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Rereader Gandhi

By Margaret Chatterjee
Pamella & Co. in association with Bibliophile South Asia, New Delhi, 2009, pp. 196, Rs. 425.00

Edited by Douglas Allen
Oxford University Press, New Delhi, 2009, pp. 248, Rs. 695.00


Though bearing different titles, a common question that both these works under review seek to address is the recurring concern over the contemporary relevance of Gandhi. The relevance of the Mahatma’s ideas was debated even in his lifetime and quite often since. And yet, even his greatest detractor, I assume, will grant that new readings of the man’s life and work remain possible all the time. Some of this interrogation, it may be further argued, has grown out of larger ideological shifts as also the application of new methodologies in locating an individual and his work in space and time. Thus, whether or not Gandhian thought has postmodernist implications is a question that has arisen only after ‘modernity’ itself has come to be challenged in diverse ways. Especially in the context of South Asia, what lends some complexity to the debate is the heuristic separation that most of us tend to make between colonial modernity and that experienced in early modern Europe. While sharply rejecting many elements of colonial modernity, Gandhi did remain, in many ways, a modern figure. We know him as a punctilious user of clocks and watches but a critic of clock-time and new work-routines that characterized human production in much of industrial Europe.   The first of these works is a collection of eight essays by Margaret Chatterjee, a scholar who has contributed copiously and consistently to critical studies on Gandhi, especially to aspects related to his moral and religious philosophy. Other than the postscript itself that helps to contextualize and contemporize some key issues, the essays included in this work are reprints of older essays. However, given the fact that they originally appeared in foreign (and not so accessible) journals/books, there is certainly some virtue in putting them together again in an affordable Indian edition.   As the title to the work suggests, these are studies on some inter-related themes—on religion, the nature of religious language and communication or the question of authority in religious life. None of these essays are exclusively devoted to an examination of Gandhian views on these matters; this task, as we know, Chatterjee has earlier accomplished in works like Gandhi’s Religious Thought and Gandhi and the Challenge of Religious Diversity and quite eminently at that. The critical overview that she seeks to obtain in the present work, is, in its own way, quite useful. Between them, the ...

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