Gandhi on Gandhi

Pat McGrath, The Ottawa Citizen

Rajmohan Gandhi, a professor and the grand son of Mahatma Gandhi, will be speaking at the Museum of Civilization today. Photograph by : Pat McGrath, The Ottawa Citizen

Gandhi on Gandhi
Scholar speaks on Hinduism, grandfather
Jennifer Green, The Ottawa Citizen
Published: Saturday, October 11, 2008

Mahatma Gandhi was not only a hero, but a committed Hindu and complex human who blundered, sorrowed, and even fell in love, says his grandson and biographer.

Rajmohan Gandhi, author of Gandhi: The Man, His People and The Empire, will talk in Ottawa today on Gandhi and the Hindu Tradition.

“Current Hindu extremism is a grave reality,” Mr. Gandhi said in an interview yesterday. “These attacks on nuns and priests, it’s most disturbing.”

Mr. Gandhi teaches at the University of Illinois, specializing in Southeast East Asia and Middle Eastern studies. He believes comfortable elites incite the lowest in Indian society, the Dalits or untouchables, and the tribal groups.

“They have succeeded in deflecting the anger against high castes, and redirected it to Muslims and Christians. They are told that they will be in the lead defending Hindu society. The elevated position being offered, it feels empowering. Meanwhile, the forces behind the riots and violence stay safe in their homes.

They themselves will not be caught by the arms of the law.”

Although the professor will lecture on Hinduism, the 73-year-old descendent of the Mahatma knows people really want to hear about his grandfather.

“Every person who meets me wants me to relate personal memories. On the other hand, most people have warm feelings about Gandhi and that translates into a cordial feeling towards me.

A brother of mine he used to say if we did something good or even courageous, everyone said, ‘so what, you’re a Gandhi,’ but if you did something bad, it was, ‘how dare you!”’

The professor has spent many years researching his grandfather’s life.

“He was a slave to his conscience … as a result I think he made a remarkable new version of Hinduism. To many Hindus, their religion is just a matter of following certain rules but Gandhi brought the ethical to the foreground.

He liberated Hinduism from mere ritual.”

Still, he was not always as kind to his family as he was to the rest of the world. To his great sorrow, he was estranged from his eldest son after refusing to pay for higher education. He criticized another son who tried to help this estranged brother, dismissing him as “weak.”

Despite his well-known celibacy, when he was about 45 he developed a romantic passion for an accomplished but married woman who was also active with social issues. Various family members intervened and the affair of the heart came to an end.

Mr. Gandhi speaks at 2 p.m. today at the Museum of Civilization 100 Laurier St., in Gatineau. Admission is free.


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