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Updated: August 29, 2011 16:02 IST

Joe Lelyvelds of this world don't lie

Pranay Gupte
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It's impossible to imagine him making things up about Gandhiji, or about anyone he may be writing about.

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

Joseph Lelyveld may be many things — not all of them pleasant — but a falsifier of facts and misinterpreter of men he's definitely not. That's why the over-the-top assaults by Indian politicians on his authorial integrity seem so clueless and churlish. Anyone who's known the fastidiously careful Mr. Lelyveld would be amused by the attacks, which, among other things, have him suggesting in his new book — Great Soul: Mahatma Gandhi and His Struggle With India — that Mahatma Gandhi was homosexual. In the aggregate, Mr. Lelyveld is painted by the pols as a deeply sinister figure with an agenda of his own.

No one has articulated what that agenda might actually be and why Mr. Lelyveld might want to implement it. Of course, the usual canards are being recklessly bruited about by the usual suspects — Zionist, agent provocateur, enemy of the Indian polity, underminer of traditional values, and so on — as if those who shout don't have dark secrets of their own. The jeremiads are certain to get more colourful in coming days. Stay tuned.

Pained as Mr. Lelyveld must be as these public protests become shriller, a part of him might even want to summon a smile. And why not? Since there's no such thing as bad publicity, sales of his 425-page book are certain to soar.

But Joseph Lelyveld, sinister? Please.

He's actually just plain old-fashioned Joe, a by-the-book newspaperman who rose from being a copyboy — a peon — to executive editor of one of the world's elite dailies, The New York Times. You don't get to the top of an international publication's masthead by fibbing your way around.

Neither do you get to be an acclaimed author by playing fast and loose with the world as it is. His memoir of South Africa during the apartheid years, Move Your Shadow: South Africa, Black and White, won the 1986 Pulitzer Prize for general nonfiction. The prize also went that year to another former New York Times foreign correspondent, J. Anthony Lukas, author of Common Ground: A Turbulent Decade in the Lives of Three American Families.

They had both served in India by the time they received their Pulitzers but neither man's award-winning works concerned the subcontinent directly. Mr. Lelyveld continued on his trajectory of gaining organisational power. Lukas wrote another magnum opus, Big Trouble, whose sweeping narrative covered the early 20th century, focussing on conflicts between miners and mining officials in the American state of Idaho. Before the book was published, Lukas hanged himself in his New York apartment. He had been suffering from depression for at least a decade.

I bring Tony Lukas into this essay about Joe Lelyveld because both men genuinely liked India when they lived there — and it showed in their reporting, which was empathetic without being egregiously emotional. I have always believed that the best foreign correspondents who covered India were Lelyveld, Lukas, Sydney H. Schanberg, also of the New York Times, and my late mentors, A.M. Rosenthal, who — as Joe did much later — went on to become The Times's executive editor, and James W. Michaels, who was in India during Independence for a wire service and eventually led the Forbes magazine in its glory days.

Smart reporters

They were smart reporters. They felicitously captured the cultures, customs and contradictions of the world's largest democracy. They told their stories as they saw them, but you knew that India had touched them. Each man obviously carried a valentine for India, and you at once understood that the struggle within the reporter was not about how to tell his yarn but about holding back his heart. Each man was immune to accusations of fabrication. And why would you want to make up things about India, anyway? The rich tapestry of daily life, the daily drama of development that these reporters relayed to their global readers possessed a vibrancy and vitality that was impossible to conjure up unless rooted in reality. The high adventure of India, Abe Rosenthal called it.

Of those five brilliant men, only Tony Lukas did not aspire to an editorship, and, of course, he never became an editor. I wish, though, that Joe Lelyveld hadn't become one either.

He wasn't very good at it. His people skills seemed handicapped by shyness, perhaps an affliction traceable to his traumatic childhood with a strong rabbi for a father and a sensitive, fey figure for a mother. Mr. Lelyveld wrote in Omaha Blues, a memoir of growing up, that the youngest of the three Lelyveld brothers had not been fathered by Rabbi Arthur Lelyveld of Cleveland, who had gained international fame for his leadership role in Reform Judaism, and for his support of civil rights in America, and of Israel's right to exist.

I've always held that the sensitivity Joe Lelyveld had amply demonstrated in his reportage from India, South Africa, Congo, London, Hong Kong, Vietnam and China, and in his books, did not necessarily carry over into his dealings with people. As a reporter, he was always tuned in to others' feelings; as an editor, he wasn't always terribly considerate toward his juniors, or especially mindful of their sensitivities.

I've probably read everything that Joe has ever written. But I learned long ago that while one might be an admirer of his style and savvy, there was no percentage in being an admirer of the man. Joe is uncomfortable with admiration, however genuine, and to me he always seemed a deeply unforgiving man.

I think that I can trace it back to the summer of 1968 when, while still a student at Brandeis University, I was serving as a summer intern at the New York Times. Joe Lelyveld had just returned to New York after his India stint. Spotting him in the cavernous Times newsroom, I approached him for an interview. He cordially agreed. I wrote it up for an Indian newspaper — not The Hindu — and I thought that was that.

But years later, after I was promoted to being a reporter for The Times, Sydney Schanberg told me that Mr. Lelyveld held it against me that I had gotten his words wrong. I probably did — would Joe ever lie? — and my version of his reality may have been different from his own. And years later still, after I had become a Times foreign correspondent in my own right and Joe was my editor, I could never push away the sense that Joe was out there, scolding silently. His editor's sarcasm — maybe it was wit? — didn't much reassure me as I traversed Africa and the Middle East, dealing with the dictators and fledgling democrats out there, and with demons of my own.

I once very nearly told Joe that I wished he hadn't left the correspondent's camel for the editor's saddle. But I wisely kept my own counsel. Joe was never one to laugh easily, and I always felt that he bore grudges.

I don't want to seem petty or jejune: I will leave settling scores for my memoirs. This is, after all, Joe Lelyveld's special moment in the sun, with mostly laudatory reviews of Great Soul, and with promising sales. He's already had many bright moments in a glorious career spanning six decades — he's 74 now — and Joe's bound to produce more magazine journalism in his post-editorship life as a reborn reporter. I hope that he also turns out more relentlessly researched books such as his Gandhi biography.

What he writes matters

My point, I suppose, is really this: Whatever one's view of Joe's extraordinary journalism and puzzling personality, what he writes matters. It matters because he is always the model reporter — even when he's donning the cap of an author: thorough, sceptical, a man who feels for his subjects, a man who synthesises cannily, a writer who is always accurate and graceful. There aren't nearly enough of Joe Lelyvelds out there.

And say this for Joe: It's impossible to imagine him making things up about Gandhiji, or about anyone he may be writing about. The Joe Lelyvelds of this world simply don't lie. They don't need to. They value truth — just as Gandhiji did.

(Pranay Gupte's next book, Dubai: The Journey, will be published by Viking Penguin this year. He can be reached at: pranaygupte@gmail.com.)

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There is a recurring problem with the western authors dealing with the historical works related to India. before reading history it is advisable to read historian. This is especially important as history is more about interpretation than facts.
The western authors try to draw interpretation in Indian/ oriental context with their own western consciousness. It is essential to recognize that Indian way of thinking is different than western. The compartmentalization of interpretation while dealing with Indian work and western work is must. Earlier James Lane and now Joseph Lelyveld are doing same mistake. Please recognize that The characters located in Indian History must not be thinking the way western authors are making them to.

from:  Hrushikesh
Posted on: Apr 6, 2011 at 14:04 IST

Will all the people becoming so militant here in 'protecting' Gandhiji speak with same activism in case of Mr.Narendra Modi banning the book? Will they say that he is nobody to ban it or not to ban it? Wish people protected the principles of non-violence and tolerance Gandhiji stood for, instead of saying so much on other issues.

from:  Yashwanth P
Posted on: Apr 6, 2011 at 10:19 IST

Very pointless article. Mr. Gupte seems to have a propensity for name-dropping. Just because one Mr. Gupte vouches for the integrity of Lelyvelds, I am not obliged to believe every word that drops out of Joe's mouth. Having said that, however, I don't see how Gandhi's sexuality is anybody's concern really. If he was homosexual, so be it. it doesn't take away from what he did/did not contribute to world politics and India, in specific.History has its own way of dealing with unfounded claims, if Joe's claims are indeed unfounded. Banning a book is a political move and does not give any opportunity to right wrongs.

from:  Sumanya
Posted on: Apr 5, 2011 at 15:37 IST

The arguments against the book are completely defensive and insecure in nature. To all those ppl who feel this book should be banned, i have to say the following.
1. Any book about personalities, if properly based on historic documentation, cannot be swayed by popular emotion. The book, the author says gets its source material from National Archives, India. what is needed in that case is a careful evaluation of the source material against the conclusions drawn by the author in his book. Most of the people attacking the author are not half-equipped to do that. Who is any one to say they are all lies if that s the case..? 2. About the argument that foreigners do it to hurt Indian sensibilities, please note that it really doesnt matter who is saying it. Pls concentrate on what is being said. Again, like i mentioned above, if it has source in facts and documentation, then saying it aloud or not saying it is not any race/nation's prerogative. 3. About the fact that these are personal details that shouldnt be spoken about, while i agree that these might not be any contemporary value, understanding a person in totality about a person provides for a greater understanding and appreciation of the man he is, not a GOD figure he is often made out to be. 4. Lastly, all those people who are attacking the integrity and the competency of the author, you are doing exactly the same thing you are accusing the author of doing, without a sense of objectivity. MK Gnadhi would not have approved..!

from:  Kartik
Posted on: Apr 5, 2011 at 11:42 IST

I really feel that the readers comments are mature and 'Heads and Shoulders' above Mr. Pranay Gupte spin which in all honesty is a plain 'suck up' job.
I love western authors stuck in the 'sex', 'homosexuality' groove who cannot help but analyze from a narrow, imagined moralistic prism. The disease has seeped in to the Indian English writers and media. The sex rebels are its slaves at their core. That brings to comment on banning the book. Why? (I ask that with the awareness that GOI is mulling the idea of introducing a blasphemy law). The natural tendency is for people to legitimize what authorities want to ban.
MG served the interest of his country very well. His was the greatest contribution to ousting the Brits from India which he did visibly from a moral plank. It shuts up every ideology - left, right or center. Even after death, his enigma beckons to the western minded bee 'Come into my parlor'.

from:  Dr. Ajay
Posted on: Apr 4, 2011 at 20:45 IST

The majority of the comments above indicate homophobic attitude of the general populace in India none more so than S N Iyer's comment. What they should be concerned about is the truth in the book and not Mahatma Gandhiji's sexual preferences?

from:  Siva Bhaskaran
Posted on: Apr 4, 2011 at 18:43 IST

How does one decide what to ban and what not to ban? Who has the authority to decide what to ban? How ever outrageous the claims of a work of literature may be, it is basic part of free expression and liberty that the voices are heard. It is the right of a person to express his/her opinions and it is the right of the reader to dismiss it (i.e. intellectually). It appalls me how many people in India want to silence this publication without even reading it!

from:  Sunil Deshpande
Posted on: Apr 4, 2011 at 13:02 IST

It's over six decades Gandhi's death,some Indians still worship him blindly. After all Gandhi was a human being. Human being make mistake. Gandhi's greatest disservice to the people of the Indian subcontinent, is his acquiescence to the partition of India. Abdul Gaffoor Khan's exclamation (to Gandhi)"..you are throwing us to the wolves..." still plays out in the northwest frontier provinces and Khasmir valley. Gandhi was the only one who could have prevented partition of India and the carnage that still continues today. Gandhi was only human. His admirers will do a great service to the great man by remembering that.

from:  Jack Hickey
Posted on: Apr 4, 2011 at 11:04 IST

I have read Bapu's autobiography several times and other biographies which reflect clearly that Gandhiji suffered throughout his whole life from this very desire called sex- He called it a poisonous scorpion that was determined to bite and inflame him.But once he decided and took a bow of celibacy, he followed it till his last breathe.What he has written on several occasions about his relations with others in his book and papers, it demands a deep insight to understand .Western writers[ who are having having ill thoughts about our RASHTRA PITA]have always tried to decolour his name and fame because they never want that people in INDIA should have an iconic inspiration before them and they become great by following HIM.
It is only their misinterpretation about THE GREAT MAN'S THOUGHTS and it also arises several questions about their intelligence and about legitimacy of awards they have achieved.
GANDHI JI ONCE SAID THAT ONEDAY MY BODY NOT BE THERE BUT MY THOUGHTS
WILL ALWAYS INSPIRE THE PEOPLE NOT ONLY OF INDIA BUT ALSO OF WHOLE OF THE WORLD WHO MOVE ON THE PATH OF ahimsa , satya and brahmacharya.

from:  N Kapoor
Posted on: Apr 4, 2011 at 10:08 IST

It is a well-known fact that if you want to make a sensational news, all you need to do is 1) pick a celebrity or a long-dead person 2) talk about his or her sexual life... This is the Holy Grail of some journalists and 'Joe' is one of them. Interpretations can be of a thousand ways and cannot be held as truth. The only defense he has come up with is " the materials are published in the National Archives". So? Anyone can read a set of letters and use their immense imagination to interpret it. But in the end, clearing away all the mumbo jumbo the truth is this...None know the truth and none can when there is no solid proof. Regarding the banning, if one has the right to write a book, others have the right NOT to read it. Joe, grow up and face a bit of criticism. And journalists, remember this.. your sexual life can also be interpreted as something which was not after you are long dead.. that is.. if you ever become that important a person!

from:  Aabhinay
Posted on: Apr 4, 2011 at 10:06 IST

Mr Gupte, innunendo and insinuations aimed at renowned figures are a well-known trick used by writers to make their own reputation and sell books. Lelyveld has clearly tried to insinuate both homosexuality and racism in his book. It is easy to misinterpret even the most innocent of remarks if one is bent upon it, and Lelyveld's writing shows clear signs of that. He has made far too much of Gandhi's letters to Kallenbach and his use of the word kaffir. It should not be forgotten that Gandhi's letters to Kallenbach were written in the context of an ashram, and the use of the word 'love' can have many other meanings beyond the sexual. In any case, Gandhi was very frank about his own sexuality and his efforts at mental and physical abstinence. Yes, Gandhi's use of kaffir and ascribing stereotypes may be inappropriate from the viewpoint of today's political correctness, but again these need to be understood in terms of the age and the man. It's a cheap stunt Lelyveld has used, and it may make him a few thousand dollars, but you have done yourself a great disservice by your deification of Lelyveld and his work. Gandhi was great because he admitted his own humanity. You may shout from the rooftops that Lelyveld in perfect, but all it proves is your lack of judgement.

from:  Savyasaachi Jain
Posted on: Apr 4, 2011 at 04:08 IST

This is yet another example of a perverted western mind who has no clue whatsoever about the Indian culture.No matter how popular the writer is.They simply cannot understand about Indian way life,the intimacy of people and their display of feelings.No other person than Gandhi could have been so open and frank in his life.His life is an open book and there is absolutely nothing to suggest about his sexual preference.The fault lies in the eyes of the 'beholder' and not on Gandhi.

from:  Raman
Posted on: Apr 4, 2011 at 02:57 IST

Like Judith Miller of New York Times Joe Lelyveld is capable of telling lies. Because they are Americans does not mean they will not stoop too low to make quick money or publicity. Remember before IRAQ WAR, Bush, Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld were putting the honor of US on line to say IRAQ had weapons of mass destruction. What it was a Massive Distortion. Now nobody asks them now what happened to your integrity. Rumsfeld has the nerve to write the history of WAR in which he looks good. Of Course it is Propaganda which is the life line of American Publications. Joe Lelyveld is the part of the same system. Throw his book in the garbage and forget about it.

from:  Ravindra Nath
Posted on: Apr 4, 2011 at 01:45 IST

The government of India cannot not decide what people of India should or should not read. People who ask for this book, or for that matter any book, to be banned are doing a shameful disservice to the men and women who sacrificed their lives for our freedom. 'The Hindu' remains as the true bastion of free speech in this country.

from:  Vijay
Posted on: Apr 3, 2011 at 22:33 IST

Too long, didn't read. There's too much name-dropping, and not enough meat.
At the same time: I am really disappointed to see the fools rushing in to denounce Joe. Have you read the book? Have you seen the evidence? If you want to be taken seriously, then behave like adults and weigh the evidence. If you have any evidence to disprove the assertions, then do so. Let us behave like adults, please. Enough which this knee-jerk reaction. We are not illiterate boors who will listen to a 'fatwa' and obey it.

from:  Bhagwan Das
Posted on: Apr 3, 2011 at 20:48 IST

Lelyveld seems to be heavily influenced by the pioneering work being done by the blogs of the Indian rightists these days. Cherrypick a line or two from the collected works, lo and behold , you have there Gandhi: a demon,a blasphemer,a sex-addict and what not. And the interesting point is that,even though one might disprove these fallacious claims, the right wingers are not there to accept their mistake, because they know already that they are mistaken and it is nought but a propaganda.when they realise that they are losing the debate, they either turn abusive or 'ban' the person from the concerned forum.
Just a few days back, i had had a debate on an online forum with a few right-wingers who claimed :1)Gandhi had abused lord Krishna and called him a weirdo. 2)Gandhi had expressed his lack of belief in lord Krishna. A careful study of the relevant articles showed that Gandhi was actually speaking of his belief in an omnipotent soul, rather than those Hindu mythical stories which could have been corrupted over the ages and used thereby as a punching bag for hinduism by the non-hindus.A motive , so good as this, had been distorted by the right-wingers and presented as a proof of Gandhi's blasphemy. And Mr. Lelyveld,too, seems to have either fallen in this trap, or been amenably led into this morass by a similar rightists from India.

from:  Harish Lahkar
Posted on: Apr 3, 2011 at 20:28 IST

Why does Gandhiji's sexuality matter - I have no clue. The writer may have done his "research" and came up with one of many crass and boorish interpretations floating around. I see no point to either this book or even this ridiculous article by Pranay Gupte, other than dragging somebody's privacy down the gutters and making money out of it. These two men sicken me.

from:  TRex
Posted on: Apr 3, 2011 at 19:06 IST

So you know him.. He can do anything wrong... Thousands of people knew Madoff until he got caught with the biggest scam of the century.

from:  Satish
Posted on: Apr 3, 2011 at 18:38 IST

There is little concrete evidence that Gandhi had a homosexual relationship with Kallenbach. There are suggestive facts that make that a possibility. Fundamentally though, this verbal riot of a reaction to Joseph Lelyveld's speculation reveals two ugly dimensions to our thinking: First, if Gandhi was a homosexual or bisexual, he would be a lesser being. I am absolutely unconcerned about Gandhi's sexual orientation. He was a remarkable, if imperfect, leader. There is plenty we can learn from him and celebrate about him, and that has nothing to do with his sexual orientation or activities.
Second, in a modern democracy, if we don't like what is said in a book, we can simply ban it. This deprives me of a choice - to read the book and come to my own conclusions. Why should anyone take that away from me? The heart of free speech lies in protecting the right of others to speak out about their opinions, even if you hate what they say.

from:  Sridhar
Posted on: Apr 3, 2011 at 17:25 IST

Sure,Joe Lelyvelds of this world don't lie - but the ultimate question here is - can differing standards of censorship between films and books exist (if a gay Gandhiji can't appear in film, does a book warrant this overlooking of censorship?). I have to also add that if the NYTimes (a bankrupt institution, yes they are in grave financial trouble, so much for Mr. Lelyvelds' managerial ability in managing an intuition) editor has actually met Gandhiji in person? Pictures? No. Eye witnesses? No. Letters, open to interpretation... and that warrants speculation... this is not scholarship, this is commercialization - hence falling in place for censorship. As much as 'The Hindu' would like it to look like a case for freedom of speech, for me, its' one for censorship.Let's make a comparison - I write a simple sentence - I love my friend (male/female, doesn't make a difference these days anyway). Now, after a hundred years of modernization, can't this sentence easily be construed to being my affirmative physical attraction to a 'friend'...? Or doesn't the sentence even suppose that we might have had physical 'love'?

Let's take the context in question here too, for all that freedom of speech in America, try wearing a turban and traveling via their airports - then try and speak to one of their officers... freedom diminishes beyond recognition. The Patriot Act - is that freedom? Indian media needs their heads checked, if you ask me.

We know their Guantanamos and their patriot acts - and still hold America as some beacon of freedom. I am sorry, all I can suggest is education here. It's time to broaden your horizons.

from:  Raj
Posted on: Apr 3, 2011 at 17:13 IST

Could someone please show the paragraphs or sentences in Gandhi's letters to indicate his relationship. When I read the letters I see that he uses the word love in a different sense to what is used in the west. He also writes about having deep affection and love to Kallenbach. Re upperhouse and lower house reference they also talk about him being the majority for poor and Kallenbach being the majority of rich etc too. Gandhi even sent his son Manilal to live with him. How many people with forbidden relationships in those days would have done that? In Australia they have nick names as Tiny for large tall men. It could be a cultural nickname that the author does not understand. In Australia literally every name is turned into a nickname, in the US it is not. Letters to Kallenbach is full of Kasthurba's health, his son's problems, ashram life difficulties etc which one would write to a friend and not a lover. Gandhi clearly writes that even though he supports zionism in principle he does not support imposition of jews on Palestine people especially military actions. He writes that Hitler has gone mad but writes a friendly letter to Hitler to prevent war. So how is he a racist? Many authors who have got these prizes have written crappy books and some are frauds. Check Ophrah's show on some of these. Gandhi had several progressive views on various subjects but never once he talks about having any sort of relationship with anyone one other than Ba. Someone should take this author to court and ask him to prove where he got his proof. I have gone through 48000 pages and can't see any.We need to defend Gandhi as his bashing has become a sport in India and he is getting blamed for the behaviour of Indian govts and he is dead. Whether one agrees with the man or not he has done something great in the world otherwise it would have been another basket case like Afghanistan or Pakistan. May be people want this to happen for their own agendas.

from:  Nagappa
Posted on: Apr 3, 2011 at 17:01 IST

Every person has right to express himself and in the manner he desires. If you ask his book to banned, then how could all of you who have posted here demand as a matter of right that your posts be not banned. The question whether his arguments are factually and historically accurate have to addressed through the discipline of history and application of historiography. However, no one in this country is aware of the discipline and that is why it lies in shambles. I love this country and every thing in it as well as I am a student of history, and as a student of history, I applaud 'The Hindu' for taking a stance in favor of free speech, independence of opinion, critical thinking and above all, fair criticism. The greatest service to our independence fighters and leaders can be done by learning about how they lived rather than just fantasizing a romantic tale about them.

from:  Bhagat Ram
Posted on: Apr 3, 2011 at 16:50 IST

Mr Gupte: For all I know, Mr Lelyveld may have written a completely honest book, and it also appears that the innuendo about Mr Gandhi's sexuality shows up in the reviews rather than in the book. It is, however, fatuous to argue that Mr Lelyveld cannot be a liar because he belonged to the NYT and won the Pulitzer prize. Does the name Judith Miller strike a bell?

from:  Abhay Phadnis
Posted on: Apr 3, 2011 at 14:27 IST

Gandhi was called all sort of things; fakir to madman during his lifetime. That has not failed to inspire thousands of others including Martin Luther king and Nelson Mandela to follow his footsteps. I doubt whether this is about Gandhi or our societies' phobia about homosexuality. Why should we bother about a writer quoting someone else that a leader died 70 years ago was homosexual or not. Are we defending Gandhi, (who in my opinion does need our defence anyway) or are we defending our societies' prejudice against homosexuality?

from:  Barani Sambandan
Posted on: Apr 3, 2011 at 13:35 IST

I have not read Joseph Lelyveld's book on Gandhi and possibly never will. But anyone who reads the Collected Works of Mahatma Gandhi, supplementary volume 5, will find among other things his letters to Herman Kallenbach. In one of these, Gandhi writes "how completely you have taken possession of my body. This is slavery with a vengeance." There are other things that Gandhi writes in a similar vein. Gandhi was what he was and the difference between Gandhi and others is that he never hesitated in going public on his thoughts and actions. Homosexual, bisexual or hetero-sexual makes no difference to what Gandhi was.

from:  Hilary Pais
Posted on: Apr 3, 2011 at 13:02 IST

1.Lelyveld was editor of NYtimes and a Pulitzer Prize winner. So what? Pulitzer is a license for character assassination?
2. The title itself, 'Joe Lelyvelds of this world don't lie' at the outset speaks clearly of Gupte's intentions and "The Hindu' is not the only forum where he has tried to vouch for Lelyveld's integrity, there are multiple forums (Google search will tell).
3. Gandhi's biographies have been written by many in past including Louis Fischer (The Life of Mahatma Gandhi); arguably he was the only author who saw Gandhi closely during his struggles. While none of them have seen Gandhi as a bisexual and racist, levyveld, nearly 100 years later has suddenly got a realisation about Gandhi's sexual orientation!
4.Though banning a book may seem to be an attack on freedom of expression, but in Lelyveld's case it would be perfectly apt.
Finally, 'The Hindu' should be more sensible to reader's sensibilities rather than allowing likes of Pranay to blatantly put biased viewpoints.

from:  Sanjay
Posted on: Apr 3, 2011 at 11:35 IST

I remember a French engineer of Algerian descent had come down to Puducherry for the installation of an instrument in the university. On seeing a couple of friends (both male) chatting sitting on the staircase with hands around each other's shoulders, the engineer asked me if homosexuality is common in India. The companionship or friendship that Indians appreciate is much different and even alien from the Western viewpoint. We know that two men or women holding hands or staying together, keeping a photograph or portrait of a close associate need not necessarily mean they are homosexuals. Though I have not read the book yet it is just my opinion that Mr. Lelyveld could have mistaken the relationship Hermann Kallenbach had with Gandhi who was a thoroughbred Indian in heart and soul. Yet it is not fair to ban a book in a democracy which is totally against the freedom of expression, a fundamental right that we are supposed to enjoy.

from:  R. Anand
Posted on: Apr 3, 2011 at 10:37 IST

What is it with a country that doesn't bat an eyelid or feel its honor or intellect insulted when a leading magazine invites Sarah Palin - yes, that Sarah Palin - to speak to its intelligentia but has nothing, nothing at all to say about banning a book. Truly a poor country! The danger is that it is poor, nuclear, and increasingly intolerant of ideas (right or wrong). All that the forum that opens to the Sarah Palins does is paint a thin, self-congratulating veneer of being a free and open society. Please!

from:  Ram Narayana
Posted on: Apr 3, 2011 at 07:00 IST

When I was in my teens in Bombay, it was common practice for close male friends to occasionally walk hand in hand, even while talking about girlfriends! This only indicated close friendship with no overtones of homosexuality. Later I went to an English Public School and then on to Cambridge. Here there was no walking hand in hand! In fact when the Indian Visiting Team took to the field for a Test Match (I think in 1952) I was staggered to see some players walk out to field holding hands! I had been in England long enough to find this strange. I knew some of our Indian Team and I know that there was no hint of homosexuality.
I believe that the author of this book misunderstood close male friendship!

from:  Dilip Adarkar
Posted on: Apr 3, 2011 at 06:32 IST

Let me quote here John Berger: 'The function of the hero in art is to inspire the reader or spectator to continue in the same spirit from where he, the hero, leaves off. He must release the spectator's potentiality, for potentiality is the historic force behind nobility. And to do this the hero must be typical of the characters and class who at that time only need to be made aware of their heroic potentiality in order to be able to make their society juster and nobler. Bourgeois culture is no longer capable of producing heroes. On the highbrow level it only produces characters who are embodied consolations for defeat, and on the lowbrow level it produces idols - stars, TV 'personalities' and pin-ups. The function of the idol is the exact opposite to that of the hero. The idol is self-sufficient; the hero never is. The idol is so superficially desirable, spectacular, witty, happy that he or she merely supplies a context for fantasy and therefore, instead of inspiring, lulls. The idol is based on the appearance of perfection; but never on the striving towards it." If a biography in its useless or circumsepct or condescending objectivity fails to inspire the reader, or fails to bring about "the historic force behind nobility" then it should be treated as a failure, in fact as trash. And this is what the present biography seems to be.

from:  RY Deshpande
Posted on: Apr 3, 2011 at 06:01 IST

The very fact that Mr. Lelyveld worked for 'The New York Times' for a long time tells me everything I need to know - which is that he has no credibility. Consider the fact that NY Times has been losing significant amount of readership for the past couple of decades and they are going broke, inspite of their past glory and being considered to be a news paper of record in the US. The reason for their loses is mainly due to their deceptiveness in reporting so as to favor and high light issues that are near and dear to the liberals, leftists and communists, while at the same time denigrating the conservatives and the republican party at every opportunity.
The partisanship and hypocrisy at the NY Times is breath taking in its scope and something to behold, they are so beholden to their skewed and perverse point of view that they will go down with the sinking (bankcrupt) ship than to change and improve by finding a fair and balanced reporting philosophy. Mr. Lelyveld being an editor of such a malignancy of a newspaper gives me comfort that his horrific and unimaginable accusation of our great leader the Mahatma are false and not credible.

from:  Shirish Kokatay
Posted on: Apr 3, 2011 at 05:20 IST

Amazing! Everyone here is commenting without research on someone who really had done research. It is this kind of attitude that drives all Indians to be cowards and perhaps even Gandhi to unburden himself with another man. Brahmins ! Need anyone say more. They have emasculated and destroyed pristine native Indian with their ugly and repressive mumbo jumbo. Very sad !

from:  NMantri
Posted on: Apr 2, 2011 at 23:50 IST

I stopped reading the above piece after this-'You don't get to the top of an international publication's masthead by fibbing your way around.'
How long is this naivety going to sell, I wonder. George W. Bush invaded a country by plain lying to the whole world. It's no secret that the world's largest democracy is helmed by utterly corrupt politicians. Just a couple of broad examples these. Sensationalism sells in today's globalized and richer world like never before so I refuse to be surprised by anyone with whatever magnitude of integrity to fall.

from:  Syed Hamid
Posted on: Apr 2, 2011 at 20:14 IST

First thing I tried to search in the article was explanation of what is written.
To my surprise, there is nothing. What if Joe Lelyveld won a Pulitzer or a man with integrity. Even the best of souls can go wrong, remember Yudhisthira? So Mr. Lelveld can go wrong and Gandhiji too. But the point is I and most of Indians trust Mahatma Gandhi way more than some Mr. Lelveld.

from:  Mithun
Posted on: Apr 2, 2011 at 19:09 IST

It is hard to identify the real value added by some of the aspersions from this book. Facts or not, it matters very little to what Gandhiji was able to achieve during his lifetime. Having considered his life to be an experiment with truth Gandhiji had been very transparent himself.
Will the world benefit by knowing if Abraham Lincoln was 'somebody' and Winston Churchil was 'somebody' as well? I doubt very much.

from:  Ravi
Posted on: Apr 2, 2011 at 18:58 IST

I agree with Samir. Obviously, Mr. Gupte has extreme confidence in Mr. Lelveld's integrity but i want to remind this gentleman that scores of Indians and others have greater confidence in the integrity our beloved Bapu. Obviously Mr. Lelyveld comes from a nation where homosexuality is accepted and so prevalent, that he sees any friendship between males in the same context. i only feel pity for this person and likes of them. Not only them, their countries and the people lost their innocence in these days of rampant homsexuality and pedophilism.

from:  Aajay Chipiri
Posted on: Apr 2, 2011 at 14:33 IST

With all due respect, the author of this article is very much one who subscribes to Western values and, despite his Indian name, almost certainly identifies with being a citizen of the United States, which he no doubt is or aspires to being. Now, this is no bad thing. However, the point I am trying to make is that both Mr. Gupte and his mentor Mr. Lelyveld, cannot but think in Western ways when it comes to attempting to understand the East. I don't know about the specific controversial content in the book, and I don't accuse Mr. Lelyveld of falsification, but I do believe it is highly likely that events of the Indian past tend to be misunderstood by Western people. They cannot help it because they can only view events through the prism which has been established whilst being brought up. In the same way, people from the East are likely to misunderstand certain events in the Western world. In any case, the smug Mr. Gupte perhaps needs to be apprised of the fact that Indians do not take kindly to aspersions cast against the Father of our nation. In the meantime, we can only read Mr. Lelyveld's content as a reflection of an individual's opinion, as we ought to do for all the WikiLeaks content.

from:  Samir Mody
Posted on: Apr 2, 2011 at 12:08 IST

Wow! We have writer from India defending Joe - but not one who will defend Gandhi's ideals against what has been published in the newspapers. If the argument of 'strength' of Gandhi's legacy can be invoked to defend the right of publishing anything about Gandhi, Why can't be the same for Joe? Why's Joe concerned about what people are speculating and making out of his innocuous book? Perhaps, its then we might even understand how Gandhi might have himself reacted to such malicious and denigrating comments made about him.

from:  Sagar
Posted on: Apr 2, 2011 at 11:17 IST

Dear Pranay: Joe may not lie. But chances are he could have misunderstood Gandhiji. Gandhiji insisted that human beings should have sex purely for the purpose of creating next generation and come out of that animal instinct and should raise spiritually and experience truth. You can't label somebody as Homosexual for that reason.Just because Joe Lelyvelds has won a Pulitzer prize and that you admire him very much, what ever he says can't become right or the truth.

from:  Agila Gopal
Posted on: Apr 2, 2011 at 07:27 IST

This is my take on Mr.Lelyvelds. I have not read his book on Gandhi though I have read the reviews by Andrew Roberts in WSJ and some review in the Amazon.com. As you say Lelyvelds of the world do not lie, but what is he saying.Is it subtle innuendo about Gandhiji being a homosexeual. To imply that Gandhiji lied does not fly.His whole life was an experiments with truth and he was so open about everything that perhaps may be the reason people twist his views. The review is worse than the Book itself.I did expect much from Andrew Roberts anyway he is a Churchill lover, rightwinger bigot. I agree book should not be banned but I would discourage anybody buying it.

from:  Arun Mishra
Posted on: Apr 2, 2011 at 07:23 IST

He may not be a liar but he must know what can be written about the Father of the nation. Would the Americans like if an Indian wrote that George Washington was a sodomite and a sadist too.It may be true but it is not palatable to the common American.

from:  S N Iyer
Posted on: Apr 2, 2011 at 07:14 IST

Mr. Pranay Gupte appears to agree with everything the other side is saying. Let's take his own words above. "Spotting him in the cavernous Times newsroom, I approached him for an interview. He cordially agreed. I wrote it up for an Indian newspaper - not 'The Hindu' - and I thought that was that. But years later, after I was promoted to being a reporter for The Times, Sydney Schanberg told me that Mr. Lelyveld held it against me that I had gotten his words wrong. I probably did - would Joe ever lie? - and my version of his reality may have been different from his own. And years later still, after I had become a Times foreign correspondent in my own right and Joe was my editor, I could never push away the sense that Joe was out there, scolding silently." Did Mr Gupte misinterpret Mr Lelyveld? What does it take to misinterpret once he got the words wrong? Saying "a falsifier of facts and misinterpreter of men he's definitely not" in the same sentence seems odd. It is easy to misinterpret and pass different value judgements without falsifying facts, that too when two entirely different cultures and countries are involved.

from:  Abraham
Posted on: Apr 2, 2011 at 05:34 IST

The article is concluded with the words:"The Joe Lelyvelds of this world simply don't lie. They don't need to. They value truth - just as Gandhiji did". This is precisely the bone of contention and the bane of the book in issue.Mr Michael J Sandel deals with such delicate situations about speaking the truth in his popular book 'Justice'.It is all a question of professional ethos and propriety.Let us imagine a scene in which a neighbour of Mr Lelyveld consults him in whispers if his major son is a gay,will Mr Lelyveld make himself bold and retort so loudly as to be heard by many others around them,'Who told you my son is a gay?'.Will he not hesitate a moment? The current hue and cry is about the lack of similar qualms on his part while writing about the Mahatma.Whatever be his personality and standing in society,he would be well advised to issue a public apology along with earnest efforts to expunge the hurting passages from his controversial book;after all such references serve no purpose.

from:  G.Rajaram.
Posted on: Apr 2, 2011 at 05:12 IST

Mr.Gupte: Your article is the sad manifestation of the typical Indian attitude: which is 'if I get treated well by a white man, I don't care even if he degrades my mother' kind of an attitude. After reading your rambling opinion I have one simple question to your conscience: Do you think, all these Lelyvelds, Lucas, and Rosenthals of the so called Pulitzer World would have ever dared to pick and analyze 1.the REAL truth about Holocaust, 2.creation, existence and survival of Israel and 3.the excesses, their people have been indulged over decades in belittling other cultures, religion and other believes?? More so, do you think all these so called impartial press puritans would have graciously extended the same magnanimity you extended, if you or any other Indian author/writer ever choose to research the real facts of these pieces of history and revealed them to the outside world as they are??!!
If you are able to answer without prejudice and with some neutrality to your own conscience to these questions, I am sure, you will feel ashamed about your piece of work here. Good luck.

from:  Balaji
Posted on: Apr 2, 2011 at 05:01 IST

Dear Pranay: As an ordinary citizen of India, neither do I doubt Mr. Lelyvelds' integrity nor do I care about it. And I am least interested in his personality and your endorsement about it. What concerns me and causes me immense pain is his preposterous interpretations of such a sensitive matter which has no sizable evidence. If Lelyvelds has his own right to interpret and depict what he has heard about Gandhi, India and Indians have every right not to read his book and ban it for that matter. Having lived in the west for a while, I noticed that if two men hold their hands in public they are too deemed to be called 'Gay', which is not true when it comes to east.

from:  Sanj
Posted on: Apr 2, 2011 at 04:37 IST

Joe may not be a liar - one hopes that he is sane enough to know that using present-day lifestyle standards to read into relationships of an earlier era can lead to unsustainable claims. The trouble is, authors like him get all the publicity free of charge while the subject is no longer living to explain or defend oneself. It is a fashion with many writers to label people long gone as gay -- Even Lord Christ and Lord Krishna have not been spared. Hiding behind freedom of speech, some writers have claimed that Jesus was gay -- simply because he was not married and kept his arm over the shoulder of Peter (when he addressed him as the rock on which he will build his church).
Lord Krishna has been depicted by gays as a bisexual having enjoyed both his male and female admirers. Under the guise of freedom of expression, such muck thrives and is promoted. Gandhi wrote to Kallenbach in affectionate terms, he also wrote to Hitler addressing him as brother! Does this make him what Joe insinuates? Gupte claims that Joe does not need to lie - this may or may not be true but that is not the issue here. When making stupendous insinuations, Joe should have the guts to present equally irrefutable proof. Till he does that, he should keep quiet.

from:  Jay Ravi
Posted on: Apr 2, 2011 at 04:22 IST

There are 2 things to be concerned about:
1. You are contradicting yourself saying one person's personality (Joe) is spec clean and another ones (Gandhiji) is not clean.
2. There are no facts that show Gandhiji was a homosexual, all are Joe's interpretations. Many have interpreted Gandhiji's life earlier but none wrote like this but Joe picked up these aspects which reflect the mental status of the author.
Truth is: Whatever you constantly think, you reflect in your writing! That answers the question as to who was homosexual!

from:  Prasanth
Posted on: Apr 2, 2011 at 04:11 IST

Even after its existence in the Indian subcontinent for more than four centuries, English continues be a foreign language for some of our elites. Joseph Lelyveld's book on Mahatam Gandhi does not imply anything even close to what has been attributed in our media. This article is an appropriate introduction of Joseph Lelyveld, who is apparently well known to the author. In addition to Mr. Lelyveld's eulogy, it could have been more apt, had Mr. Gupte explained those controversial aspects of Lelyveld's book, which has instigated the people opposing the book.

from:  Surinder Rana
Posted on: Apr 2, 2011 at 03:15 IST

Gandhiji is revered figure no doubt. But If India wants to show that by banning free expression, that goes against Gandhiji's ideals and what he fought for his entire life. India is going the way of taliban in terms of intolerance.Being homosexual / bisexual(as Mr Lelyveld has claimed Gandhiji was)is nothing to be ashamed of and should not be construed as an insult. Its just different from the norm.

from:  Sridhar. R.
Posted on: Apr 2, 2011 at 02:40 IST

Mr.Pranay Gupte has tried to damage control his earlier gaffe with Joe Lelyvelds by writing this article. He has tried to win favours with Joe Lelyveld at the cost of truth.The brief introduction that Pranay has provided on Lelyveld, gives some clues on his own making and his thinking. It is quite possible that he is unable to come to terms with the demons in himself and has tried to paint Mahatma as a Homosexual. It is quite possible that this shy boy brought up in a strict conservative jewish family is himself a Homosexual. However, he has not been able to understand Mahatma Gandhi and has mistakenly given him a tag that is better reserved for him.

from:  Vinod aryan
Posted on: Apr 2, 2011 at 02:27 IST

There is no reason for this book or for that matter any book to banned in Free India. Having said that, I can not completely agree with Mr Gupte's conclusions. Joe may not have a sinister agenda or not making up anything that is discussed in the book. He is an accomplished author. No doubt about it. But that does not mean he can not get things wrong or see with a colored spectacle. It is arrogant to suggest that whatever Joe says is correct. Facts and interpretations have to be vetted and authenticated by credible sources. Suggesting that we give a free pass to Joe as he is an accomplished and award winning writer is intellectually arrogant at the least."It's impossible to imagine him making things up about Gandhiji, or about anyone he may be writing about. The Joe Lelyvelds of this world simply don't lie. They don't need to. They value truth - just as Gandhiji did." You do not have to lie, you just have to have a different interpretation of things to get it wrong.

from:  Krishna Dammanna
Posted on: Apr 2, 2011 at 01:00 IST

So - Your point is finally this: That Gandhi was a homosexual. We have to believe this because some guy called Joe thinks he was, and that you in turn can vouch for the integrity of Joe - Terrific logic! We need to ban such books, not because Gandhi cannot be a homosexual, but because they are blatant lies. Gandhi cannot defend himself now. Therefore, it becomes our responsibility to defend him by banning such books.

from:  Saketh Ram
Posted on: Apr 2, 2011 at 00:52 IST

I can't believe 'The Hindu' is wasting valuable Op-Ed space for such drivel. What does the writer bring to the table? Apart from 'Joe'-ing up his friend, and serving a dash of apocryphal anecdotes what does he add to this debate? Does he have a position on this ? Is it articulated here? Merely asking rhetorical questions like 'Joe? Lying?' is insulting our intelligence. Curzon, Churchill also claimed they were 'India lovers'. That does not mean they were fair towards Indians.

from:  Srinivasan Venkataraman
Posted on: Apr 2, 2011 at 00:24 IST
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