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Gandhi: An Autobiography - The Story of My Experiments With Truth Paperback – November 1, 1993
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Gandhi's nonviolent struggles in South Africa and India had already brought him to such a level of notoriety, adulation, and controversy that when asked to write an autobiography midway through his career, he took it as an opportunity to explain himself. Although accepting of his status as a great innovator in the struggle against racism, violence, and, just then, colonialism, Gandhi feared that enthusiasm for his ideas tended to exceed a deeper understanding. He says that he was after truth rooted in devotion to God and attributed the turning points, successes, and challenges in his life to the will of God. His attempts to get closer to this divine power led him to seek purity through simple living, dietary practices (he called himself a fruitarian), celibacy, and ahimsa, a life without violence. It is in this sense that he calls his book The Story of My Experiments with Truth, offering it also as a reference for those who would follow in his footsteps. A reader expecting a complete accounting of his actions, however, will be sorely disappointed.
Although Gandhi presents his episodes chronologically, he happily leaves wide gaps, such as the entire satyagraha struggle in South Africa, for which he refers the reader to another of his books. And writing for his contemporaries, he takes it for granted that the reader is familiar with the major events of his life and of the political milieu of early 20th-century India. For the objective story, try Yogesh Chadha's Gandhi: A Life. For the inner world of a man held as a criminal by the British, a hero by Muslims, and a holy man by Hindus, look no further than these experiments. --Brian Bruya
“Here is an autobiography more captivating than fiction and more stimulating than romantic adventure. It is the most revealing study of the human soul that I have ever read.”
—The Christian Century
“An absorbing book that stands alone in frankness and plain honesty...Its place among the classics of autobiography cannot be in doubt.”
—The New Statesman
“An amazingly frank self-revelation of the greatest and humblest modern man.”
“It is...only by reading the whole long and detailed day-by-day record that readers can sense the magic of Gandhi’s being and discover him fully.”
“(Gandhi’s) autobiography remains invaluable for its account of the shaping of a new path to collective resistance to injustice.”
—From the foreword by Sissela Bok
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It describes his thoughts in great detail, and the most interesting part is the evolution of his ways into the greatest proponent of non-violence in achieving righteous political goals. He essentially ended the British Empire (without India, Britain became nothing) without lifting a finger.
Also touching is the man's humility. He lived with the bare essentials in life. All his material possessions could fit into a shoe box: his copy of the Bhagwad Gita, eye glasses, wooden flip-flops, loin cloth, and a stubby pencil. He typically used other people's rejected pencils and used them until he couldn't hold them any longer. To him, throwing away a perfectly good pencil (or anything else which was still usable) was an insult to someone else's labour.
While one could go on and on, I will stop here. Enjoy the read!
Gandhi's `An Autobiography: The Story of My Experiments with Truth' covers his life from early childhood to 1921, and portions of it were written when he was imprisoned by the British government for his pro-freedom activities. It was originally written in Gujarati, and was intended by Gandhi to lay out the case for `Satyagraha' (Abidance in Truth), the name coined for his non-violent and peaceful resistance of British occupation. Gandhi's language is unostentatious, as can be expected by a man known for his ascetic simplicity. The reader is of course always at the mercy of the competence, or otherwise, of the translator. But the plain, factual language lets the unadulterated essence of Gandhi shine through.
Born in the village of Porbandar, in Gujarat, a state on the west coast of India, the Gandhis had for three generations been in public service. His father having passed away when Gandhi was relatively young, the responsibility for his education was assumed by his elder brother, who supported him in going to England to study for the bar. Once Gandhi returned to India, he was unable to find satisfactory prospects, and went to South Africa to pursue a career in law. He stayed there for several years to champion the cause of the disenfranchised Indian community. On his return to India, he joined the struggle towards a Free India. From being a marginal figure, his influence rapidly grew to spearhead the movement, on his own terms - under the banner of Satyagraha, based on the principle of Ahimsa (non-injury).
The reader has to contend with some obscure details of the Indian Resistance movement, many of which may not be of popular knowledge, but Gandhi always ties these incursions into Indian history to the subject of his autobiography - the application of Satyagraha, and its results. He mentions many of the stalwarts of the Resistance, but the main body, the Congress, comes across as a flabby, lumbering, and ineffectual piece of political machinery. Gandhi's intense love for his country and compatriots does not blind him to the challenges he faces both within the country, as well as without. When he does speak of the English, there is a remarkable lack of rancor in his statements.
Gandhi, the private man, is as interesting as Gandhi, the public figure. He was married at the age of thirteen to the unlettered, but spirited Kasturbai. Kasturbai had his passionate devotion, but he ruefully acknowledges tyrannizing over her. Theirs was an enduring marriage that weathered many storms. He admits to having made some mistakes in the raising of his four sons, and there is a note of pain in his mention of his estrangement from the eldest. One doesn't doubt that it would have been hard living up to the Mahatma's standards.
His influence on his family and friends is that of a benevolent dictator. Once he was convinced that he was on the right track, he spared no pains to persuade all around him to join him in his choices. This sounds autocratic, but we can easily credit that only a man possessed of this unique combination of unbending conviction and mesmerizing charisma could have galvanized a nation onto the path of Satyagraha.
He certainly had his share of quirks. His dietary experiments seem to have gone beyond principles and eccentricity, to border on a reckless disregard for common sense and well being. Gandhi was also an enthusiastic proponent of home-schooling. While one can hardly argue against the need for active parental involvement, and values-based education, his execution of these ideas seem woefully ill-conceived, as well as inadequate. The education of children is no undertaking for unprepared amateurs. One would wonder if perhaps, the Mahatma could have practiced moderation in these issues and others, but it seems to me, that like those who are addicted to extreme sports, he applied an `all or nothing' philosophy to everything he did.
He was not comfortable with the title of Mahatma (Great Soul) bestowed on him by his adoring countrymen. He seems to feel that he didn't deserve it. He was a man acutely conscious of his own shortcomings. His reticence seems quaint in that it's in such marked contrast to the public and private behavior of today's elected officials, many of whom aspire to lead without ever having served.
Gandhi, from his earliest years showed both patriotism, as well as an all-embracing humanitarianism, but it is a revelation that many of the other qualities that we associate with him - his adamantine integrity, his courage, faith, abstinence, vegetarianism - were all hard-won, through a process of trial and error. They were in short, the very experiments that established him in the Truth so dear to him. Gandhi grew into his principles. Therein lies the beauty of his message and the power of this book.
In the future when Man has grown up, learnt to put down his sword and settle disputes by discussions, he will find Gandhi useful. His mechanisms for political action were at least honest.
From the book I learnt his infinite capacity for compassion. Also, even in his struggle for the rights of Indians, he never hated the white man or any other man.
Since it is his own words, it gives a deep insight of the man. Yes, a lot of stuff is about his not related to political action but they give how he arrived at certain markers in his life. A lot of the other characters are Indian too and require a certain degree of familiarity, those who are aware of the other character will find his views a pleasant surprise.
This autobiography covers the period from his formative years after (birth 1869) to about 1925. He was assassinated in 1948. Hence it covers a part of his life. Anyone interested will have to do more reading.
In 2012 (the time of my little review), his legacy is sort of like that of Gorbachev of USSR. More universally popular outside India, one of the names easily identified with India.
In India there are three parts to his legacy.
1. The political space which has been milked dry by today's Congress (I) Party in India (I for Indira Gandhi who was in no way related to the real deal Gandhi).
2. Many in today's India with his pacifism actually hold him responsible for the Partition of India.
3. People who can possibly see the difficulties trying to take along 300 million people (which was the population of India at that time) with him.
One of the enigma's is he never got the Nobel Peace Prize.