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My Experiments with Truth - A Book Review
About the author:
Mahatma Gandhi (1869–1948) was a charismatic leader. He struggled for freedom. His philosophy of nonviolence and Satyagraha has influenced resistance movements. For Gandhi, Truth was the sovereign principle. His principles have influenced people throughout the world.
Gandhi was a Lawyer. He had no experience as a writer though he was a great reader. He wrote the autobiography, inspired by Swami Anand and his other co-workers, in his mother-tongue Gujarati.
About the translator:
Mahadev Desai (1892—1942), a journalist, was born in 1892 in the Surat district of Gujarat. He graduated from the Bombay University with B.A. (first class).
Each chapter in the book is an important learning lesson to Gandhi. In this autobiography, Gandhi has recounted the period from his birth (1869) up to the year 1921.
Mahatma Gandhi was born in Porbandar, Gujarat on October 2. He was the youngest of three sons. Books were his only companions in his school days. His mother was very religious and influenced his life immensely. His parents taught him to put virtue before wealth. At the age of thirteen he got married to Kasturba. In 1887 Gandhi left India to go to England to study law. His mother made him to promise that he will be away from wine, women and meat. In England he joined a vegetarian society. He was introduced to the Bible there and the Sermon on the Mount was his favorite reading. He expanded himself to study the principles of world religions.
He traveled to South Africa as a barrister in 1893 and signed a one-year contract; however he remained there over twenty years. During this time he fought against racial discrimination and apartheid. In 1896, Gandhi was attacked and insulted by white South Africans. Gandhi began to teach a policy of passive resistance and non-cooperation to fight the South African authorities. Part of the inspiration for this policy came from the Russian writer Leo Tolstoy, teachings of Christ and Thoreau. It was at this time that he introduced and followed the principle of Satyagraha. During the Boer War, Gandhi organized an ambulance corps for the British army and commanded a Red Cross unit. After the war he returned to his campaign for Indian rights. In 1903 he set up office to be an attorney in Johannesburg. He also wrote his own newspaper for the Indian people called, “The Indian Opinion.” He was sent to prison in 1908 for encouraging the people to revolt. In 1910, he founded Tolstoy Farm, near Durban, a cooperative colony for Indians. In 1914 the government of the Union of South Africa accepted his demands, including recognition of Indian marriages and abolition of the poll tax for them.
His work in South Africa was completed. He returned to India and went on a country wide tour to get familiar with the problems prevailing among the people. He found that in addition to British government's laws there was a need to fight against untouchability, poverty and class system. To be able to fight for poor he himself became poor and started leading an extremely simple life. His weapons were still non violence and truth. His first success came when he refused to pay fine for his release from prison at Champaran. Court then released him without any fine. It was followed by his hunger strike for the rights of mill workers in Kheda, Gujarat. It was a huge success and he became famous throughout the country. Government was afraid of him. People started following his principles and Indian war of independence then started on full force.
The book assumes that the reader is aware of contemporary happenings. Also the book is full of people and detailed incidents e.g., Gandhi has not given any introduction about Indian National Congress and directly speaks about his involvement with the party. The sequence of the happenings in his life is really interesting and worthy of being written as a book. Gandhi is arrested in Champaran as his arrival in the village caused tension. He is fined by the court but he refuses to pay. Judges and police get frightened at the number of people collected outside the court in support of Gandhi and so they release him without any fine. Many such incidents seem like movie story.
Important people subjects and places:
He has given complete picture of his life highlighting all aspects. His experiments with dietics and naturopathy, his internal conflicts and compromises with his wife kasturba and his friends attempt to convert him from Hindu to either Christianity or Islam was interesting.
The book gives us a glimpse of then South Africa and the seriousness of the problem of apartheid. Description of his country wide tour of India gives us a good picture of conditions existing then. His various meetings with famous people like Gokhale, Tilak, Vallabh bhai patel, Motilal Nehru, Jawaharlal Nehru etc shows us how India was full of stalwarts (where are they now???).
This book is more of a confession than an autobiography, true to the title indeed. Narration style is interesting enough to keep the reader involved with the book for e.g., the incident where Gandhi refuses to copy in a test despite his teacher asking him to do it. In an interesting way Gandhi has told us not to cheat with our conscience. The book never seems boring and language used is simple. So there is no much use of a dictionary. The book is rather rigid and text-book like. It has started with a beautiful introduction and ended by one page caption---farewell.
The style of writing here is different from that of Jawaharlal Nehru’s "Discovery of India". While "My experiments with truth" is simple and deals with the practical problems of daily existence, "Discovery of India" is scholarly and poetic as the phrases like "waxing and waning of the moon", and other idioms are used. This is quite in keeping with the contrasting personalities of Gandhi and Jawaharlal Nehru. While both were sincere to the cause of India’s freedom, Gandhi was humble and practical while Nehru was a dreamer and impulsive.
Mahatma Gandhi is arguably one of the most influential and respected figures in modern history. Biographies, documentaries and films have portrayed him. But this book is his own and offers an insight into his mind and soul. He talks of the experiences that have shaped his thinking, where he has gone wrong and the lessons he has learnt. Finally I would say that the book is a must read.
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