Ramachandra Guha rediscovers Gandhi in a new biography

Last Updated: Oct 03, 2013, 11:59 AM IST

New Delhi: When historian and author Ramachandra Guha laid his hands on a book consisting of Gandhi`s mark sheets, which he thought showed Gandhi as a "mediocre student", he was tracing Mahatma Gandhi`s formative years for a new biography.

The book ‘Gandhi Before India’ highlights the important moments and people in Mahatma Gandhi`s early years, which reshaped his life and contributed to his journey in becoming the Father of the Nation.

“There are two questions people always ask me: Why I chose to write on Gandhi? (and) What new information this biography will give about him when there are 500 biographies already in the market,” Guha said at the launch of the book Tuesday.

“For the first question, my answer is that throughout my life as a historian, professor and an environmentalist, I have always encountered him. And for the second question, I feel historians have always given a one-sided account of him,” Guha offered to explain.

Arguing that historians have always referred to Gandhi`s personal writings for biographies, Guha pointed out, “There has to be more about Gandhi."

It was this conviction of digging deep and finding new sources that could throw light on Gandhi and his exchanges during his formative years.

Research for the books took Guha to many parts of the world, including South Africa. One of the prime resources for his research was Sabarmati Ashram in Gujarat, where he discovered a treasure trove of letters to Gandhiji and many clippings.

“Through these sources, I discovered a new way of rediscovering him and how various events shaped his life. From a lawyer to a freedom fighter, the change in ideas came with many associations and the company he kept,” he mentioned.

“To properly understand him, one has to look from all angles, and not just his own. During my research, I came across many new names who had been his inspiration, many followers, friends and enemies. Each in their own way have contributed in shaping up his ideologies,” he said.

It was also during this research, Guha said he laid his hands on what he calls a “joyful discovery”- an obscure book that comprised Gandhi`s mark sheets and attendance records.

“He was a mediocre student,” he said.

The 640-page book also throws light on Gandhi`s close associates.

“Gopal Krishna Gokhale and Leo Tolstoy had great influence on Gandhi. While Gokhale was a mentor to him, Gandhi was influenced by Tolstoy`s writings,” he said.

Tolstoy`s “The Kingdom of God is Within You” had a great influence on Gandhi.

Guha argues Gandhi would have never come out of the role of a bania (that he was born in), had he succeeded as a lawyer.

“He learnt about class diversity, religious diversity and linguistic diversity when he represented people of all classes in South Africa and saw racism. It contributed in changing his ideologies,” he said.