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Alone with Such Vitality

Salim Yusufji

Edited by Judith M. Brown and Anthony Parel
Cambridge University Press, New Delhi, 2011, pp. 273, 395


The slimness of this book is its first surprise, seeming almost at odds with the weighty title. As Judith Brown states in the Introduction, the aim was to  reach a wide audience 'at university level and even among school students', as also readers 'who may know little about India but wish to know  more about such a significant and intriguing figure' as Gandhi. (The locus of this interest was apparently sighted abroad.) Writing together in the Conclusion, the two editors again offer this volume 'to readers perhaps unfamiliar with Gandhi and his life [as] a starting point for informed understanding (...)'. This popularizing brief may well have dictated the lightweight appearance. As for how the book achieves its compression, and what this entails for both Gandhi and the intended reader, the Table of Contents reveals a stellar list of contributors (nothing lightweight there) and a clear-eyed division into three principal segments: the historical life, with three essays; Gandhi as thinker and activist, with six; and the contemporary Gandhi (three again)-this last dealing with his historical legacy. The sym-metry of the arrangement is striking, as is the heft of the middle section with its partiality for theoretical assessment. Editorial authority is manifest also in the appearance of the essays: almost exactly of a length, and nearly every one of them divided into handy sub-sections. This is clearly no come-as-you-are anthology but a closely coordinated work, the editorial hand firm at the steerage. It becomes crucial then to understand the way editorial priorities and control shape the Gandhi who emerges from these pages. A foretaste comes with the remarkable cover image. Side profiles rarely afford the intimacy of this portrait, revealing details that add up to almost a new relief of the familiar face: the scar of an old piercing in the earlobe, the pronounced trail of a vein across the temple and, sticking out at the back of the head, the merest sprig of a shikha. The picture looks like a new discovery, but isn't. Walter Bosshardt's well-known photograph of Gandhi 'Laughing about a Poem' in the Times of India from Dandi, April 1930, is presented here with a new treatment: in close up. And this choice, of closing in further on what was already an individual portrait, is the operative point, for the Gandhi of this book is a figure magnified in isolation, with his immediate peripheries excised. This isolation ...

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