Sunday, April 3, 2011
Gandhiji - a Gay Icon?
After the hysteria\euphoria of our historic win.... it's time for some introspection. I received this comment right after the match, even as Dhoni and his Boys were kissing the magnificent Cup. It read : Thought of the day : If the same amount of Indians watching the match, ever voted, we'd get a better government!! Hear, hear.... ************* This appears in the Sunday times today..... reactions have been pouring in. Would love yours.... Grow up, India… Gandhiji – a ‘Gay’ Icon ??? Why not?? Come on, India. Grow up! If the Great Soul was indeed attracted to another man, is that so hard to accept or understand? Which century are we living in? This column is being written on April Fool’s Day. We are looking like the biggest fools on earth right now. One can expect bachelor boy Narendra Modi to instantly cash in on the ‘sentiments’ of the people of his state and ban the controversial book after dubbing it ‘perverse’. Paradoxically enough, those same people are free to visit the Sabarmati Ashram in Ahemdabad and read those ‘perverse’ letters for themselves. I wonder how many people from Modi’s city bother to go to the ashram in the first place, forget about examining the many Gandhiji volumes that it houses? Yes, the same archival material used by the author (Joseph Levyveld) for the book ‘Great Soul: Mahatma Gandhi and His Struggle With India.” The biggest slap in the face , has come from Gandhiji’s own – his grandson Rajmohan Gandhi, and great- grandson Tushar Gandhi, both of whom have described the ban as ‘un-Gandhian.’Any sensible policy maker would let it go at that. And chances are the book will find its own level, its own takers and detractors. As should happen in a democracy. By attempting to suppress it, the one fallout will be just this : Great Soul will register even greater sales! Censorship is always but always counter- productive – the more you suppress, the higher the curiousity. We saw that with the James Laine book ( thank you Supreme Court , for showing better sense than the Government of Maharashtra). We shall see the same happening with this book as well. But…. hello! who can think of reading a red hot book, when the collective focus of the country is on the red hot game of cricket and the winners of the World Cup? Let’s face it – what’s the single most startling disclosure in the book?That the author has claimed our revered Mahatma ( and perhaps the world’s most famous, self -declared celibate), had a long term relationship with a German-Jewish architect and body builder called Hermann Kallenbach?Which makes Kallenbach, not Kasturba, the great love of his life! So ? Since this ‘juicy’ tidbit was carried in nearly all the mainstream newspapers in India, it has been met with a rather tepid reaction that may surprise the more conservative elements of our society. “Really? Interesting!” said a slightly bored twenty- year- old reading the news,before turning away. That was it. No rioting on the streets. No demand to ban the book. No baying for Lelyveld’s blood. We have grown up! That is the best news ever! Today, homosexuality is no longer a taboo subject and is out there … along with other aspects of sex . Whether Gandhiji’s subsequent ‘experiments’ with various truths were a part of his mission to come to terms with his own inclinations will remain a topic for future historians to tackle. But according to this well- researched book ( Joseph has based his work on material that is easily accessible, and quotes from “The Collected Works of Mahatma Gandhi” - supplementary volume 5 from the archives at the Sabarmati Ashram in Ahemdabad), there are several controversial nuggets that suggest Gandhiji was indeed in a relationship of sorts with Kallenbach, with whom he shared a home for two years. He quotes from one of Gandhiji’s letters to Hermann, in which he confesses, “How completely you have taken possession of my body. This is slavery with a vengeance.” A reader is free to interpret those passionate lines any which way, and even disregard sexual implications when Gandhiji jokingly refers to himself as ‘Upper House’ and Kallenbach as ‘Lower House.” I have yet to read the book, but I would think an author with such impressive credentials would have done his homework scrupulously before going into print. In any case, Gandhiji’s sexuality has always been a subject of such complexity and debate that one more tome, shouldn’t matter. Unless, of course, some over zealous politician with nothing better to do, decides to make an issue out of it. Whether the Mahatma preferred men over women is nobody’s business but his. We, in India have such idiotic standards when it comes to sex. If Gandhiji wrote “ I cannot imagine a thing as ugly as the intercourse of men and women,” he is entitled to his opinion. So, it’s best we keep scholars, intellectuals and academics out of this hot potato. And please, let’s also leave out his great- grand children, assorted grand- nephews, -nieces and other descendants , too. Nobody can possibly speak on behalf of the Mahatma and ‘clarify’ anything. It’s not necessary, either! There is this book, and, no doubt, there will be many more in the future. Nothing can take away from Gandhiji’s greatness, least of all his love for another man. It’s amusing to read Gandhian scholar Tridep Suhurd’s ‘defence’ of the Mahatma, in which he says , “ In the late 19th and early 20th century, men addressed each other in a way that can be construed now as lovers.” Now that’s pretty twee. And frankly, who needs such justifications? Suhrud also explains that the two had “a deep bond that borders on attraction of the platonic kind.” Wokay, buddy. If you say so… Let us hope whatever it was that Gandhiji shared with Kallenbach did indeed bring a lot of joy and fulfillment to both their lives. Gandhiji as a Gay Icon? Why not? I think that’s pretty cool! Perhaps it will drive young Indians to read more about the man who altered their destiny and gave India freedom.