Gandhi Restless As Mercury is an extension of Gandhiji’s autobiography.
I have respect for a few people. Gopal Gandhi I respect for several reasons. Firstly, he does not flaunt his unique pedigree—paternal grandfather, Mahatma Gandhi. Maternal grandfather, C. Rajagopalachari. You can’t do better than that. In his own sensitive way, he has contributed to the advancement of civility in our social, academic and political arenas. He is both a doer and thinker. In his presence one feels comfortable.
Of his faults I am personally not aware. He must have some. Even people of the highest character and morality can be bores. Gopal is anything but a bore. His humility is structural, not an act. For me it is a great pleasure to have him as a friend. He is sixteen years younger than me and sixteen years wiser. He is a well known author. He was a first-rate diplomat. An exceptionally good Governor of Bengal. I could go on.
I have recently read his latest book, Gandhi Restless As Mercury. It is an extension of Gandhiji’s autobiography, which disappointingly ends when he was in his fifties. Even in, The Story of my Experiment with Truths, he left so much out.
Gopal Gandhi has filled several gaps. He has quite clearly studied, The Collected Works of Mahatma Gandhi, which run into nearly a hundred volumes.
The present book is divided into six sections. Book one deals with his birth, childhood, early schooling and marriage to Kasturba. Book two is about his three years in England (1888-1891). And his decision to go to South Africa, a rabidly racist country. His plan was to stay one year in that country. He stayed twenty-one. Book three covers the years 1906 to 1908.
In 1906, Gandhiji led a delegation to London to put the case of the Indians before the British government. On 27 November, Gandhi and his companion Hajee Ally met Churchill, Under Secretary of State for the colonies. “He spoke nicely. He asked us whether we were not afraid of responsible government in case the ordinance was refused assent. What if a worse Act was passed by the new government? We replied that we could not imagine an Act worse than the present ordinance and that we had asked for refusal of assent leaving the future to take care of itself. He then asked us to send a brief note covering, say, a foolscap sheet of all we had to say on the question as a whole. He would read it and let us know.” Churchill did not do so.
During these years, Gandhi’s character, personality, family life and decision to practice celibacy and his becoming a trusted spokesman of the humiliated Indian community are highlighted. He takes part in the Anglo-Boer war and the Zulu rebellion. He starts “Indian Opinion” and established the Phoenix settlement. And Tolstoy Farm later. The word Satyagraha is invented by Gandhi.
Book four is devoted to 1909 only. Gandhi does a lot of reading during the year including Socrates. The book that changed his life was, “Unto This Last” by Ruskin. He also read Tolstoy and corresponded with him. But the most moving parts are about Kasturba’s very serious illness in November. She had suffered a haemorrhage and needed her husband. He was in jail. To his wife he wrote, “Beloved Kastur, I have received Mr. West’s telegram today about your illness (Gandhi was in jail). It cuts my heart. I am very much grieved but I am not in a position to go to nurse you. I have offered my all to the satyagrah struggle. My coming out there is out of question. I can come only if I pay the fine, which I must not. If you keep courage and take necessary nutrition, you will recover. If, however, my ill luck so has it that you pass away, I should only say that there would be nothing in your doing so in your separation from me while I am alive. I love you so dearly that even if you are dead, you will be alive to me. Your soul is deathless. I repeat what I have frequently told you and assure you that if you do succumb to your illness, I will not marry again. Time and again I have told you that you must quietly breathe your last with faith in God. If you die, even that death of yours will be a sacrifice to the cause of satyagrah. My struggle is not merely political. It is religious and therefore quite pure. It does not matter much whether one dies in it or lives. I hope and expect that you will also think likewise and not be unhappy. I ask this of you. Mohandas”.
I like to imagine that at times the grandson must have felt that his grandfather went too far.
Read this book. It will make a better man of you.