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I, wrote in this column sometime back, that MJ Akbar and I were jointly writing a book on Mahatma Gandhi. The title we decided upon was, Gandhi: The Imperishable Indian. MJ has sent me two chapters of his part of the book. These run into 128 pages. The third chapter he is working on. The two chapters are scintillating, immensely absorbing. His style is of a very high order. Clichés have no place in any of his eight or more books. He is a delightful phrase maker.

I am, for obvious reasons not revealing what MJ has written. However, I await the next chapter eagerly and with a load of curiosity. Akbar has made good use of the monumental, “Collective Works of Mahatma Gandhi”, which run into over a hundred volumes. There exists a mistaken view that Gandhiji was not a great reader. This is not true. When he was in jail in the early 1920’s he read several hundred books.

Raghvan Iyer in volume one of his, “The Moral and Political Writings of Mahatma Gandhi” give a list of the books he read- including novels. The chapter is headed, “Books Read”. It runs into 34 pages. Let me quote Gandhiji: “Let the reader however not imagine that I read these books by choice. Some of them were useless and outside the jail I would not have read them. Some of them were sent by friends known and unknown and I felt I was bound for their sakes at least to go through them. Yeravada Jail has what may be called not a bad collection of English books. Some of them were really good books, such for instance as Farrar’s Seekers after God. Or Jules Verne’s, Dropped from the Clouds, all of them inspiring in their own way. Farrar’s is an inspiring book giving the best side of the lives of Marcus Aurelius’, Seneca and Epictetus. Lucian’s book is a fine and instructive satire. Jules Verne teaches science in the guise of a story. His method is inimitable”. Here we get a fresh view of Gandhiji’s literary side of which few are aware.

Let me give the titles of a few of the books Gandhi read. The Five Nations by Rudyard Kipling, Dr Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, by Stevenson, The Second Jungle Book- Kipling, Satires and Epistles of Horace. Goethe’s Faust. Lays of ancient Rome, Primer of Marathi Language, Natural History of Birds, Historical English Grammar, Scott’s Poetical Works, Life and Voyages of Columbus. I have started work on my chapter of the Gandhi volume. I deliberately decided to read lesser known books on Gandhiji. These includes, Gandhi by George Woodcock, Gandhi Against the Tide by Antony Copley, The Philosophy of Gandhi by Glyn Richard, Gandhi, The Traditional Roots of Charisma by Susan Rudolph and Lloyd I Rudolph. Except one, none is more than a hundred pages.

How to comprehend or explain the unmatched charisma of Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi. Where lay its root. None of his grandparents, parents or his brother had it. When did the charisma become visible in a man so spectacularly she. No definite date can be fixed. Gandhi’s charisma excelled that of Marx, Lincoln, Lenin, Stalin, Hitler and Mao Tse TungGandhi was not endowed with the good looks of Jawaharlal Nehru, yet his charisma was unmistakable.

In the pre- T.V, Radio, Aeroplanes, Telephones, Gandhi’s meetings at times attracted over a million people. Who invented the word Satyagraha-Gandhi. Non-violent, noncooperation-Gandhi. Was it only charisma that drew the likes of Motilal Nehru, C.R. Das, Maulana Azad, Jawaharlal Nehru, Rajendra Prasad, Sardar Patel, Sarojini Naidu and the early Subhas Chandra Bose. No, it was his devotion to Truth. Of course his glittering character, his preferences to love in the face of hate. What a team he had- 300 million to begin with. With the world see another Gandhi? You will probably find part of the answer in the Akbar-Natwar book.


K NATWAR SINGH The author is Former Minister of External Affairs of India

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