Mohan Murti

A violent slur on Gandhiji

Mohan Murti | Updated on April 13, 2011

Gandhiji shall overcome and triumph. Any attempt to malign and dishonour the great architect of the Indian freedom struggle will fall flat.

In the last few days, European media has had much debate surrounding Mr Joseph Lelyveld's biography of Gandhiji, Great Soul: Mahatma Gandhi and His Struggle With India.

The German media, especially, has been outraged by the reference to Gandhiji's correspondence with Hermann Kallenbach, a German-Jew architect.

Having read the book, my view is that it does little to raise Mr Lelyveld's writing out of the smutty nauseating gutter. The title of the book is deceptive and the author is largely infatuated with not Gandhiji's enormity, but his characteristic oddities, incongruity of his sexual choices, his failures. The book is a dissertation, ridiculing just about no matter what Gandhiji ever did.

It seems like a book written with abhorrence, backed by a very misleading title to gain readership. There are people in Europe as around the world who revere Gandhiji and the totality of his beliefs. And, this biography has aroused a firestorm of controversy in Germany and the rest of Europe.

Media reports from mainland Europe and English newspapers focused mainly on the alleged revelations about Gandhiji's secret love for the German-Jewish architect while in South Africa.

Media reaction

Considered an expert on India and Mahatma Gandhi, the German Professor, Mr Michael Mann of the Berlin Humboldt University, made a shallow statement in BILD, a popular German daily: “These are serious indications that the relationship between Gandhiji and Kallenbach was not just platonic”.

On the other side, a very popular, widely circulated German daily wrote: “It is irrelevant if Gandhiji was gay just like it is immaterial to question the divinity of Jesus. What is more important to human race is the message of non-violence, equality, love, and human worth”.

Another Austrian journal wrote: “India today is a noisy, imperfect and chaotic democracy. But many of its positives flow from Gandhiji's role in shaping its political culture. And that is how he should be evaluated — not as a kook which he may have been, not as a pundit on the holocaust which he was naive about, not as a family man which he was not”.

Yet another popular French paper editorial read: “It is not bizarre to have inconsistencies in any human being. If Gandhiji were alive, he would admit that unreservedly of himself. It is too easy for us to find a fault reason enough to dismiss an entire life of huge accomplishments”. Calling it a violent slur on the man who gave not just India but the world an example of non-violence, critics have reported in some sections of the European media as “a cheap and malicious, disparaging publicity stunt”.

The Indian Faith

Mr Lelyveld does not know that India is a great ancient Vedic civilisation that has seen, read and understands sexuality from texts such as Rig Veda which dates back to around 1,500 B.C.

Kamashastra mentions that homosexuality existed in Vedic times and has detailed accounts of both men and women who are tritiya-prakriti (“third-sexed”) by nature and described as homosexual. Mr Lelyveld must recognise that the Indian faith worships the Lingam, also been considered a symbol of male creative energy or of the phallus with the Yoni, a symbol of the goddess or of Shakti, female creative energy. We also have chronicled the exploits of God in the Indian faith — from Lord Indra, , the King of Heaven to Lord Brahma, the Creator.

In the five chapters of the Srimad Bhagavatam describing the Rasa Lila, the great author, Maharishi Veda Vyasa, makes one feel a pounding throb within , as it were when supernormal experiences are given to us in mundane language.

If there were a Pulitzer Prize, Maharishi Veda Vyasa would have won that, hands down. And, incidentally, his book is even today, a non-controversial best-seller, in India and around the world. We Indians have thought, seen and done it all! It is therefore, not easy to hoodwink the Indian imagination and psyche with cheap, scandalous, lurid sensationalism.

Superfluous effort

In my view, Gandhiji's greatness and prominence has only increased by such taunts, insults, jibes in this recent tome of garbage writing.

Therefore, by placing Gandhiji on a plinth or, shielding him inside a glass house, we Indians are artificially cleansing Gandhi, which is in every respect, superfluous.

So, I applaud the Indian government for deciding to let this book be. Gandhiji shall overcome and triumph. Any attempt to malign and dishonour the great architect of the Indian freedom struggle will fall flat. What astonishes me is that why would a Pulitzer Prize-winning author like Mr Joseph Lelyveld, want to, like a fraudster and con artist, plait a story so convincing and potent with venom.

Obviously, it is a fiction based on comments, quotes and letters which can be interpreted and woven together in a zillion ways. I am not a Gandhian nor do I support all of Gandhiji's ideals, but the author's interpretations are hollow, fallacious, specious and tainted.

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Published on April 04, 2011
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