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A glimpse into Mahatma Gandhi’s multi-layered personality

Mahatma Gandhi reading his correspondence  

Much ink has been expended over the awe-inspiring personality of Gandhiji, and all his writings and speeches are readily available. Still, his intimate, informal, and frequent conversations with ordinary people belonging to various countries that take the form of unpretentious exhortations and witty maxims usually escape our attention.

His intermittent exchange of ideas and feelings with three Danish women- Esther Faering Menon, Anne Marie Peterson, and Ellen Horup is hardly the part of public memory, but these letters set us on the path of deliverance.

Not commonly-known but the distinctly gratifying correspondence is meticulously rendered into Urdu by a well-known Urdu author and Denmark-based broadcaster Nasar Malik. The anthology "Apni Ladli Danish Bacchi ke naam Mahatma Gandhi Ke Mohabbat naame" carrying 175 letters is recently published by a reputed organisation "Anjuman-e- Tarraqi Urdu Hind Delhi.

Considerable significance

Falling well- short of dishing out oft-repeated biographical details and a eulogistic account of political struggles of Gandhiji to mark his 150th birth anniversary, Athar Farooqui, an accomplished author and translator and the secretary of Anjuman, has decided to acquaint Urdu knowing people with the multi-layered personality of Gandhiji through the prism of his conversation.

These letters assume more considerable significance at a time when the trampling of truth, fondness for lies, and acceptance of hate as a conquering force is no longer taken as cerebral impairment or personality disorder. Now, one looks for a meditative and therapeutic solution at the conceptual level. The present situation stipulates that one search for a public intellectual whose utterances enables him to subvert and re-imagine the dominant narrative of our times.

Humane interpretation

Nasar Malik

Nasar Malik  

The quest can bear desired fruits if one turns attention to the intimate and informal means of communication- Gandhiji aptly uses letter-which and adequately showcased by the book. Nasar Malik"s compilation carries many letters addressed to Esther Faering that cogently delineates Gandhian concept of truth and love.

For him, love and truth are the only concepts worth living for, and his perceptive enumeration holds new promise in the violence and hate- raven world: "Love and truth are convertible words that can conquer all. Love and truth are two faces of coin and both most difficult to practice. A person can not be true if he does not love all God's creatures; truth and love are, therefore, demand complete sacrifice.

These letters unfold Gandhiji 's incredible sweep of radical but humane interpretation of the issues that have an active bearing on our day to day life.

A glimpse into Mahatma Gandhi’s multi-layered personality

Friendship, companionship, and relationship are not interchangeable words, and exclusive affinity denotes a sort of moral vice as Gandhiji elaborates the nuanced dimensions of it while writing back to Esther: "Now on friendship. You have used the word "friend" in three different senses. If we have the capacity, we can all become friends as Jesus was. There, the word "friend" means a kind of helper — the friendship between ourselves and those who are superior to us is also a one-sided thing. A father is and should be his children's friend. There, it becomes companionship with the good, satsanga as it is called in Sanskrit. What I have written about is intimacy between two or more persons, where there is no secret and where mutual help is the consequence of, not a motive for, friendship. The motive is some indefinable attraction. It is this exclusive relationship which I have considered to be undesirable and antagonistic to communion with God."

War, nonviolence, tolerance, religiosity, moral values, civilisation, language and social conduct of life, slavery, freedom and the distinctive features of Indian cultural ethos are vividly explained without a sense of preaching.

Notwithstanding his intent on making Hindustani as the official language, Gandhiji thought that the Devanagari script has the perfect alphabet as he wrote to Esther who was learning Tamil, "for you no doubt Tamil takes precedence over every other language. But it will be most helpful if you could master the Devanagari script. It is easy, and it is the most perfect alphabet in the world in that each letter represents only one sound and almost all the sounds are represented by it".

Astute translations

Nasar Mallik has two poetry books, three collections of short stories to his credit which have been from India, Pakistan, and Sweden, and he has also translated Danish novels into Urdu.

His astutely translated letters are supplemented with a brief profile of Esther Faering Menon who later married to an Indian medico and Gandhiji's letters to the daughters of Esther and her two Danish friends. The nuanced and subtle letters betray a cultivated aesthetic sense and speculative intelligence and the compiler and Anjuman deserves accolades for bringing out such a volume.


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