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A Journey, Traveller, and the Baggage


Salim Yusufji

CATCHING UP WITH GANDHI
By Graham Turner
Penguin Books, Delhi, 2010, pp. 329, Rs. 350.00

GREAT SOUL: MAHATMA GANDHI AND HIS STRUGGLE WITH INDIA
By Joseph Lelyveld
Harper Collins, New Delhi, 2011, pp. 425, Rs.699.00

TIMELESS INSPIRATOR: RELIVING GANDHI
Conceptualised and Edited by Raghunath Mashelkar
Sakal Publications, Delhi, 2010, pp. 370, Rs.490.00

VOLUME XXXVI NUMBER 6 June 2012

Graham Turner, a British journalist, comes to the Mahatma after cutting his biographer’s teeth on a life of Queen Elizabeth, ‘based on intimate conversa-tions with many of her family and friends.’ Conversations with another friend, Rajmohan Gandhi, yielded the present venture: a journey in Mahatma Gandhi’s footsteps, ‘standing where he stood, seeing something of what he saw, talking to some of the people who knew him,’ in India, England and South Africa. Turner’s grasp of P.G.Wodehouse is of an order that enables him to recall the precise context in which the Gandhi motif surfaced in Right Ho, Jeeves but he makes no claims to learning on his immediate subject, admitting that at the outset he ‘did not even know he [Gandhi] had spent twenty-one of his most formative years in South Africa’. This is where Turner’s preferred mode of research, intimate conversations with family and friends, comes into its own. His guides along the journey—Rajmohan Gandhi in India and England, Ela Gandhi in South Africa—keep up the supplies of erudition and ensure that doors everywhere fly open for him. The result is a book without footnotes or a bibliography that yet secures a most privileged access to Gandhi’s life. ‘Behold the lilies of the field’, Wodehouse might have murmured, and Turner would concur, playing up his modest Bertie Wooster to Rajmohan Gandhi’s Jeeves. The limpid and absorbing prose of this book conceals, as with the best of Wodehouse, a good deal of craft. Turner’s flip choice of title—worthy of a Drones Club raconteur—covers a many-threaded narrative combining biography, travelogue, interviews and a vivid account of what it is like to be a descendant of Gandhi. But his dependence on word-of- mouth also makes Turner a peculiarly suscep-tible and credulous reporter. When a dalit informant in Delhi claims that, post-Indepen-dence, the Mahar Regiment of the Indian Army has continued to be employed in sweep-ing up after the Republic Day Parade, a shoc-ked Turner promptly spreads the libel. In fact, the Mahar Regiment is neither dedicated to the occupation of sweeping nor has custody of the sanitary arrangements on Republic Day. It consists of trained soldiers and no more than the usual regimental complement of tradesmen —cooks, barbers, washer-men and sweepers. At least two chiefs of the Indian Army have come from the Mahars. Lesson: Turner is at his ...


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