India Today - - INSIDE - ( Aroon Purie)

There are some peo­ple who cre­ate his­tory. And then there are oth­ers who oc­cupy his­tory’s foot­notes. Mo­han­das Karam­c­hand Gandhi led the world’s sec­ond most pop­u­lous na­tion to its in­de­pen­dence with his unique method of non- vi­o­lent protest. His place in his­tory books is in­deli­ble. Mridula Gandhi is best known for be­ing one of the two be­spec­ta­cled young women who were by Gandhi’s side when he was as­sas­si­nated by Nathu­ram Godse on Jan­uary 30, 1948. Also known as Manuben, she was Gandhi’s grand­niece, as­sis­tant and part­ner in what some re­gard as his con­tro­ver­sial ex­per­i­ments with celibacy. Much less is known about her, though sev­eral books on Gandhi have men­tioned her role in his life. But given that she was con­stantly at his side in the his­tor­i­cally cru­cial pe­riod be­tween De­cem­ber 1946 and Jan­uary 1948, her per­sonal views of the Ma­hatma are im­por­tant foot­notes which would only en­rich our knowl­edge of the man we all re­gard as the Fa­ther of the Na­tion.

Dur­ing her time with Gandhi, Manuben wrote 10 per­sonal di­aries which run into a to­tal of 2,000 pages. Shortly af­ter Gandhi’s death, his youngest son Dev­das ex­plic­itly in­structed her not to re­veal them in pub­lic. In the event, those di­aries, writ­ten in Gu­jarati, were never put out into the pub­lic do­main un­til as re­cently as 2010. In this ex­clu­sive cover story pack­age, we bring to our read­ers key ex­cerpts of the first English trans­la­tion of those di­aries.

It seems that Manuben willed the di­aries to her niece Meena Jain on her death at the age of 40 in 1969. Her niece stored the di­aries in her fam­ily home in Rewa, Mad­hya Pradesh. It was only in 2010 that she, with the help of her friend Var­sha Das who was then di­rec­tor of the Gandhi Mu­seum in Delhi, en­sured the di­aries were de­posited in the National Ar­chives. Af­ter much re­search, IN­DIA TO­DAY’s Se­nior Edi­tor Uday Mahurkar lo­cated the di­aries. It took sev­eral months of hard work to ac­cu­rately trans­late and in­ter­pret the di­aries. Mahurkar col­lab­o­rated with Ahmed­abad- based aca­demic Rizwan Kadri in this task.

The con­tent of the di­aries throws new light on Gandhi and his in­ner cir­cle of com­pan­ions and ad­vis­ers. While it is well known that Gandhi slept naked with sev­eral young women— in­clud­ing Manuben— to test his willpower and com­mit­ment to celibacy, the story is mostly told from his point of view. In th­ese di­aries, we get a rare glimpse from the point of view of one of the sub­jects of his ‘ ex­per­i­ments’ who, at the age of 17 in 1946, was 60 years younger than Gandhi. What emerges is that while Manuben and the other women were will­ing part­ners in his ex­per­i­ments, there was a con­stant air of jeal­ousy and in­se­cu­rity in the cir­cle. Un­like oth­ers, Manuben also had to deal with the at­ten­tion of Gandhi’s sec­re­tary Pyare­lal who wanted to marry her. That Pyare­lal’s sis­ter Sushila Na­yar was one of Gandhi’s com­pan­ions made things more com­pli­cated.

Manuben’s story is one with­out a happy end­ing. Gandhi, whom she refers to as her ‘ mother’, died when she was just 19. Manuben died in 1969 in Delhi while on a coun­try- wide tour to cel­e­brate Gandhi’s birth cen­te­nary. She never mar­ried. The di­aries re­veal the depth of her at­tach­ment to Gandhi.

In In­dia, we some­times like to eu­lo­gise Gandhi as a saint and an in­fal­li­ble fig­ure. Gandhi did not think he was flaw­less. He was absolutely open about his ex­per­i­ments. When crit­i­cised about sleep­ing naked with Manuben he re­marked, “If I don’t let Manu sleep with me, though I re­gard it as es­sen­tial that she should, wouldn’t that be a sign of weak­ness in me?” Gandhi’s great­ness was that he was al­ways trans­par­ent in his ac­tions and wel­comed crit­i­cism, so sorely miss­ing from our pol­i­tics to­day.


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