Skip to main content

Featured Post

Ladakh - Planning The Trip

Over 2000 Km by road, in around 10 days. Stunning landscapes, wonderful people. That sums up our Ladakh trip. But how did it actually work? How did we make it happen? Read on to find out!  Leh, the capital of Ladakh , is accessible by air and road. Flying into Leh is the easiest, and time-saving option, while the road is the time consuming one, but with the added advantage of driving past some of the most beautiful landscapes in our country. Each option has much to recommend it, and we chose the road for just one reason – altitude sickness. Altitude sickness was one of my biggest concerns, since I suffer from motion-sickness. Yes, I do travel a lot, but that is despite my condition, and, over the years, have learnt how to handle it. I struggled with it when we visited Nathu-La in Sikkim, and wondered if I would be able to manage a week at the even higher altitudes that we would encounter in Ladakh. This was the reason we stuck to a basic plan, of only 9 days in Ladakh, though we

Book Review : The Man before the Mahatma by Charles DiSalvio





In his introduction to “The Man Before the Mahatma, M.K. Gandhi, Attorney at Law”, Charles DiSalvio writes –

“The image the world has of Mohandas Gandhi is a stark one. Say the name ‘Gandhi’ and the listener invariably conjures up a vision of an elderly, unassuming, bald headed man. He peers at us through well worn wire-rimmed glasses.... he wears not manufactured clothing from England’s factories, but plain, white, homespun cotton from India’s fields – and a minimum of that too...... he is an ascetic man: he prays, he keeps silent, he fasts, he refrains from wine, meat and sexual relations.... (He has) a clear and unswerving devotion to the cause of Indian freedom and a view of life that sees the spiritual as the underpinning of the political.

There is, however, another Gandhi. ( A photo at the Sabarmati ashram in Ahmedabad shows him) in a tie, a starched shirt and a three piece suit.... A younger Gandhi, with a full head of hair and a striking moustache... with 4 members of his staff, and (a plaque behind him reading) ‘M.K. Gandhi. Attorney’.

Despite his having studied and practiced law for 23 years (1888-1911), this is the Gandhi about whom the world knows little”

I couldn’t possibly have improved upon this introduction, which is why I have reproduced (almost) the entire paragraph, verbatim. How true is it that we know so little about the man we know as the father of our nation! The word Mahatma, in Sanskrit, means ‘Great soul’. And he was indeed a fitting recipient of the title. However, before he became a great soul, he was a human, just like you and me, with all the similar fears, frailties, doubts, and problems that we all face, day after day. However, the book is not as much about the Gandhi the man, as it is about Gandhi, the Attorney.

Charles DiSalvio is Professor of Law at West Virginia University, where he teaches one of the few courses on Civil Disobedience. Before I read this book, I was unaware even of the existence of such a course! Understandably, his interest focuses on how Gandhi the lawyer turned into Gandhi, the staunch advocate of Civil Disobedience.

The book takes off on September 29, 1888, the day when Gandhi arrived in England, to begin studying for the career chosen for him. DiSalvio gives us a brief biography of the young man before he set out from India, to set the scene, so to speak. He contains himself only to details which concern his journey – the aids and the obstacles – to becoming a barrister. He stays away from going into his personal life, setting the tone for the book, adhering strictly to the title, confining himself to tracing the growth of a barrister, then an attorney at law into a crusader for human rights, a champion of civil disobedience.

As can be expected from a professor, the book is full of details. DiSalvio’s research is extensive, and I would think the book covers almost every case Gandhi ever fought in the courts. That said, DiSalvio also proves himself to be a wonderful author, putting together all the legal details in a manner easy to read and understand, even for laypersons like me who find law and legal language extremely boring and convoluted. He takes us through Gandhi’s early years in the law, his fear of public speaking, his struggles in Bombay and Rajkot,  the first indications of his stubborn adherence to his personal values and ethics, or as he puts it “the first indication....that the world’s way was not his way”.

The book really picks up steam with Gandhi’s arrival in South Africa in May 1893. For most of us, the little we know of his life in South Africa is from the film ‘Gandhi’, where the scene of his being thrown out of the first class coach of the train is most evocative of the change from barrister to champion. However, through the book we learn so much more about his work as an attorney – his wins and his losses, and above all, the slow death of his faith in the efficacy of the law, which eventually leads to the birth of Satyagraha as a tool for change.

There is much to recommend the book for. To begin with, the author fills a huge gap in our understanding of Gandhiji. Today, we think of him always as Mahatma Gandhi, who taught us to stand up for our rights, to stand strong against oppression. He is treated almost like a superhero, or in Indian terms, a God-like figure, who, we believe could do no wrong. To read of him therefore as a struggling lawyer is a good change indeed, and, I believe an inspiration to the youth of today. There is so much more we can learn from the young Gandhi too – his adherence to his values and principles, in spite of all temptations, his determination to achieve success without taking the easy way out, and above all, to overcome any and all obstacles that might come in the way. This especially bears importance in the present day, when we believe that protest alone will bring in change. The book reiterates that protesting alone doesn’t work. Sacrifice and a strict adherence to truth and right are moot points, which are the factors that eventually bring about the change we desire.

If I have any complaints at all about the book, it has to do with the fact that the author only talks of Gandhi the attorney. We learn little of Gandhi’s personal life during the long years in South Africa. Of course, we have read more about that in Gandhiji’s autobiography, but a broader perspective would have helped reconcile the thoughts of the man and the attorney as they changed to become the Mahatma. 


P.S. This book was sent to me for review by Random House India



Comments

  1. Replies
    1. Yes, Aarti! you shd def read! would love to hear what u think of it!

      Delete
  2. Anu, I have a gujarati book that describes the years he spent at south Africa in detail. I am not sure if the English translation is available, but if it is, I strongly recommend that you must read that book. Its titled dakshin Africa na satyagrah no itihas.
    Love,
    Sonal

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Sounds interesting, Sonal. I hadnt heard of this book. I have only read of Gandhiji's own writings on his life in SA.. reading of the development of thought towards satyagraha by a third person would be really interesting. will look out for a translation.

      Delete

Post a Comment

Thanks so much for stopping by. Please leave a comment for me so that I will know you have been here....

Popular posts from this blog

The Havelis of Bikaner - A Photo Post

The lanes are narrow , twisting and turning amidst buildings old and new. Crumbling old structures with intricate workmanship stand side by side with art deco buildings, and more modern constructions, which follow no particular style. Autos, bicycles, motorcycles and vans rush past, blowing their horns as loudly as possible, while cows saunter past peacefully, completely unaffected by the noise. In the midst of all this chaos, children play by the side, and women go about their chores, as we explore these by-lanes of Bikaner, and its beautiful Havelis. Facade of one of the Rampuria Havelis

Bhedaghat - Home of the 81 Yoginis

The Narmada flows down the mountains , carving out a path for herself as she makes her way down to the plains of Central India. She cascades from the rocks, her fine spray making it appear as if billows of smoke (dhuan) arise from the flowing streams of water (dhaar), giving it the name Dhuandhar. Dhuandhar Falls The force of her flow creates a gorge , smoothening and carving out the rocks into fantastic shapes, the pure white of the rocks standing starkly against the shades of the water. It is a joy to cruise down the river in a boat, seeing the natural contours created by the river, now famous as the Marble Rocks. We are at Bhedaghat, located on the banks of the Narmada near Jabalpur, where thousands of visitors turn up to see these natural landscapes, creations of the sacred Narmada, and pay obeisance to her. However, to me, the most interesting thing about Bhedaghat, isn’t the falls or the rocks, or even the river. What makes Bhedaghat special is t

Kabini Part 3 - After the Rains

Visiting Kabini in peak summer, we hadn’t bargained for the rains, which dominated our three days at the Lodge. While animal sightings were understandably lesser than usual, seeing the forest in the rain was an interesting experience in its own way. However, as we headed back into the forest for our second and third safaris, we hoped the rains would let up, and allow us to see more animals! Winding jungle paths