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"Gandhi and his Women" - A Biography

Girja Kumar

Gandhi and his Women is a biography within a biography with focus on individual women. The context is substantial based on his extensive correspondence and the narrative lets him speak for himself. His words sparkle and dance. There is never a dull moment in his correspondence. There is enough comic relief provided by him when he talks of food fads, or is feeling guilty about nocturnal discharges at seventy, or trying to explain away the other woman in his life, or when he advises married couples to stay separately in pursuit of the perfect state of brahmacharya. Indeed all his life he was is search of an ideal woman of his imagination.

Mahatma Gandhi is one of the most charismatic personalities of our times. There were however two Gandhis. The public Gandhi was a statesman playing according to the rules of the game. The private Gandhi was altogether a different personality. He felt very much relaxed in the company of women.

Invariably he was surrounded by young girls and women in his ashram. They were his mascots. They were also his playthings. They flattered him, they laughed with him, they cajoled him at times, and they competed with each other over the privilege of sharing his bed. Yet they were all daughters and sisters to him.

Mahatma Gandhi was definitely a father-figure to the host of women surrounding him. The messiah of celibacy (brahmacharya) had sixteen women associates closely allied with him from 1906 to 1948. Possible a few of them viewed him as a mystical lover. He was very informal with them and they in turn felt at home with him.

The Mahatma (or the Great Man) advocated lifelong celibacy as the road to salvation of mankind. He sired four sons, but practiced celibacy during the next four decades. Having denied sexuality he was intensely focused on it. Sexuality had become an obsession magnifique with him. He attempted to explore its limits under laboratory conditions. His practice had no sanction in religion or tradition. He became the subject of raging controversies involving him and his political associates.

He admitted to nine of his women associates having shared bed with him or without clothes at one time or the other. The last of them was Manu Gandhi, the granddaughter of his own brother. What was he trying to prove to himself and the world? His laboratory experiments were in pursuit of reaffirming the principle of celibate living in most adverse circumstances.

It was however women not sex which remained the focus of his attention throughout his life. He would have loved to transform himself into a woman. He was both mother and father to his women associates. His ideal world was a world populated by self-inspired eunuchs. He would have felt at home with the exponents of women’s lib.

The great man is the fittest subject for psychological analysis along with the great figures of history like Michelangelo, Martin Luther and Sigmund Freud. His voluminous correspondence is contained in one hundred volumes of his collected works: those are a rich minefield waiting to be exploited. Rightly his close relations with women constitute a biography with a biography.

Of his sixteen women associates, six were foreigners and the remaining nine were of Indian vintage. They came and went out of his life in the cameos one following the other. In their totality were represented the whole range of human emotions: Domineering, vivacious, independent-minded, helpless, dull, defiant, quarrelsome, snooty, cold, stupid, hysteric, comic, tragic, kittenish and suicidal. Thus Gandhi savoured the whole brahamand (universe) of human emotion in the female universe enveloping him.

One of the most fascinating character in his life happened to be his wife Kasturba. She was illiterate, apolitical and tradition bound. Here was a remarkable conjugal relation between her and a charismatic but overbearing husband. The denial of sex in conjugal love by them was immaterial, because at the subconscious level it was pure and simple sensual relationship. Kasturba maintained her individuality away from her and kept a watchful eye on him constantly.

The present study consists of twenty-seven chapters (plus a detailed who’s who). The first three chapters provide and inside into the ideology of brahmacharya and his worldview of womanhood. The next four chapters are devoted to Kasturba Gandhi, depicted as Mother Courage of the Gandhian era. The remaining nineteen chapters are devoted to individual women associates in close interaction with him. The last chapter places Mahatma Gandhi and his women in the context of Indian theory of aesthetics of rasa.

Gandhi was a Freudian without knowing about Freud and so was he an aesthete in the context of Indian tradition without realizing it.

((Girja Kumar is the Retired Librarian of JNU, New Delhi. His last work is on censorship in India entitled, The Book on Trial: Fundamentalism and Censorship in India (1997). If you have any comments about this article, please contact him directly at K-14, Rajouri Garden, New Delhi –110027. He may also be contacted at arunkumar@sdalt.ernet.in) )

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