Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Violence of "Mahatma" Gandhi

"Mahatma" Gandhi is my hero. When I saw Richard Attenborough's film in 1982 in a movie theater, it was more than inspirational. I have a picture of Gandhi in my office. I keep seeing it every day for many years.

Gandhi can arguably be deemed to one of the pioneers of postcolonialism. He at least started a counter movement to Westernization in industrial, cultural and spiritual terms. He succeeded in it in a very non-modern way of non-violence. Or he may just be an anticolonialist. But it doesn't really matter here. He's my hero in either way.

So imagine my surprise when I learned about Gandhi's tragic episode with his son, Harilal. The movie "Gandhi, My Father" in 2007 depicts, I would say, "psychological violence" of Gandhi to his own son. (I only saw a fragment of the movie in the Japanese National Television (NHK), though).

The Independent explains the episode briefly.

Certainly, in India at least, some details of the difficult relationship between Gandhi and the eldest of his four sons are already known. Born in 1888, Harilal was refused permission by Gandhi to study law as he himself had done. To the London-educated Gandhi, preventing his son from following in his academic footsteps was an act of honourable defiance against the Western education system he had come to reject and he did not believe his son required such preparation for a life he presumed would be devoted to the struggle for freedom.

Yet Harilal rebelled against his father's influence and, perhaps, his exaltation by others as a man who could do no wrong. Later he converted to Islam and took the name Abdullah Gandhi in a move that many have seen as an act of rebellion against his father rather than a genuine religious conversion. He also sought to remarry after his wife's death, something of which his father did not approve.

In one bitter letter to his father, Harilal wrote: "In your laboratory of experiments, unfortunately, I am the one truth that has gone wrong ... Yours Harilal." Elsewhere, he wrote of the man whom Indians knew as "Bapu" or father: "He is the greatest father you have... but he is the one father I wish I did not have."

Shocking as it was, the episode was somewhat strangely understandable to me. Perhaps I knew this kind of dark side is what it takes to be "Mahatma." 

Part of me was even glad to know this episode. It's not that I enjoy the perverted joy of depreciating what I once worshiped. Rather, I want to see him as a human. As somebody I love and loathe.

The movie is available in DVD.


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shakti said...


shakti said...

---Please delete the former posting of mine--.

A happy new year, Yanase-san,

It was greatly interesting to read that a son of Ghandi converted into Islam. I did not know that at all.

I remember it was Salman Rushdie, definitely the most famous Indian-Pakistani-English Muslim postcolonialwriter that critically reviewed the movie of Ghandi directed by Attenborough. Accoriding to Rushdie, Attenborough’s work was not fair and Gandhi himself seemed to be biased against the Muslim communities. (Sorry to say that I could not read his original essay. But I was able to read his book titled "Imaginary Homelands" in which he refered to his own on Ghandi. I hasten to add that "imaginary homelands" is one of the most important books for any who have interests in postcolonial writings. It should be translated into Japanese).

Also, I remember reading V.S.Naipaul’s essay on Ghandi. He is known to be another problematic "postcolonial" writer, and often writes negative dimensions of postcolonial nations all over the world including India. His sarcastic essay on Ghandi was written in "An Area of Darkness" (インド闇の奥) of his earlier travel writings. You do not have to read all the pages, but I strongly read some pages. I am sure you would be very surprised or even get angry at the great leader as well as Indians. How disgusting and unpleasant Naipaul and Ghandi are! .

Yosuke YANASE said...

Dear Shakti-san
Thank you for your comment and also letting me know about "Imaginary Homelands."
I've acquired the above DVD, but been so far unable to watch it. I just need uninterrupted time for watching it!