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Resonance of a Legacy

Harsh Sethi

By Rajmohan Gandhi
Penguin/Viking, New Delhi,, 2006, pp. 745, Rs. 650.00


Recently, I was told of the experience of the Managing Trustee of Navjivan Prakashan which holds the copyright to the Collected Works of Mahatma Gandhi. In connection with a copyright case, the trustee had to present himself at the Tamil Nadu High Court along with the originals of some correspondence that Gandhi had with one of his associates in South Africa. First, he had to get the photocopies of the letters notarized. Much to his surprise, when he asked how much he had to pay, the notary, with folded hands, protested, saying ‘To accept payment for this task will be a sin’. The next day, after satisfying himself that the documents were ‘true originals’, the judge requested the trustee to accompany him to his chambers. Waiting outside the room were a few hundred lawyers, all wanting a darshan of letters signed by the Mahatma. Each of them in turn prostrated themselves in front of the letters and left without saying a word. It was almost as if they had been granted a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to come in contact with a holy object. Subsequently, the trustee learnt that the Tamil translation of Gandhi’s autobiography, My Experiments with Truth had sold many more copies than the Gujarati original. It is instructive that the same happens to be true of the versions in Malyalam, Bengali and Marathi (not Hindi), despite the fact that each of these provinces has its own line-up of icons, many of whom were no uncritical admirers of Gandhi, and that their subsequent political trajectories remain at considerable variance from Gandhi’s vision.   This small tale in some ways captures our vexed relationship with Gandhi. It also forces us to ask what, five decades after his assassination, explains the enduring fascination with the man. Just in the last couple of months, we have not only Tushar Gandhi’s Let’s Kill Gandhi; Chandulal Dalal’s Harilal Gandhi: A Life; A.K. Chettiar’s In the Tracks of the Mahatma: The Making of a Documentary, to list a few, but also Rajmohan Gandhi’s Mohandas: A True Story of a Man, His People and an Empire. This incidentally is Rajmohan’s second attempt at making sense of his grandfather; a few years earlier he had published The Good Boatman.   More than the undoubted box-office success of Lage Raho Munnabhai, in particular with the generations unburdened with the hagiography surrounding the ...

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