Afterward, in South Africa, working as a lawyer and a community organizer for the country’s Indian population, he lived in near-total isolation from events in British-ruled India, absorbed by his readings in the Bible, Ruskin, and Tolstoy and his experiments in vegetarianism, meditation, and celibacy.
Guha claims that Gandhi, in the first four decades of his life, “may never have spoken to a single Indian peasant or worker (or landlord or moneylender) living or working in India.”The second volume of Guha’s biography, more than a thousand pages long, begins with an account of how Gandhi, returning to India at the age of forty-five, set about familiarizing himself with his country’s realities, especially its great mass of poor people.
“Politics encircle us today like the coil of a snake from which one cannot get out, no matter how much one tries,” Gandhi once said. Mehta, Karuna Mantena, and Faisal Devji present a radical figure, who, diverging from the dominant ideologies of liberalism, nationalism, and Marxism, insisted on the need for self-transformation, moral persuasion, and sacrifice.
“I wish therefore to wrestle with the snake.” His prolific writings in that turbulent era inspired thinkers as disparate as W. The origins of Gandhi’s world view in Europe’s fin-de-siècle culture are also becoming clearer: Leela Gandhi persuasively links her great-grandfather’s outlook to an antimaterialist tradition that flourished in late-nineteenth-century Britain.
In “The Impossible Indian” (2012), Faisal Devji, the most stimulating of recent writers on Gandhian thought, calls him “one of the great political thinkers of our times”—an assessment not cancelled out by the stringent account of Gandhi’s fads, follies, and absurdities frequently offered by his critics.
Far from being a paragon of virtue, the Mahatma remained until his death a restless work in progress.
“We will never all think alike and we shall always see truth in fragments and from different angles of vision,” he wrote.
And even Gandhi’s harshest detractors do not deny that he steadfastly defended, and eventually sacrificed his life for, many values under assault today—fellow-feeling for the weak, and solidarity and sympathy between people of different nations, religions, and races.
It was only then that bumper-sticker homilies Gandhi never uttered—“Be the change you wish to see in the world”—were attributed to him. In recent years, many scholars have asserted that he has much to say about the issues that make our present moment so volatile: inequality, resentment, the rise of demagoguery, and the breakdown of democratic governance.
(Donald Trump tweeted one of these fake quotes during his Presidential campaign, in 2016: “First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win.”) As Gandhi disappeared into T-shirts and Apple advertisements, it was easy to forget that this big-eared, cuddly icon of popular culture responded to an unprecedentedly violent and unstable period in human history, beginning with the intensification of imperialism and globalization in the late nineteenth century and continuing through two world wars. In several pioneering books and articles, the Indian thinker Ashis Nandy has presented Gandhi as boldly confronting the “hyper-masculine” political culture of his time, which sanctified “institutionalized violence and ruthless social Darwinism.” Writers such as Ajay Skaria, Shruti Kapila, Uday S.