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first_imgRamachandra Guha is unlike the known academicians in the country. He may have just finished one of the bulkiest biographies on Mahatma Gandhi, but the intellectual air usually associated with a ‘scholar’ is missing.”Captain Cook is batting on 95,” Guha says, visibly excited to see the English opener on course of his well-deserved century in what would be his last match in Test cricket.Guha’s love for cricket is wellrecorded. But how did a cricket enthusiast stumble upon Gandhi? “I have been stalked by Gandhi all my life. I spent the first 15 years of my career working on the history of Indian environmentalism, whose main actors were influenced by Gandhian ideology. Even while writing cricket books, Gandhi’s name would pop up every now and then, which was odd given the fact he had a profound distaste for popular passions such as cinema and sports.”Guha says his book is different from others in the sense it draws from a much wider range of source materials, including the papers that were in the safekeeping of Pyarelal Nayar, Gandhi’s personal secretary.”Most biographers rely on collective works. Besides Pyarelal’s papers, I have based my work on newspaper stories, archival records, and even intelligence reports.” He also explains how he stumbled upon a lot of source material in the Maharashtra state archives.”I realised Gandhi was in Ahmedabad since 1915, which was then in Bombay presidency. Then, of course, he spent a lot of time in Pune jail, besides being at Sevagram, Wardha.”One of the strengths of the 1,129-page book is that it never tries to be judgmental. “I confess I continue to be a Gandhi admirer, but why should that stop me from not highlighting how his attitude towards BR Ambedkar was often patronising, or that he, for all his saintliness, was an overbearing Indian patriarch who wanted to control the lives of his wife and sons. But he definitely mellowed down later in life. By the 1930s, Gandhi and Kasturba were exchanging letters, and his relations with Devdas were cordial.”advertisementBut for all his fight against the malaise of the caste system, Gandhi had objected to his son Devdas marrying an ‘outsider’. Guha says it would be wrong to confine the decision to his parochial approach.”Gandhi’s initial resistance was influenced by several factors, including his fear of further offending conservative Hindus, already angry at his campaign against untouchability.”The same reason, he says, would have forced Gandhi to step in when his second son, Manilal, wanted to marry a Muslim. “The orthodox elements of both communities would have misused it to create tension.”The book also deals in detail on Gandhi’s relationship with Saraladevi, his “spiritual wife”, as he referred to her in a letter. “I think he was besotted by her and vice versa. They had intense relationship for over a year; then Gandhi cut it off on the advice of Rajaji, but it lingered on,” says Guha, reminding this relationship only makes him see the Mahatma in a more human, rather than saintly, way.Guha, however, agrees that Gandhi’s Muslim policy had its flaws, and so were his dealing with Mohammed Ali Jinnah, who he believed had the ‘last laugh’.”Gandhi formulated his Muslim policy based on his South Africa experience. What he forgot was that outside the country, everyone is Indian, caste and religious lines get blurred. But within India, these differences get overtly manifested.”The author has no time for those who swear by Jinnah’s secularism. “This is rubbish. You can’t quote one speech to whitewash his entire communal project called Pakistan, which was created on religious lines. There are enough evidences to show that he started pitching for Pakistan from 1940 itself.”Apart from Gandhi, if there’s another person who seems to dazzle Guha the most, it’s Ambedkar. “When I first read The Annihilation of Caste many years ago, I was struck by the originality of his thinking. He alone had the intellectual and moral authority to take on Gandhi. And he did, forcing the Mahatma to revisit his stand on caste and untouchability.”Guha’s sympathies are also because of Ambedkar’s modest upbringing. “Gandhi, Nehru and Tagore – the three other towering contemporaries – were all born in comfort. Ambedkar, in contrast, had an extremely tough childhood. He had reasons to have grudges, unlike others.”Guha, however, isn’t surprised to see both Gandhi and Ambedkar being wooed by the Rightwing today.”The RSS is trying to appropriate them, because the Mahatma is the most famous Indian globally, and Ambedkar could get the BJP Dalit votes,” he says matter-offactly. “But the fact is the RSS detested both of them when they were alive.”advertisementThe author’s admiration for Ambedkar – like Gandhi – is wholesome. So, can we expect his next biography on him? Guha laughs – but keeps the suspense intact. Instead, he looks at his mobile and exclaims: “Cook has hit the century!”last_img read more