Thursday, September 06, 2007

Reader's Diary #286- Eknath Easwaran: Gandhi The Man (up to 111)

Gandhi The Man, by Eknath Easwaran, has been a pleasant enough read so far. It's an unpretentious easy book, filled with loads of great photos as well as excerpts from speeches made by Gandhi himself. In short, it's a good introduction to the man for someone like myself who, until now, only knew that he was Indian, Ben Kingsley once portrayed him in a movie and his Clone High character was a party animal. Needless to say, my ignorance needed to be corrected.

However, the book is not without its flaws. Primarily, I don't think Easwaran adequately captures the man's appeal. For instance, he describes when Ghandi met with the out-of-work mill workers in England and they were at first filled with resentment. Ghandi had led a boycott of their products back in India to protest the exploitation of Indian cotton and so the English people blamed him. He met with workers, explained the situation from the Indian perspective, and they ended up cheering the man who brought about their unemployment.

Was that all it took? Is it just a problem of my cynicism that I don't believe people would be that understanding today? Is it a fact at all that the world has changed that much or did, perhaps, Easwaran fail to capture the moment? In his defence, is that even a possible task?

Obviously, I'm left with a lot of questions up to this point (not the least which are about myself)- which I suppose is more than fair for an introduction.


Allison said...

I have very little knowledge about Ghandhi myself. I have not heard of this book, but last year bought a biography on him...still have yet to read. Reading the Nelson Mandela autobiography took over, which was very good.

I think these kinds of books are suppose to leave you with questions.

Barbara Bruederlin said...

It does sound as though the author skipped a few steps in the millworker scene.

I don't know enough about Gandhi either and I admit to being shocked by Ben Kingsley's performance in Sexy Beast, because Gandhi wouldn't act like that!

John Mutford said...

Allison: Yes, I suppose Nelson Mandela's books must have also given you loads of questions.

Barbara: Yes, he makes it all seem a little too easy. Then again, Gandhi himself said his approach wasn't difficult, so maybe I just don't get it.

Satish K. said...

Actually the meeting with the millworkers of Lancashire was quite simple. Gandhi met with the mill workers in 1931 while the Round Table Conference. By this time, the boycott was over 5 years old and the initial shock of the loss of business had probably worn off.

Gandhi by this time had become a revered figure amongst the poor in England because of his work in India with the "untouchable" castes and their similarity with the condition of the poor in England. In her book Entertaining Gandhi, Muriel Lester a Christian pacifist who ran the Kingsley Hall community at which Gandhi stayed describes an encounter she has with a Bow man with no hope of work. His unemployment benefit is about to end. He has decided to get himself sent to prison for petty theft so his family will be cared for and avoid the workhouse. Gandhi was seen as the champion of such underdogs. So it's not much of a surprise that he was so well received by the Lancashire workers.

Here's a letter from that time from a Lancashire millworker.
"May I say... that I am a 'Lancashire working man' who is to some extent suffering through the actions of the 'Indian Congress leaders'? I have a profound admiration for Mr Gandhi... But I believe it is in the realm of practicable possibility to assist our Indian fellow-workers to a higher standard of living and at the same time for our friend Mr Gandhi and his Indian colleagues to modify their views upon the Economic Boycott of Lancashire cotton goods."

John Mutford said...

Satish: It's details like that that would have made this book so much better. Thanks for the input.

Satish K. said...

Easwaran was a teacher of meditation who was inspired by Gandhi's deep spiritual grounding.
His book is a profile of Gandhi from a spiritual point of view and less so from a strictly historical one. That may explain why many of the contextual historical details are omitted.

If you are looking for books about Gandhi check out Thanks for this conversation.