Mahatmaís vital concern
A.J. Philip

Brahmacharya: Gandhi & His Women Associates
by Girja Kumar
Vitasta Publishing Pvt. Ltd
Pages 411. Rs 695

A MOBILE exhibition that visited our village during the centenary of Mahatma Gandhiís birth in 1969 depicted dozens of his photographs from that of a toddler in Porbandar to his last journey on a gun carriage in New Delhi. However, the image that remained etched in my mind was that of a toothless old man with a beatific smile on his face and clutching at a staff.

This image underwent a metamorphosis when I saw Ram Kinkarís life-size sculpture of Gandhiji taking part in the Dandi March at a park in Santiniketan. But for a loin-cloth, he was naked. What struck me most was his physical beauty, particularly the strength of his muscular legs. Realisation dawned on me that he was as handsome as he was charismatic.

Years later when I read Arthur Koestlerís controversial, some say, racist, book The Robot and The Lotus, I was shocked to read about some of Gandhiís mind-boggling views on sex. It described a particular incident in which the British police who had gone to arrest him found Gandhi and a nubile girl sleeping on the same bed in a state of undress.

Girja Kumar, who is credited with setting up the prestigious Sapru House library in New Delhi, throws light on a slightly uncharted aspect of Gandhijiís lifeóhis relationship with a bevy of women. His admiration for Gandhiji is apparent but that does not prevent him from calling a spade a spade.

From his days in South Africa where he went as a struggling lawyer, women of all nationalities were attracted to Gandhiji like bees to honey. He always felt, though seldom admitted, that Kasturba, whom he married at the age of 13, could not provide him intellectual companionship.

So he looked for and found women of his choice who could understand the role he played and the politics he pursued. Unlike most others, Gandhiji was brutally frank about his relationships with women, though many of his confidants with the singular exception of Jawaharlal Nehru, who was "diplomatic", found them questionable. Women were simply guinea pigs for his weird experiments in brahmacharya.

Gandhiji had difficulty in coming to terms with as basic an instinct as sex. He found it an abhorrent urge, the control of which would make him great. And he was ready to go to any length to perfect his state of married celibacy. An incident that happened soon after his marriage influenced him a great deal. His father was on his deathbed and Gandhiji was massaging his legs when he had an arousal. He rushed to Kasturba, woke her up, had sex and returned to his fatherís bed to find him dead.

The thought that he was dying exactly when he was copulating haunted him all his life. "I cannot imagine a thing as ugly as the intercourse as man and woman", he once said. Thus began his famous battle against sex which he never won, not because he was not earnest or full-hearted in his attempt but because he fought against the all-powerful Nature.

For all his greatness as a mass leader, philosopher and thinker, Gandhiji had idiotic ideas about many aspects of sex. He forsook milk because it stimulated "the lower passion of manís nature" forcing a vitriolic comment from his first known female friend Millie Graham Polak, "If that be so`85 then young children who are principally fed on milk would be nothing but horrible little brutes".

Barely 23 years after his marriage, he renounced sex because he believed that if he got enamoured of Kasturba and indulged in sexual gratification, he would fall the very instant. "My work would go to the dogs and I would lose in a twinkling all that power which would enable one to achieve swaraj". All his higher education did not equip him to discard the notion that semen which he called "vital fluid" was "Godís gift to be preserved, stored and retained under all circumstances". It was as if swaraj lay in semen.

While he practised abstinence with perfection making his bedroom a torture chamber, he agonised over his involuntary discharges exposing his ignorance of the biological functions of the body.

There were many women social climbers who were in his charmed circle but there were others who found him sexually attractive and sought gratification through him. Without exception, he used all of them as his "walking sticks" or as tools in his grand but grotesque laboratory of brahmacharya.

What did the women get in return? He regretted that he adopted "Lakhsmi," a Harijan who ended her life in obscurity, he got a married girl Jeki exposed to public ridicule by forcing her to cut her hair just because she made the mistake of kissing his son, he subjected his wife to torture of all kinds, conditioned many of his women friends like Sonja Schlesin, Sushila Nayyar and Mirabehn to remain spinsters all their lives and ruined the family life of friends like Jayaprakash Narayan. Why? The author answers, "Probably he loved no once except himself".

There is a touching episode in the book where his elder son Harilal, a drunkard who once became a Muslim, shouts "Mata Kasturba ki jai" when the Jabalpur Mail in which the Gandhis were travelling reached Katni station. He thrust an orange, which he had begged from a fruit vendor, into her hands and said, "Ba, it is exclusively for you. If you donít eat it, give it back to me".

When Gandhiji solicited a portion of the "booty" as his patrimony, Harilal brusquely rejected his request, "No. It is exclusively for Ba. He also added an advice to him. "All your greatness is owed to her". When the train moved, they heard the distant cry, "Mata Kasturba ki jai".

He was a Mahatma for the world but for his family he was the Old Testament God spitting brimstone and fire. Girja Kumarís is an enjoyable book that calls for tighter editing to eliminate repetitions and proof mistakes.