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V.R. Devika

By Shimon Lev
Orient BlackSwan, Hyderabad, 2012, pp. 166, Rs. 595.00

By J.T.F. Jordens
Oxford University Press, New Delhi, 2012, pp. 310, Rs. 795.00


Two more books to the Gandhi shelf! Looks like a library will not be enough to house books on and by him. Yet Gandhi is never going to cease to be an enigma. Gandhi’s relationship with Hermann Kallenbach is difficult to understand in these times of narrow judgemental definitions of relationships distant from the context and complexities. The other difficult issue to fathom are his religious beliefs and attempts at reformation from within. The extraordinary friendship between Mahatma Gandhi and Hermann Kallenbach came into the limelight through Joseph Lelyveld’s The Great Soul—Mahatma Gandhi and His Struggle with India. Lelyved did not exactly suggest that Kallenbach and Gandhi had a homosexual relationship but some felt it was implied and were either outraged or excited depending on whether the reader was a Gandhi baiter or not. Shimon Lev’s Soulmates: The Story of Mahatma Gandhi and Hermann Kallenbach does not imply any such suggestions but gives an exhaustive account of the life of Kallenbach and the relationship through his eyes with material culled from letters, papers, photos and documents that have survived Gandhi and Kallenbach.   This is a well researched look at the evolution of a friendship presenting the larger canvas of Kallenbach’s life and the formation of the nation of Israel. We get rare glimpses into the struggle of the Jews to get the approval and support of the world for the formation of Israel from Palestine. Shimon Lev illumines the complex relationship of Kallenbach and Gandhi by portraying the physical hardships of creating a commune like the Tolstoy farm, the tender affection each felt for the other, the banter of exchanges through code communication in letters, the setbacks and struggles.   Shimon Lev consulted Kallenbach’s surviving great-niece in Haifa and the Kallenbach archive maintained by the family. This book reveals how important Kallenbach was in the years in South Africa that metamorphosed Gandhi from Mohandas to Mahatma. The exhaustive research gives an authentic account of the almost unbelievable friendship that developed between Gandhi and Kallenbach who stuck to Gandhi despite some of Gandhi’s bewildering quirks. Gandhi makes Kallenbach throw an expensive binocular into the sea and expensive jewellery into the waste bin. The wealthy German not only bought the 1100 acres of land for Tolstoy farm but also worked in it physically and slept in the commune like all others. This friendship led to Kallenbach getting ...

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