Gandhi Jayanti: Get To Know The Mahatma Better With These Books

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In times when social media did not exist, this apostle of peace and Ahimsa (non-violence), Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi, held sway over the nation and was one of the world’s biggest influencers. The man at the forefront of India’s freedom struggle, worshipped by some, criticised by others, the proponent of the powerful tool Satyagraha, is quite an enigma.On his birthday, October 2, turn the pages of these books on The Father of the Nation to get a glimpse into the life and times of Bapu, Mahatma Gandhi, the man, whose thoughts and philosophy have inspired movements throughout the world.

1) The Story of My Experiments with Truth: An Autobiography by M. K. Gandhi

What could surpass reading about Mahatma Gandhi in his own words? In the introduction, M K Gandhi talks of his apprehensions about writing his autobiography, as it was a practice peculiar to the West. There was also the possibility of a shift in the mindset, of the change in the set of principles he adhered to, a revision of his future plans, which could influence those who based their conduct on his words. So, he decided to tell the story of his numerous experiments with Absolute Truth. The unusual autobiography covers his life from early childhood through to 1921. It is a window to the workings of Mahatma Gandhi’s mind, to the emotions of his heart, to understanding what drove this seemingly ordinary man to the heights of being the father of a nation – India. In 1999, the book was designated as one of the ‘100 Best Spiritual Books of the 20th Century’.

2) Bapu My Mother by Manuben Gandhi

Just 17, when she rejoined the Mahatma as one of his personal assistants in 1946, Mridula Gandhi, or Manuben, was the great man’s constant companion and personal attendant, till his assassination. Manuben maintained several diaries over the years, of her association with Gandhi. Unfazed by the criticism that came Bapu’s way, and devoted to him, Manuben talks of how, though Bapu was father to innumerable men and women, and the guru of many, for her, however, he was mother. Writes she, “Generally, it is not possible for a man to become a mother to anyone because he has not been endowed by God with a mother’s loving heart. But Bapu appropriated for himself a share of even this divine gift. So Bapu mothered me.”

3) Bapu Kuti: Journeys in Rediscovery of Gandhi by Rajni Bakshi

Bapu Kuti is subtitled “Journeys in Rediscovery of Gandhi”. Bapu Kuti is the hut in Sewagram Ashram in central India that was Gandhiji’s home during a significant portion of the latter part of his life. In the 50-odd years since Independence, the Ashram and the Kuti have become a focal point for efforts towards alternate directions of development. The author therefore uses the Kuti as a central thread around which she weaves several stories of efforts by people to evolve and implement meaningful visions of society. This is a lovingly written and absorbing book, an important documentation of several lesser-known efforts.

4) The Life of Mahatma Gandhi by Louis Fischer

This memorable, generous and conscientious biography of the Mahatma is written by an American journalist who knew Gandhi well and understood his unique strategy of ‘satyagraha’, or passive resistance. Fischer touches upon the facets of Gandhi’s saintly character as also his humour that made him almost invincible. He succeeds in presenting the world figure with a cure for the world’s woes, and the plain little man with the kind look and smile. On his death, Albert Einstein wrote,’Gandhi had demonstrated that a powerful human following can be assembled not only through the cunning game of the usual political manoeuvres and trickeries but through the cogent example of a morally superior conduct of life. In our time of utter moral decadence he was the only statesman to stand for a higher human relationship in the political sphere.’

5) Great Soul: Mahatma Gandhi and his Struggle with India by Joseph Lelyveld

Pulitzer Prize–winner Joseph Lelyveld shows in vivid, unmatched detail how Gandhi’s sense of mission, social values, and philosophy of nonviolent resistance were shaped on another subcontinent—during two decades in South Africa—and then tested by an India that quickly learned to revere him as a Mahatma. The man himself emerges as one of history’s most remarkable self-creations, a prosperous lawyer who became an ascetic wholly dedicated to political and social action. Lelyveld leads us step-by-step through the heroic—and tragic—last months of this selfless leader’s long campaign when his nonviolent efforts culminated in the partition of India, the creation of Pakistan, and a bloodbath of ethnic cleansing that ended only with his own assassination. A highly original, stirring book.

6) Mahatma Gandhi: His Life and Ideas by Charles F. Andrews and Arun Gandhi 

A passionate portrait of the faith and life of Gandhi, written by one of his closest friends, an Anglican priest. With a foreword by Dr Arun Gandhi, Mahatma Gandhi’s grandson, this thoughtful biography offers intriguing insights into Gandhi’s early life, religious practice and his efforts to further peace and justice in the world. It examines from a contemporary activist’s point of view the religious and political environments that influenced the birth of the peaceful resistance movement, the primary tool that Gandhi used to gain India its freedom from British rule. Including excerpts from Gandhi’s personal correspondence and professional writings, it provides an ideal introduction to the life and life’s work of one of the most influential figures of the twentieth century.

7) Gandhi: The Years That Changed the World, 1914-1948 by Ramchandra Guha

Gandhi lived one of the great 20th-century lives. He inspired and enraged, challenged and delighted millions of men and women around the world. This magnificent book tells the story of Gandhi’s life from his departure from South Africa to his dramatic assassination in 1948. It has a Tolstoyan sweep, showing us Gandhi as he was understood by his contemporaries, with new readings of his arguments with (among others) Ambedkar, Jinnah, and Churchill, and new insights on our freedom movement and its many strands. Drawing on never-before-seen sources and animated by its author’s wonderful sense of drama and politics, it is the most ambitious book on the father of the nation.

You may also read: ‘Gandhi Before India’ and ‘India After Gandhi by the same author.

8) Gandhi: The Man, His People, and the Empire by Rajmohan Gandhi

This monumental and authoritative biography, written by his grandson, gives a complete and balanced account of Gandhi’s remarkable life, the development of his beliefs, his political campaigns, and his complex relationships with his family. Gandhi’s life was one of contrasts and contradictions: the westernised Middle Temple lawyer who wore the clothes of India’s poorest and spun cotton by hand; the apostle of non-violence who led an Indian ambulance corps in the Boer War and urged Indians to enlist in the First World War; the champion of Indian independence who never hated the British. Written with unprecedented insight and access to family archives, this definitive biography sheds new light on the life of a man who was complicated and conflicted. For the first time, this book gives us the true Gandhi, the man as well as the legend.

You may also read: Why Gandhi Still Matters: An Appraisal of the Mahatma’s Legacy and Gandhi and Mohandas: A True Story of a Man, His People, and an Empire by the same author.

9) Mahatma Gandhi and His Myths: Civil Disobedience, Nonviolence, and Satyagraha in the Real World (Plus Why It’s ‘Gandhi,’ ‘Not Ghandi’) by Mark Shepard.

Mahatma Gandhi is one of the least understood figures of all time – even among his admirers. In this Annual Gandhi Lecture for the International Association of Gandhian Studies, Mark Shepard tackles some persistently wrong-headed views of Gandhi, offering us a more accurate picture of the man and his nonviolence. He puts his finger on seemingly all of the popular (and some less common) misconceptions of both Gandhi and his philosophy, including some particularly important ones. He tries to clear some of the myths and misconceptions surrounding Gandhi that have to do with nonviolence and states interestingly that there is nothing passive about Gandhian nonviolent action.

You may also read Mahatma Gandhi and His Myths, and Gandhi Today, by the same author.

10) Waiting for the Mahatma by R K Narayan

R.K. Narayan is one of the most prominent Indian novelists of the twentieth century, and the recipient of the National Prize of the Indian Literary Academy, India’s highest literary honour. This novel could be viewed as the tale of Indian national struggle as witnessed by RK. Brilliantly written, the novel revolves around Sriram and his love towards Bharati, a non-violent freedom fighter, whose first loyalty is to the Mahatma, her mentor, guardian, and her spiritual master. Both non-violent and revolutionary events lead Sriram to the Indian struggle. His story of the triumphs and tragedies of a raw young zealot in the service of Gandhi is distinguished for its warmth, humour, lack of sentimentality and the stamp of absolute truth. It is a tale of remarkable insight into the upsurge of Indian nationalism told with the all genius and compassion we have come to expect from R K Narayan.

11) Mahatma Gandhi: Essays & Reflections by Dr S. Radhakrishnan

This work was presented to Mahatma Gandhi on his 70 th  birthday, October 22, 1939. This work is not only a remarkable tribute from notable men and women of diverse views, but an important estimate of the life and thought of Mahatma Gandhi, whose life was an experiment with truth. Put your principles to real practice—this was his message to the contemporary world. To him God was Truth and Truth was God. This book contains essays and reflections on Mahatma Gandhi and is a tribute to the Father of the Nation, from prominent thinkers like C.F. Andrews, Aldous Huxley, Lin Yutang, A. Coomaraswamy, Sri Aurobindo and many others. Some of Gandhiji’s most distinct and famous speeches are brought together in an appendix in this volume.

12) The Essential Gandhi: An Anthology of His Writings on His Life, Work, and Ideas by Mahatma Gandhi and Louis Fischer

“Gandhi was inevitable. If humanity is to progress, Gandhi is inescapable. . . . We may ignore him at our own risk,” said Dr Martin Luther King, Jr. Taken from Gandhi’s writings throughout his life, The Essential Gandhi introduces us to his thoughts on politics, spirituality, poverty, suffering, love, non-violence, civil disobedience, and his own life. The pieces collected here, with explanatory head notes by Gandhi biographer Louis Fischer, offer the clearest, most thorough portrait of one of the greatest spiritual leaders the world has known. It includes a preface drawn from the writings of Eknath Easwaran.

13) Gandhi: Prisoner of Hope by Judith M. Brown  

In this definitive biography of one of this century’s most important-and controversial-figures, Judith Brown sketches a fresh and surprising portrait of Gandhi within the context of his time, in which the Indian leader emerges as neither the plaster saint nor the wily politician, but as a complex man whose actions followed honourably from his convictions, a character of both contradiction and vision. She gives particular emphasis to Gandhi’s personal crisis in the 1920s, which resulted from the failure of non-violence and his diminishing political influence as the leader of Congress. According to Brown, Gandhi’s ideals reflected a unique combination of Indian traditionalism and Western idealism. He appealed to both Indians and Western sympathisers, as a visionary spiritual leader, aloof from the fray of politics.

14) Why I killed the Mahatma: Uncovering Godse’s Defence by Koenraad Elst 

It is common knowledge that Mahatma Gandhi was shot dead in 1948 by a Hindu militant, shortly after India had both gained her independence and lost nearly a quarter of her territory to the new state of Pakistan. Lesser known is assassin Nathuram Godse’s motive. In this book, Dr Koenraad Elst compares Godse’s case against Gandhi with criticisms voiced in wider circles and with historical data known at the time or brought to light since. While the Mahatma was extolled by the Hindu masses, political leaders of divergent persuasions who had had dealings with him were less enthusiastic. Their sobering views would have become the received wisdom about the Mahatma if he hadn’t been martyred. Yet, the author also presents some new considerations in Gandhi’s defence from unexpected quarters.

15) Mahatma Gandhi by Romain Rolland

In this biography, the author, an eminent French philosopher, attempts to trace the life of Gandhi from his birth till the attainment of his title as Mahatma. As a contemporary of the Mahatma, his views have a special value. In this fascinating account, while portraying him as a liberal leader “incapable of narrow mindedness whether as Indian patriot or apostle of non–cooperation,” Rolland also presents Gandhi’s criticism by some eminent thinkers such as Andrews and Rabindranath Tagore. Rolland made known to humanity the spiritual greatness of the man. The two understood each other fully and the great scholar from the west found and drew inspiration from the well-springs of that highly cultivated and dedicated soul. He also brings out how British policy forced Gandhiji to switch over from an attitude of loyal co operation with Great Britain to that of non-violent non-co-operation.

16) Gandhi′s Truth – On the Origins of Militant Nonviolence by Erik H Erikson

In this study of Mahatma Gandhi, psychoanalyst Erik H. Erikson explores how Gandhi succeeded in mobilising the Indian people both spiritually and politically as he became the revolutionary innovator of militant non-violence and India became the motherland of large-scale civil disobedience. The book is a sort of travelogue or
journalistic diary, and Erikson comes out as a brilliant observer, working backward, trying to find childhood evidence of what he knows transpired in the future. Though he deals with violence extensively (and non-violence), it seems important to him to find a link with Gandhi’s sexuality. Erikson’s intuitions are profound and wide-ranging, seldom missing anything, always giving due credit, and consistently going to the limits of whatever he deals with. A master of psychobiography, Erikson does honour to biography writing as to psychology.

17) Gandhi the Man by Eknath Easwaran

Who was Gandhi? How did this young lawyer transform into the ‘great soul’ who led 400 million Indians in their nonviolent struggle for independence? Easwaran, who grew up in Gandhi’s India, gives a moving account of the turning points and choices in Gandhi’s life that made him not just a great political leader but also a timeless icon of nonviolence. Non-violence, Easwaran explains, is a practical method for resolving problems, healing relationships and raising the quality of our lives. Easwaran’s book is probably the only one on Gandhi that sees his life as a spiritual project and examines the mind of Gandhi, the methods Gandhi employed to understand and transform himself, and the results these bore. An inspiring, insightful book about a great life, and about how real social change comes from individual transformation.

18) Vinoba on Gandhi by Kantilal Shah (Ed.) and J.P. Uniyal (Tr.)

Vinoba Bhave was one of the great spiritual leaders and social reformers of modern India, who participated in Gandhi’s non-violent resistance (Satyagraha) to the British Raj. Among Gandhiji’s colleagues and associates, Vinoba’s place has been indisputably unique, both personally as well as ideologically. It is therefore but
natural for readers to know how the greatest of his apostles viewed his Great Master. This small volume tries to give in Vinoba’s own words an overall picture of Gandhi as viewed and interpreted by him. This compilation represents gleanings from about 300 speeches and writings of Vinoba, edited and classified subject-wise under various chapters. These memories reveal both the inner and outer life of a great man who has an unwavering commitment to the practice of non-violence, to an engaged spirituality, and to the power of love.

19)The Diary of Manu Gandhi: 1943–1944 by Tridip Suhrud

Manu Gandhi, M.K. Gandhi’s grand-niece, joined him in 1943 at the age of fifteen. A satyagrahi herself, Manu was at first incarcerated in Nagpur Central Jail for nine months,nand eventually joined the Mahatma at the Aga Khan Palace in Poona, where she tended to his ailing wife Kasturba. It is here that she began writing her diary. After Ba’s death in February 1944, and the death of her own mother, there was a vacuum in Manu’s life. Gandhi filled that vacuum by metamorphosing into Manu’s mother. A partner in his experiments in Brahmacharya, Manu remained with Gandhi until his assassination. Spanning two volumes, the first volume (1943–44) chronicles the spiritual and educational pursuits of an adolescent woman who takes up writing as a mode of self-examination. With the meticulous and intimate entries, the author throws light on Gandhi’s life as a prisoner, shares a moving portrait of Kasturba Gandhi’s illness and death, and also unravels the deep emotional bond she develops with Gandhi, whom she calls her ‘mother’.

Bapu for Children

20) Tales of Young Gandhi Paperback by Janhavi Prasada

Gandhi’s autobiography, The Story of My Experiments with Truth, had a strong impact on Janhavi Prasada when she first read it. With that was born her desire to share his path of peace, and the inspiration she had found in his work, with as many people as she could. As she realised, he was much ahead of his times not only as a thinker but also as a doer. The values that he taught – truth, non-violence, simple living, cleanliness – are even more relevant today than then. Exquisitely illustrated, with visual content that Janhavi collected over eight years of travel to Porbandar, London and South Africa, the book retells the story of a fascinating life and hopes to introduce a new generation of readers to the Mahatma.

21) Be the Change: A Grandfather Gandhi Story by Arun Gandhi (Author), Bethany Hegedus (Author)

At Grandfather Gandhi’s service village, each day is filled, from sunrise to sunset, with work that is done for the good of all, and the villagers live simply and non-violently. Arun Gandhi too tries very hard to follow these vows, but struggles with one of the most important rules: not to waste. How can throwing away a worn down pencil hurt anyone? How can wastefulness lead to violence? Mahatma Gandhi imparts a lesson on passive violence to his grandson Arun, who learns how every wasteful act, no matter how small, affects others. And in time he comes to understand the truth of his grandfather’s words: “Be the change you wish to see in the world.”

22) Mahatma Gandhi for Kids and Beginners by Shalu Sharma

This book is written for children and adults alike who are curious to learn about the life and works of Gandhiji. Who was he? Who were this brothers and sisters, and mother and father? How was he as a child? Is it true he stole from his brother? Was he a brilliant student? What were his weapons injustice and freedom? Why was he called the Mahatma and Bapu? The book answers all these questions, and more, as it introduces us to the life, works and biography of the great soul, Mahatma Gandhi, one of the most fascinating persons of history. With Quotes from Mahatma Gandhi, references, credits and further reading, the book covers a range of topics that help the reader get to know the man and his work.

23) Being Gandhi by Paro Anand

How many times are kids supposed to study Gandhi? Come September and out comes the bald head wig, round glasses, white dhoti, tall stick … that’s about the extent of how today’s kids engage with the Mahatma. Chandrashekhar is one such teen. Bored by the annual Gandhi projects, he wonders if his teacher is being too unreasonable in asking them to ‘BE’ Gandhi. And then, his world is shaken by events that rock him to the core, forcing him to dig deep and not just find his ‘inner Gandhi’, but become Gandhi. Not fora day or two. But, maybe even, for life. This is a novel that explores, not Gandhi the man or his life as a leader, but really the Gandhian way that must remain relevant to us. Especially today when the world is becoming increasingly steeped in violence and hate.

24) Gandhi for Kids: His Life and Ideas, with 21 Activities by Ellen Mahoney

Connecting Gandhi’s ideas and his life’s work to contemporary issues such as bullying and conflict resolution, healthful eating from local sources, civil rights and diversity, and more, this useful resource for parents and teachers makes Gandhi relevant for kids today. Packed with historic images, the book includes informative sidebars; a time line, glossary, and resource section, along with 21 activities that illuminate Gandhi’s life, environment, and ideas. Kids can make a traditional Indian lamp called a diya, create a henna hand design, practice anti-consumerism or vegetarianism for a day, and much more.

25) Mahatma Gandhi by Subhadra Sen Gupta

On his passport he was Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi. The poet Rabindranath Tagore gave him the title Mahatma – the great soul- but he was rather uncomfortable with that. Nelson Mandela calls him a sacred warrior, others describe him as the saint of the spinning wheel and we now declare him as our Father of the Nation. Through a vivid narrative, author Subhadra Sen Gupta recreates the life and legacy of this phenomenal leader to portray the man beneath the simple handspun clothes, who ate saltless vegetables and bitter neem chutney; who greeted kings and paupers alike; who walked 240 miles at the age of sixty to break the Salt Law; and whose entire life was dedicated to truth and to peace. Even today as we read inspirational accounts of Gandhiji’s life and talk of Gandhigiri, we know that his ideals are alive and relevant to today’s generation.

26)  I am Gandhi (Ordinary People Change the World) by Brad Meltzer

This friendly, fun biography series focuses on the traits that made our heroes great–the traits that kids can aspire to in order to live heroically themselves. Each book tells the story of one of America’s icons in a lively, conversational way that works well for the youngest nonfiction readers and that always includes the hero’s childhood influences. This book tells the story of how Gandhi used the principles of nonviolence and non- cooperation to fight discrimination against Indians in South Africa and to end British rule in India. Like the series’ biography of Martin Luther King, Jr., Gandhi’s story focuses on his peaceful heroism in the struggle for civil rights and social change.

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