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A Comprehensive Review of Gandhi Before India by Ramachandra Guha

Ramachandra Guha's Gandhi Before India: A Review

If you are interested in learning more about one of the most influential figures in modern history, you might want to read Ramachandra Guha's Gandhi Before India. This book is the first volume of a two-part biography of Mahatma Gandhi, covering his life from his birth in 1869 to his return to India from South Africa in 1915. In this article, I will give you an overview of the book, its main themes, and its significance for understanding Gandhi and his legacy.

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Who is Ramachandra Guha?

Ramachandra Guha is a renowned Indian historian, writer, and public intellectual. He has written several books on topics such as environmental history, social movements, cricket, and contemporary India. He is also a columnist for various newspapers and magazines, and a recipient of many awards and honors, including the Padma Shri, one of India's highest civilian honors. He is widely regarded as one of the leading experts on Gandhi and his role in Indian and world history.

What is Gandhi Before India about?

Gandhi Before India is a comprehensive and detailed account of Gandhi's life before he became the leader of the Indian independence movement. It traces his journey from his birth in Porbandar, a coastal town in Gujarat, to his education in London, where he studied law, to his activism in South Africa, where he fought for the rights of Indians and other oppressed groups. It also explores his personal and professional relationships, his intellectual and spiritual influences, and his experiments with various ideas and practices that shaped his philosophy and actions.

Why is this book important?

This book is important because it reveals a lot about Gandhi's personality, character, and evolution as a human being and a political leader. It shows how he was influenced by his family background, his cultural heritage, his religious beliefs, and his exposure to different people and places. It also shows how he faced many challenges, difficulties, and dilemmas in his life, and how he overcame them with courage, perseverance, and creativity. It also shows how he developed his unique vision of nonviolence, truth, and justice, which inspired millions of people around the world.

Main Body

Gandhi's Early Life and Influences

His Childhood and Education in India

Gandhi was born on October 2nd, 1869, in Porbandar, a small town in Gujarat. His father was a diwan (chief minister) of a princely state, and his mother was a devout Hindu who followed the Jain tradition of ahimsa (nonviolence). He grew up in a large joint family that included his parents, siblings, cousins, uncles, aunts, and grandparents. He was influenced by the stories of Hindu epics, such as the Ramayana and the Mahabharata, which taught him the values of duty, loyalty, and courage. He was also influenced by the teachings of his mother, who instilled in him a sense of compassion, humility, and self-discipline.

Gandhi received his primary education in Porbandar and Rajkot, where he learned the basics of reading, writing, and arithmetic. He was not a brilliant student, but he was curious and eager to learn. He also developed a love for books, especially those that dealt with history, religion, and ethics. He was married at the age of 13 to Kasturba, a girl from a nearby town, as per the custom of arranged marriages. He respected and loved his wife, but he also faced some conflicts and misunderstandings with her over issues such as education, freedom, and equality.

Gandhi decided to pursue higher education in London, where he hoped to become a barrister (lawyer). He faced opposition from his family and community, who feared that he would lose his religion and culture in a foreign land. He also faced financial difficulties and social isolation in London, where he had to adjust to a different way of life. He tried to cope with these challenges by following a strict routine of study, exercise, and vegetarianism. He also joined various societies and clubs that exposed him to new ideas and perspectives. He read widely on topics such as law, politics, philosophy, literature, and religion. He was especially influenced by the works of Henry David Thoreau, Leo Tolstoy, John Ruskin, and Edwin Arnold, who introduced him to the concepts of civil disobedience, simplicity, social justice, and universal love.

His Struggles and Successes in South Africa

Gandhi returned to India in 1891 after completing his studies in London. He hoped to establish himself as a successful lawyer in Bombay (now Mumbai), but he soon realized that he lacked the skills and confidence to compete in the legal profession. He also felt alienated from his own society, which he found to be divided by caste, class, religion, and gender. He was restless and unhappy, until he got an opportunity to work as a lawyer for an Indian firm in South Africa in 1893.

Gandhi's stay in South Africa turned out to be a transformative experience for him. He witnessed firsthand the racism and discrimination that Indians and other non-white people faced under the British colonial rule. He himself was subjected to many humiliations and indignities, such as being thrown out of a train for refusing to move from a first-class compartment to a third-class one. He realized that Indians had no rights or dignity in South Africa, and that they had to unite and resist against the injustice. He decided to stay on in South Africa and dedicate himself to the cause of Indian rights.

Gandhi organized and led many campaigns and protests against the discriminatory laws and policies that affected Indians in South Africa. He mobilized Indians from different backgrounds and regions, such as merchants, laborers, professionals, women, Muslims, Hindus, Sikhs, Parsis, and Christians. He also reached out to other oppressed groups, such as Africans, Chinese, Jews, and Europeans who sympathized with his cause. He used various methods of nonviolent resistance, such as petitions, boycotts, Article (continued): His Encounters with Different Cultures and Religions

Gandhi's stay in South Africa also exposed him to different cultures and religions that enriched his worldview and understanding of humanity. He interacted with people from various backgrounds and faiths, such as Africans, Chinese, Jews, Christians, Muslims, Buddhists, Zoroastrians, and Theosophists. He learned from their experiences, beliefs, and practices, and tried to find common ground and harmony among them. He also studied their scriptures and literature, such as the Bible, the Quran, the Dhammapada, and the Zend Avesta. He was especially drawn to the teachings of Jesus Christ, Prophet Muhammad, Buddha, and Zarathustra, who emphasized love, compassion, peace, and justice.

Gandhi also deepened his own understanding and appreciation of his native religion, Hinduism. He explored the various aspects and traditions of Hinduism, such as Vedanta, Bhakti, Yoga, and Jainism. He was inspired by the lives and teachings of Hindu saints and sages, such as Ramakrishna Paramahamsa, Swami Vivekananda, Raja Ram Mohan Roy, and Mahavira. He also revered the Hindu scriptures and epics, such as the Vedas, the Upanishads, the Bhagavad Gita, and the Ramayana. He interpreted them in a rational and universal way that appealed to his reason and conscience. He also practiced various rituals and disciplines that enhanced his spiritual growth, such as prayer, meditation, fasting, celibacy, and vows.

Gandhi's Political and Social Activism

His Campaigns for Civil Rights and Justice

Gandhi's political and social activism in South Africa was based on his principles of nonviolence (ahimsa), truth (satya), and justice (nyaya). He believed that these principles were not only moral values but also effective weapons to fight against oppression and injustice. He coined the term satyagraha (literally meaning "holding on to truth") to describe his method of nonviolent resistance that involved appealing to the conscience of the oppressor and arousing public opinion in favor of the oppressed. He also called it "soul-force" or "love-force" that aimed at converting the enemy rather than defeating him.

Gandhi led several satyagraha campaigns in South Africa against various issues that affected Indians and other non-white people. Some of these issues were: the denial of voting rights to Indians; the imposition of a poll tax on Indians; the restriction of Indian immigration; the requirement of registration and fingerprinting of Indians; the prohibition of intermarriage between Indians and whites; the segregation of Indians in separate areas; the discrimination against Indians in education, employment, Article (continued): His Development of Satyagraha and Nonviolence

Gandhi's development of satyagraha and nonviolence was not only a political strategy but also a personal philosophy and a way of life. He derived his inspiration from various sources, such as his mother's Jain faith, his Hindu scriptures, his Christian and Muslim friends, and his Western mentors. He also learned from his own experiences and experiments with truth and nonviolence. He refined and applied his principles in different situations and contexts, and adapted them to the changing circumstances and challenges. He also taught and trained his followers and associates in the art and science of satyagraha and nonviolence.

Gandhi's concept of nonviolence was not passive or cowardly, but active and courageous. It involved resisting evil without resorting to violence or hatred. It also involved loving and forgiving the enemy, and seeking reconciliation and harmony. Gandhi's concept of nonviolence was also holistic and comprehensive. It encompassed not only physical violence, but also mental, verbal, emotional, social, economic, and environmental violence. It also addressed not only the symptoms of violence, but also the root causes of violence, such as ignorance, greed, fear, and anger.

His Leadership of the Indian National Congress

Gandhi's leadership of the Indian National Congress (INC) was a natural extension of his leadership of the Indian community in South Africa. He returned to India in 1915 at the invitation of Gopal Krishna Gokhale, a senior leader of the INC and a mentor of Gandhi. He traveled across India for a year to understand the conditions and problems of the people. He then joined the INC and became its most prominent and influential leader. He transformed the INC from an elite and moderate organization into a mass and radical movement. He also changed its goals from seeking constitutional reforms within the British Empire to demanding complete independence from British rule.

Gandhi led several nationwide campaigns and movements under the banner of the INC against British colonialism and its various manifestations. Some of these campaigns and movements were: the Non-Cooperation Movement (1920-1922), which boycotted British goods, institutions, courts, and titles; the Civil Disobedience Movement (1930-1934), which defied British laws, such as the salt tax; the Quit India Movement (1942-1945), which demanded immediate withdrawal of British forces from India; and the Partition Movement (1946-1947), which opposed the division of India into two separate nations based on religion.

Gandhi's Personal and Spiritual Journey

His Family and Friends

Gandhi's personal and spiritual journey was influenced by his family and friends, who supported him in his endeavors and challenged him in his growth. He had a close-knit family that included his wife Kasturba, his four sons Harilal, Manilal, Ramdas, and Devdas, his daughters-in-law Sushila, Sita, Nirmala, and Lakshmi, his grandchildren Rajmohan, Article (continued): His Experiments with Truth and Diet

Gandhi's experiments with truth and diet were part of his personal and spiritual journey. He considered his life as an experiment with truth, in which he tried to discover and practice the truth in every aspect of his existence. He also considered his body as a temple of God, in which he tried to maintain purity and health. He followed a strict vegetarian diet, which he believed was conducive to nonviolence and compassion. He also experimented with various diets, such as fruitarianism, raw foodism, and fasting, which he believed were beneficial for his physical and mental well-being. He also advocated for animal rights and environmental protection, and opposed the exploitation and slaughter of animals for food, clothing, or entertainment.

His Quest for Self-Realization and God

Gandhi's quest for self-realization and God was the ultimate goal of his personal and spiritual journey. He believed that the true purpose of human life was to realize one's true self, which was identical with God. He also believed that God was not a person or a thing, but a principle or a force that pervaded the entire universe. He called God by various names, such as Rama, Allah, Ishvara, Brahman, or Truth. He also worshiped God in various forms, such as idols, scriptures, nature, or humanity. He sought to attain God through various paths, such as devotion, service, knowledge, or meditation. He claimed that he had glimpses of God in his life, but he never claimed that he had achieved full realization or enlightenment.


Summary of the Main Points

In this article, I have reviewed Ramachandra Guha's Gandhi Before India, which is the first volume of a two-part biography of Mahatma Gandhi. I have given an overview of the book, its main themes, and its significance for understanding Gandhi and his legacy. I have also discussed Gandhi's early life and influences, his political and social activism, and his personal and spiritual journey.

Evaluation of the Book's Strengths and Weaknesses

The book's strengths are its comprehensiveness, depth, and accuracy. It covers almost every aspect of Gandhi's life before he became the leader of the Indian independence movement. It provides rich details and insights into Gandhi's personality, character, and evolution. It also relies on extensive research and evidence from various sources, such as letters, diaries, Article (continued): Recommendations for Further Reading

If you are interested in learning more about Gandhi and his life, you might want to read the following books: - Gandhi: The Years That Changed the World, 1914-1948 by Ramachandra Guha. This is the second volume of Guha's biography of Gandhi, which covers his life from his return to India from South Africa to his assassination in 1948. It chronicles his leadership of the Indian independence movement, his involvement in the Partition of India and Pakistan, and his efforts for communal harmony and social reform. - The Story of My Experiments with Truth by Mahatma Gandhi. This is Gandhi's autobiography, which he wrote in Gujarati and later translated into English. It narrates his life from his childhood to his early years in South Africa. It also explains his philosophy and principles of nonviolence, truth, and justice. - An Autobiography or The Story of My Experiments with Truth by Mahatma Gandhi. This is a different translation of Gandhi's autobiography by Mahadev Desai, who was Gandhi's secretary and biographer. It differs from the previous translation in some aspects, such as style, tone, and content. - Gandhi: A Life by Yogesh Chadha. This is a comprehensive and balanced biography of Gandhi, which covers his entire life from his birth to his death. It provides a clear and objective account of Gandhi's achievements and failures, strengths and weaknesses, virtues and vices. - Gandhi: A Very Short Introduction by Bhikhu Parekh. This is a concise and accessible introduction to Gandhi's life and thought, which summarizes his main ideas and contributions to various fields, such as politics, religion, ethics, and culture.


Here are some frequently asked questions (FAQs) about Gandhi and his book: - Q: When was Gandhi born and when did he die? - A: Gandhi was born on October 2nd, 1869, in Porbandar, Gujarat. He died on January 30th, 1948, in New Delhi, Delhi. - Q: What was Gandhi's full name and what did Mahatma mean? - A: Gandhi's full name was Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi. He was also known as Mahatma Gandhi, which means "great soul" in Sanskrit. He was given this title by Rabindranath Tagore, a Nobel laureate poet and friend of Gandhi. - Q: What was Gandhi's profession and what did he study in London? - A: Gandhi was a lawyer by profession. He studied law at the Inner Temple in London. - Q: What was Gandhi's main goal and what did he call his method of nonviolent resistance? - A: Gandhi's main goal was to free India from British colonial rule and to establish a democratic and self-reliant nation. He called his method of nonviolent resistance satyagraha, which means "holding on to truth" or "soul-force". - Q: What were some of the major campaigns and movements that Gandhi led in India? - A: Some of the major campaigns and movements that Gandhi led in India were: the Non-Cooperation Movement (1920-1922), the Civil Disobedience Movement (1930-1934), the Quit India Movement (1942-1945), and the Partition Movement (1946-1947). 71b2f0854b


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