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Mahatma Gandhi or Bapu as he was fondly called was the largest wave in the great tide of freedom sweeping across India between 1920 and 1947 and his chosen tools were civil disobedience and non violent satyagraha.  We know of leaders like Jawaharlal Nehru, Sardar Patel, Maulana Azad, Pt Madan Mohan Malviya, and C Rajagopalachari.  What most of us don’t know is that freedom fighters even those who agreed with Bapu were not a monolith.  They did not think or act cohesively. They even worked at cross purposes.

The eighty odd largely unpublished letters from this contrarian statesman to his leader, Mahatma Gandhi, and those to his son-in-law Devadas Gandhi and to his grandson, that are presented here come from family archives and public repositories and cover the years from 1920 to 1955, in the run-up to Independence and its early years. Described are the struggles and endeavors, large and small, made in the public arena, besides the inner world of friends, of home and hearth, with both spheres coalescing seamlessly. Frank, brave at times, bitter, the letters are remarkably free of recrimination or anything that would diminish the dialogue. Observed always is the healthy respect of the freedom to differ, to persuade, to agree to disagree, but never to let down or part.  Complied, edited and annotated by Gopalkrishna Gandhi, in a manner he believes his father, Devadas, would have approved, these letters are accompanied by a deeply felt and illuminating introduction.

CR and Bapu discussed khadi, temple entry for dalits, prohibition and dietary experiments.  CR agrees with Bapu on abolishing untouchability, but doesn’t agree on separate electorates based on religion.  Malviya seems to be aligned with orthodox priests and actually opposes Bapu’s fight against untouchability. Satyamurti wants CR thrown out of the Congress.  CR doesn’t agree with CR Das.  It is oddly reassuring to know they were wrangling even in the 1920s, ’30s and ’40s.  Common ground had to be renegotiated on a daily basis, and this is deeply relevant to present day readers who are disenchanted with politics itself.  Through post and telegraph, friendships and rivalries and the freedom struggle is revealed.  Bapu and CR explain themselves, argue about whether to fast or not, whether to drink milk or not, and with each letter, they grow more tangible to the imagination.

The first few letters are formal, but later exchanges are full of affection. They include details of how much cotton yarn is needed, but also accounts of grief.  One of the most poignant threads is CR’s updates about his elder daughter, Namagiri, who fought off a long spell of illness and before she could her recover, lost her husband. Only a tiny glimpse of grief is afforded, and the reader is left to imagine how CR, a single parent, juggled family with constant travel, fund-raising, and jail stints.  The book is also charming for its literary asides CR spending jail time translating epics, CR raving about Shakespeare and Morley;an 84-year-old CR refusing to visit the 90-year-old Bertrand Russell on the grounds that Russell was too old.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:  Gopalkrishna Gandhi was born in 1945, when Rajagopalachari was 66.  Over the next three decades, he oversaw his grandsons education, reading and commencement of a career in the Indian Administrative Service.  Gandhi has written a novel Refuge on the ethnic conflict in Sri Lanka that first appeared in 1987 and a play in verse, Dara Shukoh.  His other books are The Essential Gandhi and Of a Certain Age, a collection of his biographical sketches on twenty notable Indians.

MY TAKE:  CR’s intellect and Bapu’s keen, contesting mind are in fine display throughout, as is CR’s empathy and gentle reaching out to younger minds.  The content of the letters alone make for an interesting read, but add the weight of history, and the new India’s aggressive polity, this book assumes greater significance.  Even if history is not your cup of tea, this one would be a nice pick to get acquainted to the thought process of the greats.

 

BOOK DETAILS

AUTHOR:  Gopalkrishna Gandhi

Publisher    Viking

Language    English

Binding       Hardcover

Number of Pages  356 Pages

Price:  Rs. 539

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