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Mahatma Gandhi returns with revised account of early years

Tuesday October 02, 2012 04:54:29 PM, Madhusree Chatterjee, IANS

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New Delhi: ahatma Gandhi has returned to Gen Next with an account of his early life. He originally wrote it 80 years ago.

"My Early Life," a book Gandhi wrote in 1932, appears now in a new edition published by Oxford University Press under the title, "My Early Life: An Illustrated Story", to mark Gandhi's 143rd birth anniversary.

The book, first edited by Gandhi's close associate Mahadev Desai, has now been annotated by Gandhian scholar Lalita Zackariah. Saurav Chatterjee has provided black and white illustrations.

The book offers young readers funny asides from Gandhi's essays, and covers the period between 1869-1914 in his life.

"I have tried to make the book interesting for today's boys and girls. Children want to see pictures in Gandhi's original writings because today's young readers are much more clued into various other things other than the printed word. They are adult children," Lalita Zackariah, annotator of the book, told IANS.

Zackariah said the book was relevant today as it throws light on the values that "Gandhi held dear for children".

"It teaches children to grow up with a purpose in life, understand the importance of taking a vow, and instils the virtues that influenced Gandhi," Zackariah said.

"Gandhi spoke about the value of self-cooking so that children could stand on their feet later in life. He urged children to use their own hands, and warned against smoking while also advocating vegetarianism," she said.

Zackariah said she has tried to give Gandhi a down-to-earth character in the new edition by demystifying his concepts of freedom.

"Today's generation might find the concept of Satyagraha an abstraction. But he was very humane and had a terrific sense of humour. I have tried to highlight what was funny in his life," Zackariah said.

Gandhi in his book writes that he was married to Kasturba when he was still in high school. Around this time, he befriended one of his brother's associates who told him that many important people, including Gandhi's teachers and some high school boys in Rajkot, were eating meat and drinking wine in secret.

"I asked my friend the reason and he explained it thus: 'We are weak people because we do not eat meat. The English are able to rule over us because they are meat-eaters... Meat-eaters do not have any boils or tumours and even if they have any, they heal quickly," Gandhi writes in his book. The thought stayed on with the young Gandhi till one day he decided to eat meat to overcome his fears of darkness and grow stronger.

However, the vegetarian from a Vaishnavite family could not eat goat's meat and baker's bread. "Every time, I would drop off to sleep, it was as though a live goat was bleating inside me. And I would jump up full of remorse. But then I would remind myself that meat-eating was a duty, so take heart," Gandhi wrote.

In one of the funny references to Gandhi's goat from his own essays, the book reproduces an anecdote:

When Gandhi was travelling from New York to Mexico by car, the car halted at a wayside service station for supplies. The attendant scanning Gandhi's Indian costume could not restrain himself:

"Which country do you come from?" the attendant asked.

Gandhi said, "India".

"India eh, How is good ol' Gandhi?"

"Fine", said Gandhi.

"Is he still fasting?"


"How's the goat?"

"Going strong".






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