FROM THE EDITOR- IN- CHIEF
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.