gandhi's relationship with his family -- 8/17/16

Today's selection -- from Indian Summer by Alex Von Tunzelmann. Mohandas (Mahatma) Gandhi's relationship with his wife and sons:

"Gandhi ... had found no serious political heir among his four sons. In fact, by the middle 1920s, his relationships with them had become extremely difficult. When eighteen-year-old Manilal was caught in an embrace with a young, married Indian woman, 'Mohandas coerced her into shaving her head and extracted from Manilal a vow of lifelong chastity. In 1926, still languishing under his vow, Manilal fell in love with a Muslim woman called Fatima. Mohandas was outraged. 'Your desire is against your religion,' he wrote to Manilal. 'It would be like putting two swords in one scabbard .... Your marriage will be a great jolt to Hindu-Muslim relations.'

"Manilal did not marry Fatima, though he was finally released from his vow at the age of thirty-five and married a Hindu woman. It was then the turn of Mohandas's youngest son, Devadas, who fell in love with Lakshmi, the daughter of Chakravarty Rajagopalachari, one of the leading lights of Congress and a member of the Brahmin caste. The fathers would only agree to the intercaste marriage if Devadas and Lakshmi waited for five years to see if their feelings changed. Happily, they did not. The couple married in 1933.

"Despite the many failures of his brahmacharya policy (celibacy), Gandhi per­sisted in enforcing it at his ashrams and broke up several marriages by persuading the women to renounce sex. It was a field in which he and (Indian political leader Jawaharlal) Nehru could never be reconciled. Nehru wrote that Gandhi's sex ban 'can only lead to frustration, inhibition, neurosis, and all manner of physical and nervous ills.' As for Gandhi's decree that birth control was a particular sin, for it allowed a person 'to indulge his animal passions and escape the consequences of his acts,' Nehru considered it to be outrageous. 'Personally I find this attitude unnat­ural and shocking, and if he is right, then I am a criminal on the verge of imbecility and nervous prostration. '

Kasturba and children

"As Kasturba neared death [from bronchitis and pneumonia in 1944], Mohandas [who did not believe in germ theory] took over her care. Two days before she died, she pleaded for castor oil; he would not give it. 'A patient should never try to be his or her own doctor,' he told her. 'I would like you to give up using medicine now. ' The last battles of the Gandhi family took place over Kasturba's deathbed. Devadas had penicillin flown in from Calcutta to treat his mother. Gandhi was opposed from the outset and, when he heard that the penicillin was to be given by injection, forbade it. Devadas and his father had a fight, with Gandhi pleading, 'Why do you not trust God?' Kas­turba had no penicillin. Instead, her husband filled the room with his followers, who sang devotional songs.

"On 21 February, the black sheep of the family, Harilal, turned up. He had been invited to the prison [where Gandhi was] by the government, not by his family -- though Mohandas had recently caught Kasturba praying to an icon of Krishna for her eldest son to visit. When Harilal arrived he was drunk. Gandhi's entourage ushered him out of his mother's pres­ence, while she sobbed and beat her forehead with hands.

"The next day, Kasturba died, after a long, slow and painful illness, her suffering unrelieved except by prayer. That night, Sushila Nayyar visited Gandhi as he lay in his bed. 'How God has tested my faith!' he exclaimed. 'If I had allowed you to give her penicillin, it could not have saved her. But it would have meant bankruptcy of faith on my part .... And she passed away in my lap! Could it be better? I am happy beyond measure.' Only Mohandas's closest disciples were permitted to glimpse his real feelings. After the cremation his sons gathered their mother's ashes to throw into holy rivers. Gandhi's disci­ple Miraben, formerly Madeleine Slade, the daughter of a British ad­miral, walked back to the prison with the Mahatma. On that walk, she saw him cry for the first time."


Alex Von Tunzelmann


Indian Summer: The Secret History of the End of an Empire


Picador, Henry Holt and Company


Copyright 2007 by Alex von Tunzelmann


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