seeing the poor peasants half clad, he decided to discard the London style of dressing and restricted himself to a rough cloth around his waist and a towel covering the chest. That gave him immense respect among the poor people and helped identifying Gandhi with the people of India. His convictions were so deep that he presented himself in the same attire while attending the Round Table Conference in London.
Expelling the idea of gender
Renunciation of family pleasures was itself not enough for him. Being a moralist he wanted to prove it to himself that he is really a celibate even in his thinking. That made him resort to various experiments with women which attracted criticism from all quarters. He wanted to expel the idea of gender itself from his mind and to prove it he was reported to have moved naked within the Ashram in front of women. He expected others also to grow to his level of thinking which was naturally difficult if not impossible. With utmost regard for him, the participants in the experiments cooperated with him. He showed no mercy on himself. At the same time, it must have brought a great deal of embarrassment to the other participants in the experiment. Perhaps his struggle in this regard continued till the end of his life. One may call it adamant or dogmatic. But he wanted to prove to himself that there are no contradictions within himself. It is an integrated personality, true to himself. The incidents narrated in this book amply prove this.
Riches not meant for display
Immediately after coming from Africa, he was made to realise the inequalities in the Indian society. In the meeting arranged by his admirers there were people of all levels – common men, educated people and also business magnates and zamindaars. He felt constrained to tell his hosts on the face that the riches were not meant for display but only for welfare of the needy. To tell it on the face of his hosts requires courage of conviction and integrity. He came to India with intention to ameliorate the conditions on Indians. They are expected to be his followers. But what is the use of followers who do not understand him? And how do they understand unless you are frank enough?
Tolerance between all religions
He must have noticed the tension prevailing between the two main religions in the country. Naturally he decided it his priority to build bridges and help tolerance. He was careful enough to give no scope for any doubt in this regard. He preached tolerance between all the religions. He had to say all religions are respectable if he has to get cooperation from all the people. He should not have been ignorant of all the havoc played by religions and in the name of religions throughout history. But he never mentioned it with reference to religions.
But he did not hesitate to condemn atheism blaming it for violence. He was careful to concede that he does not know much about Bolshevism as then it was a nascent theory coming into practice and declined to express any opinion about it. But at the same time he did not hesitate to condemn atheism blaming it for violence. Atheism had to take the blame as it was associated with communism. There was no other political party or ‘religion’ associated with atheism and there was no evidence that atheism promoted violence but for its association with communism. Atheism is an anathema as it denies theism, but theism is the corner stone of all religions which Gandhi had to use as part of his strategy to unite the people and to involve them into his fight for freedom which was the goal of his life. The distinction between religion, spiritualism and theism is largely blurred.
Tools for freedom struggle
Having fought the colonial rulers in Africa, Gandhi came to India with an intention to fight for the mother land and make it free from the colonial rule. He made it the purpose of his life. He selected the tools required for the purpose and applied the same with skill and dexterity. He was a great strategist having short time and long time aims. His first aim was to get freedom for the country and later to develop the country in his own way. He knows the importance of education, science and technology and economic planning. But they come after getting independence. Naturally he did not allow any compromise on his short term aim. He devised and designed his plans carefully. To convince himself he adopted the principles of ethical and judicial norms.
On righteous path
He was on a righteous path so that there would be no need to compromise which helped him stay firm on his demand. Nevertheless, he was willing to compromise where practical situation demands. If not, he could not have carried on with the exploitative colonial powers for decades keeping his leadership intact. But at every compromise, there was a step towards the goal and self respect was undiminished. He was a practical man in spite of all his spiritualism. He wanted to set an ideal for others by leading a moral and integrated life. He practiced what he preached. He lived what he believed. He used his spiritualism to reach a temporal goal. The author Dr. Nagasuri succeeded in bringing out this aspect of Gandhi’s life clearly to the notice of the reader.
Harsh on himself
He was harsh on himself rather than on others. Nobody could question his leadership and moral authority. Such a life necessarily casts a burden on the family. It cannot be said that he did not care for the family enough. He looked after his wife in her ill health. He tried to impress on her the relevance of his values. He was fortunate that finally his wife took to his line of activity and supported him in her own way. One of his four sons has gone astray. Such things can happen in any family. It has to be accepted that Gandhi took care of his family in a humanitarian way rather than in a familial way. A great man is a burden on the family while being an asset to the country.
Not a biography
We have agreed that this book is not a biography and the author did not intend it to be one. Nevertheless he has presented a chronological list of incidents in the life of Gandhi which gives a clear enough view of dynamics in his life. It is so detailed that it can serve as a biographical reference.
He was not orthodox
The author Dr. NagasuriVenugopal took upon himself the delicate responsibility to present the human side and also the greatness of the person – the Mahatma. He showed that Gandhi was not orthodox as many people tend to estimate. He showed the progressive side of his life and also the humane side. It would not have been possible without dedicated effort, unearthing the many incidents that were buried under the thousands of pages of the vast literature on this great man.
It is difficult to erase an established view point and resurrect the real value of a person. With this book written in Telugu there is no excuse for the Telugu people to underestimate the personality and contributions of Gandhi. If anybody has any misgivings about Gandhi’s credentials, Dr. Nagasuri supplied the required evidence to prove the full and integrated personality of the man honored as the MAHATMA!
JAWAHARLAL JASTHI HYDERABAD
Ph: 990 850 2144 17 January 2021