“Martin Green’s . . . Gandhi helps us to understand why Vaclav Havel, Al Gore, and many more find him relevant. . . . [Today’s] burgeoning green mentality echoes New Age questions and themes that first surfaced at the end of the eighteenth century, then again at the end of the nineteenth when, as a law student in London, Gandhi first encountered them. . . . Green’s Gandhi helps us to understand why in his time Gandhi became a world historical figure, and in ours a New Age voice that speaks to us about the twenty-first century.”
—Lloyd I. Rudolph (Emeritus Professor of the University of Chicago’s Department of Political Science)
“Martin Green offers new keys for understanding [Gandhi]: late 19th-century New Age thinking, certain close personal relationships [including] relationships with women. [Today] we see the refloresence of . . . revolutionary themes in environmentalism, natural medicine, and rejection of hierarchical domination. Brilliant indeed for its flashes of insight, [this book] opens new avenues for understanding Gandhi the man and his persistence in [our] consciousness.”
—James D. Hunt (Author)
The name of Mahatma Gandhi is one of the most widely recognized in the world. His Autobiography has been translated into all major languages, and has been continuously in print since it was published. Yet many mysteries surround the man, especially about his inner life and personal relationships.
More than a biography, this book—perhaps the best single introduction to Mohandas K. Gandhi—examines many aspects of his development not hitherto covered, like the revelation that in the first half of his life, Gandhi suffered from a debilitating shyness. Gandhi is portrayed as a flawed man who aspired to perfection, and reduces him to human scale without diminishing his greatness.
A unique feature of this book is its account of Gandhi’s encounter with the “New Age” movement of the late nineteenth century. Like the New Age movement of today, this earlier period stressed spiritual growth, a love of peace, reverence for the environment, and vegetarianism. Among the figures who had an impact on Gandhi were Tolstoy, Annie Besant, Elena Petrovna Blavatsky, and John Ruskin.
About the Author
Martin B. Green was born in 1932 in England. He is a professor, writer, playwright, editor, and publisher. His numerous books explore psychoanalysis, philosophical non-violence, countercultures, and adventure among other social and intellectual topics.
Geneological Tree of Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi
Introduction: The New Age Scene and Scenario
1: Porbandar and the Past: 1869–1876
2: Rajkot and the Present: 1876–1888
3: Metropolis: 1888–1893
4: Durban And Politics: 1893–1902
5: Johannesburg and Satyagraha: 1902–1914
6: Violence and Nonviolence
7: Sabarmati and Insurgence: 1914–1921
8: In and Out of Jail: 1921–1931
9: Politics and Culture: 1931–1941
10: Triumph and Ruin: 1941–1948
Conclusion: The Great Absence
From the Introduction: The New Age Scene and Scenario
A Problematic Hero
I describe Gandhi as a problematic hero to acknowledge not only that many people dispute his claims to be a hero, but that today the standing of heroism, even or especially pious heroism, is shaky.“Mahatma Gandhi” is today one of the most frequently and emptily invoked of all names; in many ways resembling “Jesus Christ” and “Mother Teresa.” All three of those names, but perhaps “Gandhi” most of all, lay claim to sanctity, haloed virtue, an impossible loftiness; and arouse corresponding feelings of disgust and resistance. This is partly because Gandhi’s authority is invoked so glibly and ignorantly, but also because of the nature of that authority, however knowledgeably defined. This reaction is not to be found in everyone, of course, but it is to be expected in a group of people who particularly concern a writer—a group I would like to call “professional readers.”
I use that phrase to mean people in the professions (historians, political scientists, lawyers, psychoanalysts, and so on) who have to read a lot, and who acquire the habit of reading documents critically, analytically, testingly; expecting either to accept or reject an argument more completely than the ordinary reader; so that their reading itself becomes professional, even in areas outside their own specialty. We often use the term intellectuals for this group, but that term has too much tendentiousness to be useful to me here.
I am a writer for professional readers in that sense, and also a professional reader. I myself feel that instinctive resistance to Gandhi, as I read him, as well as to the empty invocation of his name. I don’t want heroes, or saints, or martyrs, with their totalitarian claims on my attention. On the other hand, at certain moments (moments in his life, moments in my life) I feel translated into Gandhi’s presence, and then I deeply regret the habits of thought that keep me at such a distance from him in my ordinary life, and deny me another sort of experience—the extraordinary sort. Using as cool a tone as possible about the matter, I would say that the Gandhi experience teaches professional readers how much they lose in exchange for their advantages.
The New Age Mentality
Another light emanates from a historical movement—the New Age that flourished at the end of the nineteenth century, and to which Gandhi belonged. This was a period in the history of consciousness that has been scanted of serious attention; a period when many people made a naive act of faith in self-renewal, both for the individual and for society—naive in the sense that they felt no need for the massive support usually taken by ideas from armed power or instituted theory. Once we see Gandhi in this setting, we better understand not only him but the forces behind him, and some of the great patterns of world history.
From Chapter 1: Porbandar and the Past
Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi was born on October 2, 1869, in a three-story house in Porbandar; which is a town on the Arabian Sea coast of India, north of Bombay, in the province of Gujarat. In earlier centuries, it had traded with Persia, Arabia, Java, and Africa. A hundred yards from the water a road runs around three sides of the town, and a quarter of a mile inside the circle still stands the Gandhi home. The house is a fortresslike structure of limestone, whose walls bear the marks of cannon fire. About thirty years before Gandhi’s birth, his grandfather, the chief administrator of the little state of Porbandar, had quarreled with the ruling monarch, Rupali Ba, who had thereupon besieged his house and fired cannon at it, till the British agent in Rajkot intervened.
It is a house of many rooms, most small and dark. A suite of two rooms on the ground floor were occupied by Gandhi’s father and his immediate family; plus a small kitchen and veranda. Gandhi’s mother had a room twenty-by-thirteen feet; but the inner room occupied by her mother-in-law was twelve-by-twelve feet. The house stood on three sides of an underground tank of rainwater that measured fifteen-by-twenty-by-ten feet. This was a valuable resource in time of siege. Drinking water was scarce in Porbandar, and the lime in the soil purified the rainwater and made it potable. Mohandas Gandhi was married on the front veranda of that house.
The Arabian Sea, therefore, almost surrounded the town of Porbandar. Before the nineteenth century, there had been a lot of piracy on that ocean, and the city walls were built up to be twenty feet thick to resist attack. They were constructed, as was the Gandhi house, of the local limestone, which gradually turned white and hard like marble, when it was exposed to the open air. Ships approaching Porbandar saw a flash of white in the sky before they saw the harbor.
In his autobiography, Gandhi does not describe the town, but implicitly presents it as a suitable background to his parents’ traditional and respectable family life. In other places, however, he gives us saltier images of Porbandar. In one speech he said he had grown up in a village of fishermen, and so he knew what fishermen were like; “I suppose it is from their habits that we have got the phrase ‘he drinks like a fish’ ” (57:209).When addressing an audience in Cocanada, moreover, he referred to the many prostitutes of his native town (19:503).
From Chapter 2: Rajkot and the Present
When Gandhi wrote his autobiography he presented his timidity and physical awkwardness as advantages: his silence and shyness, for instance, kept him from filling his head with all kinds of foolishness. Serving his elders instead of playing with his peers saved him from bad habits. The autobiography is, in certain respects, the self-portrait of a prig, by Western standards—and indeed by some Eastern standards. D. B. Kalelkar, quite a close disciple, once suggested to Gandhi that it was a pity his autobiography omitted to describe the turmoil of his youth, the self-analysis and mental struggle he had overcome in order to become gentle and chaste, to subdue his rebellious nature. Kalelkar’s implication was that the book gave a dull or an unattractive picture of Gandhi.
In reply, Gandhi professed to have known no such Sturm und Drang. He had suffered certain temptations but no enthusiasms, no inspirations, or other self-swellings. This idea was part of Gandhi’s Hindu pietism, and his repudiation of Western styles; perhaps it was also a revenge on those criteria of vitality that he had suffered from. Whatever the reason, looking back, he claimed to see no poetic vistas of personal beauty, power, personality. He had envisaged no greatness of force, or size of self, except the spiritualized and self-denying kinds.