Dan Sandman

30: An Autobiography by M.K. Gandhi

In Autobiography, Books, Non-Fiction on 25/07/2014 at 12:00 pm

An Autobiography by M.K. GandhiGandhi begun his life in India and was married at the age of thirteen. Still a teenager, Gandhi traveled to Britain where he was educated to become a lawyer. Following a short stay back home, Gandhi found employment in South Africa and begun to work towards a fairer deal for Indian immigrants. He later returned to India and united its people into a national movement. This led India to independence in 1947 through non-violent protest.

First published as a book in 1927, this classic autobiography is easy to follow and is broken into small chapters. It was originally written in serial form for Gandhi’s own newspaper under the title ‘The Story of My Experiments with Truth’. Gandhi was a committed self-experimenter and put his body under great pressure in search of the truth. When he travels to Britain, Gandhi becomes fascinated with the vegetarian and theosophic movements. Later, he adopts adopts a fruit only diet and believes that God is guiding him away from carnal desire. During an outbreak of the black plague in South Africa, Gandhi treats his patients with water, whilst a nurse treats her patients with whiskey. The nurse and her patients die, Gandhi and his patients survive. By choosing to tell this story in such a way, Gandhi portrays himself as a Christ-like figure, saving lives through a deep connection with God.

Alongside his work as a lawyer and politician, Gandhi worked as a spiritual leader, guiding his followers towards satyagraha (a sort of search for truth). As a student of English, I have been taught to be skeptical of anyone who claims to have authority on the word ‘truth’. The monetary figures (£3) and specific dates (1914) in this book could be backed up with evidence, but I think Gandhi has carefully crafted a story which presents himself as a saint. In clear prose, Ghandi presents himself a man willing to take any sacrifice for the good of his fellow Indians, a hero who accomplishes great things through diplomacy and spiritual courage. And although in many ways he was a saintly person, his inflated ego and apparent transparency can sometimes reveal a darker side.

After travelling back to India, Gandhi experiments by travelling third class. He is somewhat contradictory when he criticizes both the railway system and its passengers. Gandhi argues that the guards treat the citizens poorly, then attacks the public because they smell badly. Perhaps when Gandhi claims to have authority on truth, he means authority on his own opinions – some of which are based on prejudice. He was after all a flawed human being, yes a man who achieved great things, but – as can be the case when political writers come from privileged backgrounds – Gandhi is somewhat appalled when confronted by the very people he wishes to save.

Several of Ghandi’s experiments would have been deemed wacky one hundred years ago, now they are likely to be read by liberal westerners as the ideas of an eccentric man. Personally, I admire this autobiography for its plain style and its ability to spark off thoughtful reflection. Although I would not undertake most of these experiments, I very much like the concept of seeing one’s life as a series of chosen steps by which we can climb. This story is one man’s search towards meaning in a world that does not make sense.

A very important book.

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  1. Gandhi… He was one hell of a man. Personally, I never admired him but when I got the opportunity to portray him in a school play, it changed the way I thought about him. Now I call him Gandhiji… 🙂

    • He was indeed, as you say, one hell of a man and admirable in many ways. Regrettably, I can’t remember Gandhi appearing in any school I have seen. 🙂

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