Neither an ode of adulation, nor an exercise in iconoclasm, this book on Gandhi gives praise where praise is due; and criticizes where criticism is warranted. The author treads in step with Gandhi as he reveals himself in his Experiments with Truth in an honest attempt to understand the Mahatma in the making. Gandhi's veracity is not in question; but his memory, and selection and omission of episodes, inevitably temper the tenor of truth! His equation of Truth with God can only be understood as justice and fair play analogous to sat or ?ta signifying the Cosmic Order. Page after page poses questions in a bid to understand Gandhi as he speaks, writes and acts.
The author relates how Gandhi discovered himself in South Africa; and formulated a new vocabulary of revolt; a new ideology of non-violence and self-suffering to defeat racial injustice and tyranny; to rouse the corrective conscience of his oppressors. Deliberate defiance of unjust laws, self-effacing humility, unflinching acceptance of punishment, the unfading smile and unfailing forgiveness sum up the transformation of an otherwise ordinary mortal into a Mahatma, who identified himself with all downtrodden humanity! Ahimsa, satya and satyagraha became the watchwords of his philosophy in action. The author explores the meanings of these words; and notes that at times Gandhi's ahimsa could be devoid of compassion, confined only to self-cleansing, not true to itself.
He learned from all religions without conversion to any; and identified religion with morality, without realizing that morality preceded the rise of religion. As basic morality constituting the core of every religion transcends all doctrinal divisions, Gandhi tirelessly advocated religious tolerance; and Hindu-Muslim unity. He lived and died for peaceful co-existence. But his pursuit of moksha (release from reincarnation) was irrelevant to the world's welfare!
Gandhi upheld human equality and indivisibility regardless of race and colour. The author notes his reverence for the Brahmins; and his painful progress from caste consciousness to its final rejection. He draws attention to Gandhi's unwillingness to mount a satyagraha for the liberation of the untouchables from Brahmanical tyranny. Gandhi also took time to realize the woeful plight of the Africans; and to speak of a future which would grant them their due in the land of their birth.
The author also takes note of Gandhi's great love of the British, and his faith in their destiny to deliver the world into a dawn of freedom and democracy. He points to Gandhi's celebration of the British success against Indians in 1857! It took a while to shake off that subservience in Gandhi's Hind Swaraj.
The book looks closely at Gandhi's relations with his elder brother and friends. The author notes his dictatorial direction of the lives of his wife and sons. His brahmacarya (sexual abstinence) was a capricious imposition on submissive Kasturba; a pathetic denial of the joy of sex mocking mortality and the sorrow of transience. But the book salutes his cruel, uncompromising candour. He practised what he preached. His obsession with sanitation and hygiene unfortunately failed to inspire Indians to follow his example.
As an advocate of right means to right ends excluding all violence for the resolution of human disputes, as an enemy of imperialism and champion of human equality, as a practitioner and preacher of religious goodwill and tolerance, as a respecter of the earth and its gifts, as an upholder of the primacy of man over machine, Gandhi remains a beacon of timeless relevance!