Gandhi and the Ali Brothers, Biography of a Friendship, Rakhahari Chatterji, Sage Publication, Pp 248, Rs. 695, Sage Publications India Pvt Ltd
Subodh Kumar Sharma
No one has any misgivings about the role played by Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi in the Indian struggle for freedom. The world venerates him for his ‘non-violent’ approach against the might of the British, efforts to bring about changes in Indian society through powerful movements and the world’s perspective towards India, in his own way. He was the voice of India. No one argued his beliefs, convictions and actions that he deemed were good for India. Yet, one is bound to wonder if all his actions were infallibly correct!
Here, then, is an example of one of the greatest misconceptions that the great man harbored throughout his life, without understanding for what it actually was; a mirage. The outcome of his wistful thinking was enough to shatter the man’s dream, which was, but the only eventuality.
Rakhahari Chatterji in his book discusses this very aspect. One can easily understand and perhaps, even empathise with Gandhi’s fervent desire to make the Muslims an integral part of the Independence struggle; for he was convinced that ‘Freedom’ could only be attained through Hindu – Muslim unity. Noble indeed! Nothing wrong at all with this thought.
However, in his pursuit of this idea, which had turned into a fixation, Gandhi could not properly assess the community, the uncompromising attitude of those with whom he associated. ‘He saw possibilities, where there were none’. ‘Khilafat-non-cooperation Movement was Gandhi’s first direct intervention in an exclusively Muslims’ question that he turned into a national question. He invested 10 long years in this misadventure. Later, he would call it ‘Himalayan Miscalculation’ in his autobiography.
Chatterji, obviously, has done his homework well. His style of presenting the characters is top-notch. The real nature of Mohamad Ali is sketched out unmistakably with his own quotes, writings, correspondence with Gandhi, and speeches.
The book is spread over Eight Chapters. Chatterji starts off with an introduction to the concept of Communitarianism, Multiculturism and Gandhism with ample references to renowned scholars. This is followed by a history of the Khilafat Movement. The characters of the three key-players involved are beautifully sketched in the third. The author aptly calls the fourth chapter ‘ Love At First Sight’ drawing out the craze that drove Gandhi to this gargantuan misadventure. The fifth, sixth and the seventh chapters show the differences that ultimately led to the inevitable end. The final chapter deals with the conclusions and as also with the views of prominent persons involved in the Indian freedom struggle. The book is a magnificent work on the period that it talks about, exploring so many aspects and enlightening us of the harsh realities that today prove to be the ‘The Cause’ for a majority of our problems.
The author takes us through the turbulent times of history where he talks about the world scenario, circumstances in Europe, the dwindling powers of the Caliphate, the two major centres of Islamic scholarship in India – Deoband and Firangi Mahal’s role, the Pan-Islamism, demonisation of the Hindus, the fears of the wealthy Musalmans.
He also very clearly depicts stance taken by prominent Muslim leaders in their approach to Indian freedom struggle and their definition of the word ‘Nationality’. Take for instance, the much venerated Md. Iqbal, who rejected the nationalist discourse. Sample what he said “I am a Muslim first”. How many from the younger generation know that Md. Iqbal disowned his song Sare jahan se accha, Hindustan hamara’? Or Sir Sayyid Ahmed Khan’s pro-British approach, where he urged the Muslim students of the now ‘Aligarh Muslim University’ to keep away from Indian National Congress as he saw no possibility of a common political destiny along with the Hindus.
The partition of Bengal, the wicked schemes of the British behind the move, the misguided mindset of the Muslims when it was put on hold due to tremendous resistance from all quarters of India, the issue of ‘Hindi’ as a language, the Muslim opposition to ‘one man, one vote’ proposal, etc make splendid reading. One must remember here that these are based on documented and historical facts.
What, actually is mind boggling, is the fact that comes across intensely – ‘Minority Appeasement’ right from 1917. Gandhi’s obsession to win over the hearts of the Muslims forced him to compromise with many issues dear to the majority. He always insisted on the majority community to show a big-hearted approach towards the Muslims, while maintaining a studied silence with regards to the sensitivities of the Hindus.
How could Gandhi, a man of great understanding, fail to see the dangers and perils that lay in the path chosen by him? Gandhi hit the limits, when he admitted the Muslim community’s right of self-determination in post-Independent India.
Is this not the legacy that Gandhi bequeathed to the Congress Party which pursues it with unwavering commitment even 66 years after achieving Independence? The Muslims, who were frightened for their lives in pre-Independent India and forcibly carved out a separate country, have waged two wars; have been responsible for the loss of countless lives through cross-border terrorist activities.
And yet, time and again Muslims in India clamour for more largesse in the form of reservations and raise the bogey of indifference towards them. Why only India, look at the world events unfolding today and one cannot fail to understand the simple fact that those who practice this kind of Islam will never listen or understand the concept of ‘peaceful-co-existence.
(The reviewer is Consultant, Content Generation and Translation, Sanskrit Promotion Foundation, New Delhi)
Wisely foolish dilemma
Wise Enough to be Foolish, Gauri Jayaram, Jaico Books, Pp 205, Rs 225.00
This is a fictionalised memoir of a girl named Gauri, who seems to drift through life like a rudderless boat. At the age of 26 when she has been married for just six months, she finds that her husband goes out of home daily, saying that he is watching football with friends. She tells herself that in modern-day marriages, the husband does his own things and the wife her own “and, as life goes on, we will find the time to do things together.” Called “space”, she finds that in her marriage, there is more “space” than togetherness.
She remembers her childhood days as an Army personnel’s daughter with an elder brother and a younger sister. This leads her to suffer from what she calls the ‘middle child syndrome’. She grows up into an incredibly jealous girl as she is devoid of parental attention; and because her brother is the pampered one, she imitates all that he does to please her parents. At this, they reprimand her constantly and lecture her on how ‘un-girly’ she is.
She meets a handsome boy called Saiff in school and he promises to take her out on a date if she stands among the first three in her exams. She studies day and night and comes first not only in her class, but in the whole school. She then learns he is dating another girl. This is a big blow to her self-esteem, but she appreciates that he has taught her to become “a marks-scoring lioness in the jungle of the school.”
Her Maths teacher prods her to take to athletics instead of playing football in school. She does so and goes on to become the school champion, followed by winning in the State and national championships. She completes her schooling and after failing to get admission in SRCC, Delhi, she joins Sydenham College at Mumbai due to her exceptional sports achievements, She enrols in the hostel for three years and tries to adjust to a new world – a world so different from the one she has come. College proves a disappointment for her – “School had been intimate and fun. College was huge and impersonal.”
Gauri falls in love with a Parsi boy but when she discovers what he wants, she dumps him.
While staying away from home, she becomes close to her younger sister and one day she learns that the latter is being abused by the same doctor friend of her parents who had abused her for years. She calls him home and in front of her parents ridicules him. “No one can understand the humiliation and guilt that abused children live with, and no child deserves to live with it,” she says.
On returning home after her graduation, she breaks her one-year old friendship with Rahul as he asks her to convert to Christianity before getting married. She refuses.
She returns to Mumbai after staying with her parents for three months filled with intermittent fights. Her friends Hiten and Jigme get married. They have a son and when Jigme is expecting their second child, Hiten tells Gauri that he doesn’t like his wife any more and is in an unhappy relationship where “no day is like any other, no people are alike and no lesson the same.”
Gauri fears that is how every marriage is ordained to end and she becomes wary of the institution, though she continues befriending boys. She befriends Suraj and when they are on the verge of getting engaged, she beats a hasty retreat. Escaping from Suraj’s clutches, she lands straight into Zaid’s arms to become his live-in partner. The day before she turns 25, she marries him but a few days later, discovers that he is two-timing her. She turns him out of her flat.
She takes to playing squash “to heal my soul.” She wonders, “Is there anything at all in the world comparable with what travelling does for the human spirit?” So while travelling all over the US, she starts chatting to Uday on e-mail and decides to marry him in Chennai without having met him once. What makes her take such a risky step? Her reply is, “My life had made me Wise Enough to be Foolish.”
(The reviewer is former Editor National Book Trust)a