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.


चंद्रमौलेश्वर प्रसाद said...

`Dhoni and his Boys were kissing '

BEWARE ! Unscrupulous historians will record them as gay :)

Unknown said...

Perhaps you should first read the book and express your opinion then!!! The problem with you is that you think that you represent the intellectual voice of the county. Let me tell you on your face, you don't.
Your over exaggerate issues when trying to say others are over exaggerating the issues. Just like instead of voicing your opinions against discrimination on the grounds of homosexuality, you seem to promote homosexuality.
You are one of those souls who at times falter to draw a line of distinction between what is modern and what is right. For you both of them mean the same and that's the most unfortunate thing.
Gandhi can be much more than an icon for sexuality, and so you should not restrict him to that. Perhaps, it's the time for you to grow and not for India and for you to introspect and not for India!!!
And before I conclude, let me clarify
1. I don't support banning the book
2. I am not against homosexuality and in fact have friends who are homosexuals!!!

Sushma Harish said...

who cares what the fact was decades before!. If Gandhi Ji was whatever was being writeen, he was! let it be. you re right, which era are we living in. difficult to follow yes- difficulty but its the hard truth.
the fact cant go on corss examinations now, rather we improve our introspections.
Tushar gandhi - did declare his democratic statement and i admire him for that. Also rightly said ShobhaJi, Jitna dabao utnee curiosity. So why act like a coward.
kai mantho- amchi mumbai lokaanu? match zabadarsth. gr8 victory.

Anonymous said...

Whatever be the case, the book should not be banned. The Mahatma himself would have not wanted the book to be banned.

Forked Tongue said...

Point one : I love you for supporting homosexuallity ma'am ... We need people like you to come forward ( did you hear of the recent foolishness that TV9 came up with , in Andhra ? )

It dosen't matter ma'am ...him being gay or straight will in no way change the amount of work he did for the nation ! :-)

PRADIP said...

Your ideas can never be supported. Knowing English and writing articles do not mean that a person is intelligent.Gandhiji is the father of nation and nobody should be allowed to say such improper thing, I congratulate Modisaheb for banning such abook.
pradip khimani junagadh

Cerita Cinta Melayu Sejati said...

It doesn't matter whether gay or straight, as long as he does his job honestly and with integrity, that is more important.

Writing Buddha said...

#383rd BLOG - India's struggle of 28 years end 4 WC -


first of all i want make it clear that my english is not good so try to understand the basik idea behind what i write here.

suppose somone 60 or 70 years after your death delaares you to be a lesbian or gay after an extensive research on what you have written in you books and without taking into account the other aspects of your life(like your 4 or 5 children) then how would your children react. will they accept the theory as it is just because you are not there to explain the truth or just for the shake of not giving the researcher undue publicity.
i don't understand why these people spend so much of their effort on such useless researches.

is it some kind of human weakness where one knowingly mentions the useless facts of a person's life whom he dislikes as you did by pointing out that Mr. Modi is a bechelor.

goodluck said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
goodluck said...

That fellow was a body builder. He might have taught how to take care of his body.
And so many men share rooms without having any relationship. So do women.
Gandhiji was a fanatic for upholding truth and telling it to the world. If there was a real relationship, he would have disclosed in unambiguous terms.

goodluck said...

As for his disgust for bodily relationships, it is shared by some. Do we find any aesthetics when dogs and bitches do that?

goodluck said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Mona said...

I am amused that most people here think that you are supporting homosexuality in this article :)

Guys, Shobha de is just offering her opinion in defense of sexual preferences in general here.

Anonymous said...


Regret there is no better party. They are all the same. Once they get that seat, they all think of themselves, and how they would increase their bank balance. The present set of Politicians are.....

It is very unfortunate that every other day/month of the year we bring up some past issues and start fighting over them. Why can't we be happy?
Do we have to win the world cup to do so?


Tsomo85 said...

I completely agree with you. I was taught from (home) that the person who deeply cares for us, the ones who's present makes some impact/profit in our well being, we should not bother by if they've 100 eyes or one leg. Neither that person needs to kiss our ass or show up in my every single birthday because its the matter of knowing the real shades of your friends & enemies. In this matter Gandhi ji has became the subject of human psychology where bunch of phagals couldn't figure out his true shades with so many doubts in their head. Nothing more,nothing less.....I just pity these confused souls.

Ganesh Venkittu said...

The wall street journal ran a review of the book recently. The book among other issues also has in print MKG's opinion on untouchability and how he dealt with it in real life which was dire opposite to his talk. The book also mentions cracks between Ambedkar and Gandhi's focus around equal rights and such. The book has passages describing Gandhi's experimentation with arousal and such. There were claims that he was sleeping with a naked 17 year niece.

There were quotes from Gandhi regarding race and black men in south africa that are alarmingly disturbing.

To me, the sex related diatribe aside, if it is a true account of Gamdhi's life, will make me question as to why we call him the Mahatma?

goodluck said...

Gandhiji was fighting devils within himself and outside. That man cannot be understood by people who just see without deeply understanding. Every person hosts multiple voices within oneself. Some hide them and some fearlessly expose them without thinking about political correctness. That is honesty above self interest.
Otherwise why most wite only about selective memories? Why not other unselected memories which may damage the carefully cultivated images? Here the difference between Gandhi and others.
We call him Mahatma because he made Independence possible, he was angry at the communal riots and that made him to fast rather than celebrate independence, he experimented with many things other than sex, he was able to draw entire nation to contribute towards independence by sheer mass power adhering to non violence and experimented with many other things besides sex. Because of him many muslims chose India over Pakistan.

Vijay Khanna said...

The Truth is what you want it to be.

If you want to find faults with someone, then even if God comes to earth, we will be able to find his faults.

There is nothing right or wrong. Everything just is. accept everything as it is. Dont get judgemental and start to classify/categorize everything.

Shobha Madam, however i would request you, who is held in high esteem by some people like us to maybe keep away from such controversies. They dont add any value to Society, but only ends up polarising people.

मुक्ता असनीकर (Mukta Asnikar) said...

we will keep commenting like this till we don't learn to make difference between private and public life AND SECOND, TILL WE DON'T GET SEX EDUCATION. FOR ALL. how many sexualities people do know? they all exist from centuries naturally, and also present in plants and animals. they have scientific reasons behind their existence. Not only this, sexual abuse, discrimination nothing will stop until we give scientific knowledge about sex and sexuality to all the people ,specially young ones. Gandhiji was a gay. Some one says he was a bisexual. Does that matter?? should that matter?? and being of some other sexuality is not a SIN. It is not even made by choice, they are clear cut natural brain differences, do we even know the recent discoveries about that? if NO, then who gives us the right to judge it??

Harish said...

we are a BAN obsessed nation. the fast ticket to publicity and demonstration of "proactive" action is a BAN.

how silly. lets face it. how does gandhi's or Nehru's personal life impact the nation.

and why are we such a fickle minded nation... with sentiments - so fragile that they could be hurt even by a few words.

It doesnt matter to the anyone whether gandhi was gay or straight or bisexual.

He was what he was. It makes good copy now to debate what he was.

if Gandhi was alive he would have said... A book is a book is a book.

so chill Narendra Modi... dont make an issue of a non-issue. trivial it is to discuss.

Hrushikesh said...

Dear Shobhaa,

I wonder if your cerebral cortex has eroded to the critical limit where conscience ceases to exist. Remember, even other people including those at helm of the government are entitled to have opinions; if you feel they are misusing their post and forcing personal opinions on public you have right to express and protest. But not in such overzealous way. In order to be 'professionally correct' you should have atleast read the "Great Soul: Mahatma Gandhi and His Struggle with India" and preferably reviewed the research material that Joseph Lelyveld has used or not used before you wrote those 902 words. Then only you have the right to put in your perspective the opinions of other people, for that matter even of a 'slightly bored 20 year old'. We read news papers for informed and unbiased commentary and discussion on current affairs not some propoganda-squirting by "celebrity social critique". The particular book and consequent discussion among experts is about interpretation of Gandhi's life. Why are YOU trying to label Gandhi as gay icon?


Another Kiran In NYC said...

Gandhi was very, very important in the struggle for India's independence. For that he has my respect and fealty. Personally he was probably a very complicated and perhaps flawed man. We will never know and most of us don't really care. We do care about the freedom he helped get us.

That precious freedom is not enhanced by bans on books. Any nation with the literacy statistics that we have (where most cannot read meaningfully... not merely sign one's name) has no business banning anything related to books.

*Clink* said...

Even if Gandhiji was gay, that won't change the fact that it's him who won us our freedom.

Love you, Shobhaaji.. And, when I say that I really mean it!

Take care!!

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rutuja said...

how some people are targetting you makes me laugh... everyone has a right to speech, if u have the power to influence the youth, you can do it in everyway possible. if modi wants to do it, he will. when will india learn the concept of "live and let live"? people should have right to all sorts of information, banning a book doesnt really help, as u said, itll only make people more interested in the said book. the truth is that the youth of india has grown up, but more than that, it doesnt really care. if gandhiji was gay, let him be.. its a personal choice. y create a hype abt it..

Shafiq said...

Looks like the icon will go on the flag of the nation of the author who invented this myth as the tribute and celebrations and as destiny to their kind of freedoms and rights.
God save US.