Paul Gateshill reviews a new biography on Mahatma Gandhi.
[New City Magazine]
Mohandas K Gandhi or Mahatma Gandhi, as he became known, was one of the most influential figures of the 20th Century. As Einstein put it so famously: ‘Generations to come will scarce believe that such a one as this ever in flesh and blood walked upon this earth.’ This is a dramatic quotation but it is not exaggerated. Gandhi was inspired by the writings of Tolstoy, the Bhagavad Gita and Jesus’ teachings on love and forgiveness found within the Sermon on the Mount. Throughout his life he pursued Non-violence and Satyagraha (the Force of Truth), and in so doing achieved a better deal for Asians in South Africa and won the Independence of India through challenging injustices inherent within the British Empire. But more than that, he became the role model for Martin Luther King and the whole civil rights movement in the early 60s; not to mention subsequent movements for non-violent protest in the face of inequalities worldwide.
Richard Deats’ biography Mahatma Gandhi – Non-violent Liberator is excellent for those who want to know more about this extraordinary man, whether they are Gandhi novices or Gandhi devotees. In general, books on Gandhi are either too simplistic to satisfy or too detailed and weighty to navigate through. Somehow Non-violent Liberator manages to be both readable and highly informative. I think this is due to Richard Deats’ focus on the beliefs and values which motivated Gandhi, rather than relying on merely descriptive text about Gandhi’s achievements. Deats accomplished this feat in his biography Martin Luther King, Spirit-led prophet (also published by New City 1999 and highly recommended).
At the end of the book there is a useful section dedicated to some of Gandhi’s selected writings on a range of issues including: self-awareness, prayer and fasting, non-violence, poverty and hunger, women and ‘on war and the atomic bomb’. This chapter includes some extracts which I had never seen before and gives a real flavour of the man, not to mention his highly developed sense of humour. Here is one to whet your appetite: ‘I am not at all concerned with appearing to be consistent. In my search after Truth I have discarded many ideas and learnt many new things. When anyone finds two writings of mine, do use the latter of the two on the same subject.’ I know I am biased and have to devour anything written about Gandhi, but this is an excellent introduction and a refreshing new insight into one of the history’s most remarkable men.
Richard Deats’ analysis of Gandhi’s search for God and the value of nonviolence is very readable and insightful. Gandhi always believed one cannot find God without first understanding and living a nonviolent lifestyle. This book shows us the way to higher thinking and higher living.