Mahatma Ghandhi On Sex
The recently published book Great Soul: Mahatma Gandhi and His Struggle with India generated an unheard controversy about the sexual preference of Mahatma Gandhi. For the first time it tends to suggest that Gandhi, while in South Africa, started getting physically attracted towards his close associate from Germany, Hermann Kallenbach, bordering on homoerotic involvement. The reviewer of the book unambiguously wrote that Gandhi was bisexual. The whole world caught up with the interpretation of the reviewer and admirers of Gandhi voiced their protest against such gross distortion of his life, acclaimed for his passionate approach to restrain his senses.
It may be mentioned that Kallenbach was a flourishing architect and donated land for setting up Tolstoy Farm, which became the nucleus of the landmark first Satyagraha spearheaded by Mahatma Gandhi for restoring the inalienable and legitimate human rights of Indians who suffered racial discrimination at the hands of white settlers. Deeply influenced by Gandhiji’s worldview and his ardent desire to lead a simple and spiritually rich life, he joined hands with him to further the cause of simplification of his own life. It was typical of Mahatma Gandhi to nourish his relationship with his close colleagues by a lively sense of wit and humour. The correspondence between Gandhi and Kallenbach teaches us the warm relationship between them and the light-hearted manner in which Gandhi described himself as “Upper House” and dubbed Kallenbach the “Lower House”. Even towards the closing phase of our struggle for Independence, Gandhi in one of his letters to Kallenbach said, in so many words the way in which he missed him and expressed his desire to hug him. All these were selectively picked up by the reviewer to drive home his own interpretation—that the relationship shared by the two was more than higher forms of love and conveyed the fact that Gandhi had sexual orientation for males, which is now legally and culturally accepted by the western world. Such notions about Gandhi does violence to his life, which represented a relentless strive to control his libido and other sensual drives and experience—a state of consciousness which is far above the body-based consciousness. Therefore, it is important to appreciate the way in which the issue of sex figured in Mahatma Gandhi’s worldview—determined by non-violence as a principle and practical method of action.
Gandhi succumbed to many temptations as a young man
During his youthful days, Gandhi was as vulnerable to many allurements of life as any ordinary mortal. It is well known that he was married at the age of 13. He very frankly admitted that when his father was in his death bed, due to some ailment, he remained confined with his wife in his bedroom. He was guilty about it. He explained that his son Hiralal’s wayward behaviour could be attributed to the manner in which he violated moral principles and gave in to many indulgences of life. As he grew up and grasped the pitfalls of a lifestyle driven by enjoyment and pleasures, he delved deep into the moral and spiritual values of our civilisation and accordingly re-fashioned his way of living.
Sex urge is noble and discipling it is vital
He did not decry sex urge. Rather he admired it. Reflecting to it in the Harijan on March 28, 2011, he wrote: “Sex urge is a fine and noble thing. There is nothing to be ashamed of it. But it is meant only for creation. Any other use of it is a sin against God and humanity.” Such understanding about sex flowed from his deeper comprehension of Yoga, which enables human beings to attain a consciousness, which is far superior to the consciousness determined by five senses. He firmly got convinced that the finite capacity of senses necessarily bred a finite consciousness.
He was a critique of modern civilisation, based on multiplication of wants and desires and incessant pursuit of sensual pleasures. Deeply influenced by Patanjali’s eightfold yoga which prescribed in its first fold satya (truth), ahimsa (non-violence), brahmacharya (sexual continence), aparigraha (non-possession) and asteya (non-stealing), he added to these six more points which are: aswada (control of palate), sparsh bhawana (touchability), sarvatra bhaya varjan (removal of fear), sarva dharma sambhava (respect for all religions), sharira shram (bread labour) and swadeshi (use of locally made goods). All the aforementioned points formed part of his “Eleven Vows” essentially designed to discipline one’s senses and lead a simple and spiritually charged life.
Idea of brahmacharya is of contemporary significance
It may be noted that he gave primacy to brahmacharya when he was in his thirties and located it in the broader context of disciplining all the senses for the pursuit of truth—which he called the God. He took the vow of celibacy and in the initial attempts he failed twice or thrice to live up to that vow by retaining sexual contact with his wife. However, in his subsequent pursuit of celibacy he completely controlled himself and desisted from any physical contact with his spouse. In seriously accepting the notion that abstinence is a virtue and, therefore, necessary for ruling one’s own self to experience joy beyond material and physical plane, he made it part of the struggle for Independence to infuse moral values in public life and generate a countrywide movement for the cause of restraint and discipline. In this sense, Mahatma Gandhi’s understanding of sex took him to a higher pedestal equal in importance to yogic way of life. At a time when so much violence is inflicted on women and they are subjected to harassment of all kinds including sexual harassment, the lessons from the Mahatma Gandhi’s life involving control of passions, which include a restrained way of life on matters pertaining to sex, assume contemporary significance.
Transparency and truthful attitude to sex
One of the defining features of his life was total transparency and truthful attitude. He never kept anything secret. Even when he remotely harboured the thought of a woman in his mind, he used to feel guilty and made public announcements that he had failed to live up to the vow of brahmacharya. In doing so, he used to indulge in self-criticism and elevate his own standards of scrutiny to reach higher levels of perfection in eschewing sexual thoughts in word and deed.
Gandhi as a Saint
Such exacting standards in controlling his passion were taken note of by some of the celebrated saints of our time, who stressed on celibacy and transformation of sexual energy to a transcendental level for realisation of universal consciousness. For instance, Swami Sivananda, who founded the Divine Life Society, the headquarters of which is located in Rishikesh, used to send a special emissary to Mahatma Gandhi in recognition of his pursuit of brahmacharya as part of his struggle for Independence. He extended his support and the support of his organisation to Gandhiji and hailed him as a saint. Till today, the Divine Life Society celebrates in a special manner Gandhi Jayanti on October 2, every year by respectfully invoking his ideas on brahmacharya and inviting the Dalits to the sanctum of the society.
Environment is changed with Sex Urge
Such a man who undertook the arduous journey of controlling his senses was painfully aware of the artificial methods of multiplying sexual gratification, and even exhortation on the part of organised request groups to youth to embrace such methods. In the twenty-first century world, day in and day out, the electronic and print media is replete with news content and advertisements all the time alluding to sexual urges. On November 21, 1936, Mahatma Gandhi almost anticipated the heightening desire of the so-called civilised people to constantly emphasise on sex and make it every aspect of their collective life. He wrote: “Today our entire environment—our reading, our thinking, our social behaviour—is generally calculated to subserve and cater for the sex urge. To break through its coils is no easy task. But it is a task worthy of our highest endeavour …”
Ready to wait till eternity to attain freedom from sexual desire
He did engage himself in the laborious task of “breaking through its coils” till the very end of his life. Such a man can never be said to have any attitude, which the bisexuals have. In fact, he was willing to wait till eternity to reach that level of restraint, which would free him from sexual desires. He once wrote: “When sexual indulgence is regarded a virtue, it will be the undoing of man … Even if millions of years pass before the ideal of self-control is realised, I would wait. I have great patience. I am in no hurry to transform the world. But the advertisement of vice as virtue is intolerable …” These words are of immense significance for our time, which is witnessing the dangerous spread of HIV infection, due to the promiscuous nature of our society, where unfortunately every attempt is made to cater to sexual urges in an unrestrained manner and even justify the new sexual move, involving sexual contact between man and man.
Mutual faithful relationship and delayed sex
Few years back, there was an interesting write-up about a feeble trend developing in the United States of America, which was initiated by some youth groups. They started small clubs such as the club for mutual faithful relationship and another club for delayed sex. The objective of these clubs was to persuade youth to cultivate values of mutual faithful relationship among men and women, and delay as much as possible the sexual union between males and females. Such examples emanating from the land, which was responsible for breaking the barriers, which often prohibited men and women to freely pursue physical contact, sounded quite strange. Eventually, the promiscuous culture has taken its toll and people getting swayed away by such culture have realised its futility and experiencing dissolution of marriages and families. It is against such grim developments that Gandhiji’s cautionary words about unhindered sexual freedom bear importance to restore the moral momentum of our society.
Brahmacharya means achar to attain brahma
A life immersed in variety of activities will explore the infinite dimensions and celebrate its wholesome beauty. This will take one beyond the drudgery of mechanical life and keep one tuned to the unfolding and expanding avenues, which are quite often soothing and fulfilling. Such a life will help us control our passions. Mahatma Gandhi in his remarkable book Key to Health, written while he was in South Africa, observed: “This much I can say from my personal experience that one who keeps his hands and feet, eyes and ears, healthily occupied, does not have much difficulty in controlling the animal appetite. Everyone can test this for himself …”
He himself kept occupied in the mainstream of our freedom struggle and observed brahmacharya scrupulously. In its conventional and spiritual sense brahmacharya means achar (conduct) which will enable a person to attain brahma (God). In spite of Mahatma Gandhi strictly following that kind of conduct to attain the God, he used to be assailed by constant sex urges which he found very hard to control. When he was 79, he very candidly admitted that of all the passions, he found it extremely difficult to control the passion governing the lust. However, he was determined not to waver from his commitment to brahmacharya, which is narrowly understood as sexual abstinence and preservation of semen.
On many occasions, he publicly announced his failure to retain semen and whenever he lost it through involuntary ejaculation he felt guilty and categorically declared that he had not been living up to the highest ideal of brahmacharya. He did so once in Odisha during 1938 when he visited the province and addressed the public to mobilise their opinion and resources for the cause of our Independence.
He always attempted to rise above the conventional understanding of sexual union between man and woman, which rests on titillation of senses. He agreed that the notion of brahmacharya is in harmony with the purpose of procreation. He wrote about it in the Harijan on June 5, 1937. His words are illuminating and need to be underlined to put a check on the rising tide of promiscuous behaviour. He observed, “Sexual act, performed solely for the purpose of begetting offspring, is not inconsistent with the highest ideal of brahmacharya. Sexual intercourse, for the purpose of carnal satisfaction is reversion to animality, and it should, therefore, be man’s endeavour to rise above it …”
What is the whole hullabaloo about?
Decades after his death, Mahatma Gandhi remains a polarising figure admired by many, despised by some. So the arrival of a new book on him is a chance for those with well-formed opinions on Gandhiji to trot out all his trespasses, while those on the other end gear up for his defence.
Many books, plays and films have come out in recent years that have highlighted his indifference towards his wife, his remoteness as a father and his odd ways of testing his brahmacharya (celibacy) some even suggesting that he might have been gay.
In his book Great Soul: Mahatma Gandhi and His Struggle With India, Joseph Lelyveld, a former editor of The New York Times, writes about Gandhiji as the man who’s credited with leading India to Independence. Yet the book leaves its readers perplexed, owing to the many sexual and racially prejudiced references.
In the course of a serious exploration that traces the links between the beginning of Gandhiji’s political life in South Africa and its development in India, the book refers to his close relationship with a German-Jewish architect and bodybuilder, Hermann Kallenbach. The strong emotional bond between the two, who lived together for a while on Tolstoy Farm near Johannesburg, is more than borne out by the letters Gandhiji wrote to Kallenbach. “Your portrait (the only one) stands on my mantelpiece in my bedroom,” he wrote to Kallenbach. “The mantelpiece is opposite to the bed.”
Gandhiji wrote to Kallenbach about “how completely you have taken possession of my body. This is slavery with a vengeance.” Gandhiji made him promise not to “look lustfully upon any woman”. The two then pledged “more love, and yet more love … such love as they hope the world has not yet seen.”
They were parted when Gandhiji returned to India in 1914, since the German national could not get permission to travel to India during wartime though Gandhiji never gave up the dream of having him back, writing him in 1933 that “you are always before my mind’s eye”. Later, in his ashram, where even married “inmates” had to swear celibacy, Gandhiji said: “I cannot imagine a thing as ugly as the intercourse of men and women.”
In what is otherwise an admiring biography, it’s the bit about Gandhiji’s correspondence with Kallenbach that has been picked up and headlined. Reviewing the book, Daily Mail has concluded that Gandhiji was bisexual and left his wife to live with a German-Jewish bodybuilder. But as the Daily Mail’s review of the book created a storm in cyberspace, there was a barrage of protests not just from Gandhians who said this was “blasphemy”, but from the book’s author himself who denied having suggested anything of the sort.
The Wall Street Journal said Lelyveld’s book suggested Gandhiji who is revered as the father of independent India and an icon of non-violence protest was “a sexual weirdo, a political incompetent and a fanatical faddist”.
“Mr Lelyveld makes abundantly clear … the love of his life was a German-Jewish architect and bodybuilder, Hermann Kallenbach,” the Journal review said.
But Lelyveld said his book had been grossly distorted by the press coverage. “I do not allege that Gandhi is racist or bisexual,” he said in a statement. “The word ‘racist’ is used once to characterise comments by Gandhi early in his stay in South Africa… the chapter in no way concludes that he was a racist or offers any suggestion of it.”
Meanwhile in India, Gandhiji’s relatives and historians have said they are upset by the interpretation of Gandhiji’s letters to Kallenbach. However, there has been less or nearly no reaction to quote in the book in which Gandhi expresses racist attitude to Black South Africans.
In an interview with Mail Today, Tushar Gandhi, a great grandson of the Mahatma, said that Western writers have a “morbid fascination” with Gandhiji’s sexuality. However, he added: “No matter what you write about him, there are no repercussions. It is always open season with Gandhi.”
Union Law Minister Veerappa Moily’s announcement that the central government would ban the book has no justification, in terms of either law or common sense. The threatened ban on the book the contents of which Mr Moily dramatically described as “heresy” is based, at best, on a total misreading of it and, at worst, on no-reading but relying on grossly misleading reviews in a section of the western media.
The biography, Lelyveld said, does not claim that Gandhiji was bisexual; neither does it portray him as a racist. Mr Lelyveld quotes a Gandhian scholar in the book as characterising their relationship as “homoerotic” rather than “homosexual,” an interpretation one is free to dispute.
But surely, that cannot be a basis for banning a book as the Gujarat government has done with great eagerness (while Maharashtra is contemplating such an action). A resolution to ban the sale, distribution and reprint of the book was moved in the Assembly by Chief Minister Narendra Modi and it was promptly supported by the Leader of the Opposition Shaktisinh Gohil of the Congress. It was adopted unanimously and the government later issued a notification. The resolution requested the Centre to impose a similar ban all over the country and officially condemn the American writer’s “deplorable attempts to malign the great son of India”.
Mr Modi said no one in his right mind could accept the writer’s distorted notions on the life and actions of the Mahatma, who had earned respect and adorations from the people all over the world for his principles. “The people of Gujarat will never tolerate such insult to Gandhiji.”
Condemning the ban, Lelyveld said: “In a country (India) that calls itself a democracy, it is shameful to ban a book that no one has read, including the people who are doing the banning.
“They should at least make an effort to see the pages that they think offend them before they take such an extreme step. I find it very discouraging to think that India would so limit discussion.”
However, Tushar said he was against the culture of banning books and added: “How does it matter if the Mahatma was straight, gay or bisexual? … he would still be the man who led India to freedom.” He tweeted: “If the government of Maharashtra bans the book, it will be a greater insult to Bapu than that book or the author might have intended. I will challenge the ban.”
Writer K Sachidanandan said the plans to ban the book should be condemned. “Banning a book is not a democratic action,” he said.
Section 95 of the Code of Criminal Procedure empowers authorities to proscribe books if they contain material that breaches the peace or causes communal tension. The Supreme Court, which has consistently opposed crude attempts at censorship, has severely limited the use of Section 95 to ban books.
Gandhian scholar Tridip Suhrud goes on to give full marks to Lelyveld and the book. He says it is the first political biography of Gandhiji by an expert on apartheid. “It is a fascinating work. Lelyveld shows there is continuity in Gandhi as well as major points of departure. Gandhi of South Africa was not the same as Gandhi of Sabarmati ashram. And Gandhi of Sabarmati was not the same after Dandi March.” Lelyveld agrees: “The aim of Great Soul is to sift the evidence and facts of Gandhi’s life and discuss them in a careful, responsible and balanced way.”
The book, published in the US by Knopf, part of Random House Inc, is not yet available in India. For now, readers in India will have to be content with what they can glean from the overseas reviews of the book.
By Tulika Rattan
In fact, in his attempt to rise above it, he stressed on sex education to teach the children about the role of regenerative organs of human anatomy and make them learn about the conquest and sublimation of the sex passion. He wrote the following which is noteworthy in the context of the nationwide debate to include sex education in our school curricula. He observed, “Boys and girls cannot remain innocent for all time, no matter how hard we try. Therefore, it is advisable to tell them the facts of life at a certain age. If this knowledge leads any of them to misbehave themselves, we must not mind. As a matter of fact, such knowledge ought to strengthen one’s will to chastity. That is my own experience, at any rate …”
Pranayam and brahmacharya
Mahatma Gandhi did not follow any yogic method to control his passion. However, he threw light on pranayam and considered it a method to cleanse the body and mind of accumulated worldly desires and thoughts. It is stated by Swami Vivekananda in his book Raja Yoga that sexual thoughts entertained by a practitioner of raja yoga might make him/her insane. Therefore, practices concerning sex are prohibited in Yoga Shastra. However, those who progress in pranayam they, at some stage, will experience withdrawal of mind from sexual thoughts. No wonder, therefore, that Mahatma Gandhi prescribed pranayam to progress on the path of brahmacharya.
The Truth About Gandhi’s Sex Life
THRILL OF THE CHASTE
With religious chastity under scrutiny, a new book throws light on Gandhi’s practice of sleeping next to naked girls. In fact, he was sex-mad, writes biographer Jad Adams
It was no secret that Mohandas Gandhi had an unusual sex life. He spoke constantly of sex and gave detailed, often provocative, instructions to his followers as to how they might best observe chastity. And his views were not always popular—“abnormal and unnatural” was how the first Prime Minister of independent India, Jawaharlal Nehru, described Gandhi’s advice to newlyweds to stay celibate for the sake of their souls.
But was there something more complex than a pious plea for chastity at play in Gandhi’s beliefs, preachings and even his unusual personal practices (which included, alongside his famed chastity, sleeping naked next to nubile, naked women to test his restraint)? In the course of researching my new book on Gandhi—going through a hundred volumes of his complete works and many tomes of eye-witness material—details became apparent, which add up to a more bizarre sexual history.
Much of this material was known during his lifetime, but was distorted or suppressed after his death during the process of elevating Gandhi to the “Father of the Nation”. Was the Mahatma, in fact, as the pre-Independence prime minister of the Indian state of Travancore called him, “a most dangerous, semi-repressed sex maniac”?
Gandhi was born in the Indian state of Gujarat and married at 13 in 1883; his wife Kasturba was 14, not early by the standards of Gujarat at that time. The young couple had a normal sex life, sharing a bed in a separate room in his family home, and Kasturba was soon pregnant.
Two years later, as his father lay dying, Gandhi left his bedside to have sex with Kasturba. Meanwhile, his father drew his last breath. The young man compounded his grief with guilt that he had not been present, and represented his subsequent revulsion towards “lustful love” as being related to his father’s death.
However, Gandhi and Kasturba’s last child wasn’t born until fifteen years later, in 1900.
In fact, Gandhi did not develop his censorious attitude to sex (and certainly not to marital sex) until he was in his 30s, while a volunteer in the ambulance corps, assisting the British Empire in its wars in Southern Africa. On long marches, in sparsely populated land in the Boer War and the Zulu uprisings, Gandhi considered how he could best “give service” to humanity and decided it must be by embracing poverty and chastity.
At the age of 38, in 1906, he took a vow of brahmacharya, which meant living a spiritual life but is normally referred to as chastity, without which such a life is deemed impossible by Hindus.
Gandhi found it easy to embrace poverty. It was chastity that eluded him. So he worked out a series of complex rules, which meant he could say he was chaste while still engaging in the most explicit sexual conversation, letters and behaviour.
With the zeal of the convert, within a year of his vow, he told readers of his newspaper Indian Opinion: “It is the duty of every thoughtful Indian not to marry. In case he is helpless in regard to marriage, he should abstain from sexual intercourse with his wife.”
Meanwhile, Gandhi was challenging that abstinence in his own way. He set up ashrams in which he began his first “experiments” with sex—boys and girls were to bathe and sleep together, chastely, but were punished for any sexual talk. Men and women were segregated, and Gandhi’s advice was that husbands should not be alone with their wives, and, when they felt passion, should take a cold bath.
The rules did not, however, apply to him. Sushila Nayar, the attractive sister of Gandhi’s secretary, also his personal physician, attended Gandhi from girlhood. She used to sleep and bathe with Gandhi. When challenged, he explained how he ensured decency was not offended. “While she is bathing I keep my eyes tightly shut,” he said, “I do not know … whether she bathes naked or with her underwear on. I can tell from the sound that she uses soap.” The provision of such personal services to Gandhi was a much sought-after sign of his favour and aroused jealousy among the ashram inmates.
As he grew older (and following Kasturba’s death) he was to have more women around him and would oblige women to sleep with him—who, according to his segregated ashram rules, were forbidden to sleep with their own husbands. Gandhi would have women in his bed, engaging in his “experiments” which seem to have been, from a reading of his letters, an exercise in strip-tease or other non-contact sexual activity. Much explicit material has been destroyed but tantalising remarks in Gandhi’s letters remain such as: “Vina’s sleeping with me might be called an accident. All that can be said is that she slept close to me.” One might assume, then, that getting into the spirit of the Gandhian experiment meant something more than just sleeping close to him.
It can’t, one imagines, have helped with the “involuntary discharges” which Gandhi complained of experiencing more frequently since his return to India. He had an almost magical belief in the power of semen: “One who conserves his vital fluid acquires unfailing power,” he said.
Meanwhile, it seemed that challenging times required greater efforts of spiritual fortitude, and for that, more attractive women were required: Sushila, who in 1947 was 33, was now due to be supplanted in the bed of the 77-year-old Gandhi by a woman almost half her age. While in Bengal, to see what comfort he could offer in times of inter-communal violence in the run-up to Independence, Gandhi called for his 18-year-old grandniece Manu to join him and sleep with him. “We both may be killed by the Muslims,” he told her, “and must put our purity to the ultimate test, so that we know that we are offering the purest of sacrifices, and we should now both start sleeping naked.”
Such behaviour was no part of the accepted practice of bramacharya. He, by now, described his reinvented concept of a brahmachari as: “One who never has any lustful intention, who, by constant attendance upon God, has become proof against conscious or unconscious emissions, who is capable of lying naked with naked women, however beautiful, without being in any manner whatsoever sexually excited … who is making daily and steady progress towards God and whose every act is done in pursuance of that end and no other.” That is, he could do whatever he wished, so long as there was no apparent “lustful intention”. He had effectively redefined the concept of chastity to fit his personal practices.
Thus far, his reasoning was spiritual, but in the maelstrom that was India approaching Independence, he took it upon himself to see his sex experiments as having national importance. “I hold that true service of the country demands this observance,” he stated.
But while he was becoming bolder in his self-righteousness, Gandhi’s behaviour was widely discussed and criticised by family members and leading politicians. Some members of his staff resigned, including two editors of his newspaper who left after refusing to print parts of Gandhi’s sermons dealing with his sleeping arrangements.
But Gandhi found a way of regarding the objections as a further reason to continue. “If I don’t let Manu sleep with me, though I regard it as essential that she should,” he announced, “wouldn’t that be a sign of weakness in me?”
Eighteen-year-old Abha, the wife of Gandhi’s grandnephew Kanu Gandhi, rejoined Gandhi’s entourage in the run-up to Independence in 1947 and by the end of August he was sleeping with both Manu and Abha at the same time.
When he was assassinated in January 1948, it was with Manu and Abha by his side. Despite her having been his constant companion in his last years, family members, tellingly, removed Manu from the scene. Gandhi had written to his son: “I have asked her to write about her sharing the bed with me,” but the protectors of his image were eager to eliminate this element of the great leader’s life. Devdas, Gandhi’s son, accompanied Manu to Delhi station where he took the opportunity of instructing her to keep quiet.
Questioned in the 1970s, Sushila revealingly placed the elevation of this lifestyle to a brahmacharya experiment was a response to criticism of this behaviour. “Later on, when people started asking questions about his physical contact with women, with Manu, with Abha, with me the idea of brahmacharya experiments was developed … in the early days, there was no question of calling this a brahmacharya experiment.” It seems that Gandhi lived as he wished, and only when challenged did he turn his own preferences into a cosmic system of rewards and benefits. Like many great men, Gandhi made up the rules as he went along.
While it was commonly discussed as damaging his reputation when he was alive, Gandhi’s sexual behaviour was ignored for a long time after his death. It is only now that we can piece together information for a rounded picture of Gandhi’s excessive self-belief in the power of his own sexuality. Tragically for him, he was already being sidelined by the politicians at the time of Independence. The preservation of his vital fluid did not keep India intact, and it was the power-brokers of the Congress Party who negotiated the terms of India’s freedom.
Gandhi: Naked Ambition is published by Quercus (£20). To order a copy for the special price of £18 (free P&P) call Independent Books Direct on 08430 600 030, Courtesy: The Independent (UK)
Gandhi’s experiment to test his brahmacharya
Gandhi has often been criticised for his experiments to test his capacity to withstand temptations for sex. He did so by sleeping with young girls. I think few will approve of it. However, it is important to understand it from his perspective. It is mentioned above that he wanted to be brahmachari, which meant that he wanted to control all his senses including sex drive. In the tradition of yoga it is said that somebody who has established mastery over his senses would not find any difference in touching a woman and stone. The ideal type of brahmachari would be unaffected by desire for lust and other desires. It has been explained in greater detail in several scriptures of Hinduism. Gandhi wanted to be such a brahmachari and, in fact, wrote in greater detail that a person after having controlled his senses will not be influenced by sexual thoughts and even if he gets penile erections that would not be caused by any desire to have intercourse with a woman. After having tried for several decades to curb his sex urge he wanted to find out if he was entirely free from it in a situation where he had the opportunity to share bed with a woman. It was a kind of examination which he conducted for himself to find out his ability to withstand sexual attractions. The fact that he made it open and let everybody know about it testified to his transparent approach to life. Yet again he proved beyond doubt that he never kept anything secret in his life.
Gandhi considered himself closer to women
In many places Gandhi wrote that he considered himself closer to women than men. Wife of Jayaprakash Narayan, Shrimati Prabhavati, even discussed her menstrual problems with him in a very frank manner. She used to write in greater detail about the tribulations she faced due to irregular periods and prolonged bleeding. Such incidents in the life of Mahatma Gandhi might prompt somebody to dub him a man who interfered too much in the private lives of women.
The author of the book Great Soul pleaded guilty for having focussed attention on the select lines from Gandhi-Kallenbach correspondence, which from the perspective of changed sexual preference of western society may prompt people to understand Gandhi as bisexual. Such understanding is wrong and prejudiced.
Mahatma Gandhi famously said: “My life is my message.” The author has missed the message and has done violence to the great soul referring to whom Einstein said that he was the greatest political genius of twentieth century and “Generations to come will scarce believe that such a man as this, ever walked on this earth”.
The author is senior civil servant.
By Satya Narayana Sahu