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Updated: April 4, 2011 05:34 IST

My book is based on published material, says Lelyveld

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In this book cover image released by Knopf,
In this book cover image released by Knopf, "Great Soul: Mahatma Gandhi and His Struggle With India", by Joseph Lelyveld, is shown. File Photo

Pulitzer prize-winning author Joseph Lelyveld has said his book on Mahatma Gandhi is “not sensationalist,” and is based on material already published and available in the National Archives of India (NAI).

Mr. Lelyveld's book, Great soul: Mahatma Gandhi and his struggle with India, is not yet available in India. And much of the controversy has been generated by a review published mainly in Britain's tabloid Daily Mail. The review, published on March 28, said the book claimed that Gandhi was ‘bisexual' and ‘deeply in love with Hermann Kallenbach,' a Prussian architect and bodybuilder who became Gandhi's disciple in South Africa.

“This is not a sensationalist book. I did not say Gandhi had a male lover. I said he lived with a man who was an architect as well as a body builder for nearly four years. The letters are part of the Collected Works of Mahatma Gandhi (volume 96, to be precise) published by the government of India. They are in the Indian National Archive. That particular volume was first published in 1994. In other words, the material I used contains no news,” Mr. Lelyveld told PTI by email.

The Gujarat government has banned the book, while Maharashtra is planning to follow suit.

Mr. Lelyveld has opposed the ban, describing it as “shameful.” “In a country [India] that calls itself a democracy, it is shameful to ban a book that no one has read, including the people who are doing the banning.”

“They should at least make an effort to see the pages that they think offend them before they take such an extreme step. I find it very discouraging to think that India would so limit discussion,” he said.

In his book, the former Executive Editor of The New York Times writes that Gandhi destroyed what he called Kallenbach's “logical and charming love notes” to him in the belief that he was honouring his friend's wish that they should not be seen by anyone else. “But the architect saved all of Gandhi's, and his descendant's, decades after his death and Gandhi's, put them up for auction. Only then were the letters acquired by the National Archives of India and, finally, published.”

Mr. Lelyveld adds: “One respected Gandhi scholar characterised the relationship as ‘clearly homoerotic' rather than homosexual, intending through that choice of words to describe a strong mutual attraction, nothing more. The conclusions passed on by word of mouth by South Africa's small Indian community were sometimes less nuanced. It was no secret then, or later, that Gandhi, leaving his wife behind, had gone to live with a man.”

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