This Above all
Revealing book on Gandhi

I have just finished reading Gandhi: Naked Ambition by Jad Adams (Quercus). I confess when it landed on my table, I did not want to read it. What is there about Gandhi that we do not know? At the best, it could be the personal opinion of the author, who had per force to rely on the published material.

What provoked me to read it was the sub-title Naked Ambition. It was deliberately provocative. So was the introduction in which he drew attention to a couple of contradictions in statements made by the Mahatma. Then I could not stop till I reached the last page. I realised that the author, who is a historian and a biographer, is also a television producer. He knows the art of holding a readerís interest.

GandhiAdams has written about the Mahatmaís eccentricities, his experiments with diet and his obsession with bowel movements (he took enema every day and readily gave it to his women disciples as well). And his sex life. He had sex only with one woman, his illiterate wife Kasturba, whom he treated as an object of lust.

But he was attracted to a lot of young women, including Sarla Devi Chaudhrani, niece of Gurudev Tagore, married to a Punjabi, whom he described as his "spiritual wife," and even toyed with the idea of a polygamous union. There were Madeline Slade (Miraben), Sushila Nayar, Abha and Mani Gandhi, and a few others. He liked to be massaged by them, have them sleep naked, have them bathe with him stark naked, and rest his hands on their shoulders when he walked.

Many of his admirers were scandalised by his aberrations, and told him so on his face. He justified himself by saying that they were experiments in his quest to control his lust. Adams uses his material deftly, and succeeds in holding the readersí attention while narrating the more important aspects of the Mahatmaís life from the childhood days in Kathiawar to the three years in England to become a barrister, to the many long stays in South Africa, where he clarified his views on satyagrah, and suffered many humiliations at the hands of the Whites as well as his own countrymen. Back in India, he was acclaimed as the Mahatma who chalked the path to Indian freedom. It is as good a refresher course to events of his life as any I have read. Far from being a critic, which I first suspected, Adams turns out to be a Gandhi bhakta.

Mohan Das Karam Chand Gandhi was a callous husband and father of four sons. Nevertheless, he was a mahatma, a great soul, who has left his name to posterity as one of greatest of the great men in the history of humanity.

Windy protest

Breaking wind loudly in public is bad manners, and not considered proper to be mentioned in polite society. However, when it happens, there is hardly anyone who can keep a straight face, and not burst out laughing. The same happened to me when I read of an incident reported in a Swedish Paper, The Local, published in Malmo and reproduced in Londonís Private Eye a couple of weeks ago. Swedes are not famous for their sense of humour, and probably did not see it as anything to laugh about. I could not control myself. See if you can.

The report reads: "I have worked in prisons since 1986," warden Anders Erikson told reporters at Kireseberg prison in Malmo, "and in all that time, I have never experienced such disgraceful behaviour. For several weeks this particular prisoner had been repeatedly voicing his discontent with the system by deliberately approaching the staff, and passing wind in front of them. My colleagues and I have all suffered, and although we have never before punished a prisoner for flatulence, we have now issued him with an official reprimand, and a warning against future flatulent conduct.

"The unnamed prisoner later protested his innocence, claiming that he was not making a political protest. It is just that prison food doesnít agree with his colon, and he has had an upset stomach and difficult bowels for the past month. Last week, he was playing cards with other prisoners, and didnít want to fart in front of them. So he walked over to the other side of the room, where the guards were, before letting rip, and they took that as a mark of disrespect. The prisoner told them that his farts were all noise and no fragrance, but he has now been given an official warning and threatened with punishment if he persists."

Momís tongue

Santaís son Ghanta was filling up a form. It came to the column "Mother tongue". He asked his father what he should write. Santa said: "Put down long and uncontrolled."

(Contributed by J.P. Singh Kaka, Bhopal)