Gandhi. Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi. Who was he? Was he just a movement? Or was there more to him? Was there more to him as a person? What was he like before he started the revolution of such a kind that inspired millions to follow him? How did he get there? Such questions always cropped in my mind in school.
There was always this chapter on the Mahatma in school and yet he was always an enigma. Maybe because not enough is written or spoken of him before his time in India. Of his formative years spent in England and South Africa. Ramachandra Guha discovers the man through those years in his aptly titled Gandhi Before India.
This new biography is all about the man and what led him to believe in what he did. It is about his years in England and South Africa before coming back to India in 1915 and starting a revolution against the Empire like none other.
Guha uncovers his ideologies, thoughts, the convergence of incidents in his life that made him the Mahatma, or rather what he was before he became the “Great Soul”.
From page one, the writing makes no bones about the fact that the book brings to light the transformation of the boy to the man. Gandhi somehow is always relevant, in almost every single era, and this book strives to unearth the man behind all the layers. For instance, his encounters with non-vegetarian food when he was out of the country and times when his desires take over, and his father passes away in the next room. These instances and more only shaped the man into what he became later.
There are times when you wish as a reader, that the book would pick up pace. However, such a book is best savoured steadily.
The book is divided into sections for the reader’s understanding, given its sometimes heavy content. What I loved the most was the last chapter. The way the Mahatma is shown to be made–the culmination of all instances, which changed M K Gandhi and made him the Mahatma.
Guha’s research is intense and evident. He has gone through letters, journals and had more conversations with people to get to know the man we all grew up knowing and took for granted as a part of history.
There might be two opinions and two thoughts to the book, one for and one perhaps against, however that is the perception that will remain for any. This one only accentuates it because of the personality involved. It is almost like Guha’s Gandhi is very different from the Gandhi we know of.
Gandhi Before India is a rich work. The what-he-became part is yet to be documented by Guha and there is definitely a sequel of to this. It is a treat to read the first part.