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A Fraction of the Whole

Priya Naik

By Nalini Natarajan
Sage Publications, New Delhi, 2013, pp. 272, Rs. 695.00


Surely the nature of the subject shapes the researcher? More so, if the subject is one of the most important individuals of the twentieth century, renowned for his contemplative philosophy? However, neither quiet contemplation nor honest soul-searching marks these two recent works on Gandhi, which are united, seemingly, in their hurried thoughts and haste to publish a work.   Natarjan in Atlantic Gandhi: The Mahatma Overseas argues that the passage from colonial India to the world of indentured labourers in South Africa not only transformed Gandhi, but also was the incubation of Gandhian philosophy. Natarajan examines ‘Gandhi’s life as a cosmopolitan diasporic subject whose life abroad connects provocatively with the ferment of ideas around the Atlantic rim’ (p. ix). The author proceeds to spread this thin idea across nine chapters which investigate ‘Gandhi’s status as a diaspore, an expatriate, an exile’, highlighting his mobility. These journeys, Natarajan argues, shaped the ‘oxymoronic ideologies that frame Gandhi’s activism… he is both local and cosmopolitan, modern and anti-modern’ (p. xi). With equal zest and vigour, Gonsalves in Khadi: Gandhi’s Mega Symbol of Subversion asserts that khadi defined Gandhi’s genius. The author critically examines Gandhi’s ‘audacity in choosing a symbol that would motivate and unite individuals and communities to sustain actively a massive revolution from the sites of disunity, impotency and powerlessness’ (p. xiii). Convinced that this merits a book length investigation, Gonsalves goes on to prove his ‘central hypothesis that Gandhi’s communication through clothing was an extremely courageous strategy intended to destabilize unjust authoritative systems’ (ibid).   At least three succinct observations can be made about these attempts at understanding Gandhi. The first is that they represent the ever-multiplying number of categories and departments in academia. Divided by sui generis methodology and teleology, academic departments tend to view social life from their narrow prisms, arguing fallaciously that theirs is the most illuminating perspective. Modern academia is not different from the cruel ways of Procrustes in Greek mythology who chopped off the limbs of his victims to fit them onto an iron bed. Both the works exhibit tautness and a gritty determination, to force-fit Gandhian philosophy into the theoretical framework of diaspora and communication studies respectively. Gender and queer studies, postcolonial perspectives, postmodern theories, feminist perspectives are amongst the few ligaments in the gigantic anatomic structure of social science. They offer exciting new ways of looking at history, individuals ...

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