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Life of a Son and the Making of a Film


Rohini Mokashi Punekar

HARILAL GANDHI: A LIFE
By Chandulal B. Dalal
Orient Longman, New Delhi, 2007, pp. 290, Rs. 690.00

IN THE TRACKS OF THE MAHATMA: THE MAKING OF A DOCUMENTARY
By A.K. Chettiar
Orient Longman, New Delhi, 2006, pp. 151, Rs. 375.00

VOLUME XXXI NUMBER 9 September 2007

Sometimes, very rarely, there comes along a book that has an intensely personal effect. So cathartic indeed is the impact of Chandulal Dalal’s life of Harilal Gandhi that one is persuaded to compare it rather lamely with the passion and grief of Greek tragedy. The tragic developments in Harilal’s life played out in the shadows of the Mahatma’s superhuman moral growth belong to the realm of literature even as they stem from the aspirations and frustrations of the mortal world. Not surprisingly, the publication of this biography in 1977 was followed by a novel in Gujarati and two plays, all dealing with fictionalized accounts of Harilal Gandhi’s life. Dinkar Joshi’s novel Prakash no Padchhyo (Shadow of Light) published in 1988 presented Harilal as a victim of his father’s experiments with truth and his life as a defiance of Gandhi’s authority. Based on this novel Ajit Dalvi wrote the Marathi play Gandhi viruddha Gandhi (Gandhi vs. Gandhi) later adapted for the Gujarati and Hindi stage. While this play provided grist to the Gandhi bashing quarter of public discourse in India, which has found increasing strength and legitimacy with the expansion of the Hindutva base, Feroz Khan’s Mahatma vs. Gandhi for the English stage sensitively presented Harilal’s life. However, to the extent that the life and views of Harilal Gandhi constitute an opposition to the Mahatma, the novel and the plays fed into a critique of Gandhi as a failed father presumably extendable by a leap of argument into the right wing Hindu fundamentalist party thesis of the failed Father of the Nation.   To counter the rising tide of sensational representations of Gandhi and his eldest born Harilal, Neelam Parikh (the great-granddaughter of the former and granddaughter of the latter) wrote a short biography of Harilal Gandhi titled Gandhiji nu Khovayelu Dhan (The Lost Jewel) in 1998, incorporating Gandhiji’s unpublished letters to Harilal as well as the hitherto unpublished correspondence of Harilal with his wife and sister-in-law. Parikh’s motive was to present the relationship between Gandhi and his son with empathy and compassion, and to ensure that the son was not used as arsenal to attack the father. The present translation of the biography into English by Tridip Suhrud is in two parts. The first part is the life as documented by Dalal with five appendices provided by him, and the second part is ...


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