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Review | Being Gandhi and Gandhi in 150 Anecdotes tell us he is a man for our times

Each one of us can be a Gandhi for our times   | Photo Credit: The Hindu Archives

Being Gandhi by Paro Anand

Chandrashekhar, the young protagonist, doesn’t quite see the point of Gandhi Jayanti. “As though we’ve only had one great man in our country,” he thinks rebelliously. And then he is handed an assignment: to try and be Gandhi for a week. Initially Chandra is baffled and angry but, when the Prime Minister is assassinated and riots break out, he begins to channelise his inner Gandhi. Without being preachy or heavy, the book takes the reader through how Chandra negotiates confusion, anger and fear and finds the courage and strength to stand up for what he knows is right. This is not the man or his life but his way of life and how it continues to be relevant today.

Funnily enough, Paro Anand says that initially she “didn’t think there was anything more to be said on Gandhi, especially for young people that had not already been said.” But when her editor persisted, she decided to try but it took a few attempts before she got her “breakthrough and wrote a story that I had long been wanting and needing to write.” As for the anti-Sikh riots of 1984, she points out that she had lived through them and has been wanting to write about them since she heard some children say “that is ancient history. The abiding feeling that this has nothing to do with them is a dangerous thing. I wanted to show that these are patterns; we need to be aware of so that we don’t fall into them ourselves repeatedly.”

Chandra’s change occurs gradually and very believably and this, Paro says, is because “I actually inhabit my characters and so the arc of understanding that comes to Chandra was what came to me.” But given that she had lived through the events so long ago, some amount of rewriting was necessary. She laughingly points out that she slips completely into the narrative and “it becomes a story in the present tense. Then, when I get a little distance and perspective, I go back to the narrated past tense. I think I drive all my editors a bit nuts with this. I should put a health warning when I submit. “Edit at your own risk, sanity not guaranteed.”

Finally her favourite Gandhi sayings: “A small act of kindness is more powerful than a thousand heads bent in prayer” and “In a gentle way, you can shake the world.”

And if you want to know more about Gandhi, her suggestions are Everyday Gandhi published by the NCERT and A Pinch of Salt that Rocked an Empire published by the Children’s Book Trust.

(From left) Mamta Nainy, Gandhi in 150 Anecdotes, Arthy Muthanna Singh, Paro Anand, Being Gandhi

(From left) Mamta Nainy, Gandhi in 150 Anecdotes, Arthy Muthanna Singh, Paro Anand, Being Gandhi   | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

Gandhi in 150 Anecdotes by Arthy Muthanna Singh and Mamta Nainy

This small book works as a perfect introduction to the whirlwind that was Gandhi. Incidents from his life — both well known and obscure — are served up in chatty bite-sized pieces that “placed Gandhian ideas in the context of today’s world and showed the many dimensions of Gandhi as a person,” as Mamta Nainy puts it.

While Arthy Muthanna Singh has “been a big fan of the Mahatma ever since I heard about him when I was seven from my paternal grandfather”, for Mamta, Gandhi is more than the political leader or saint found in school textbooks, stamps and currency notes. “He’s what we’re all capable of on our best days. His philosophies are a way of life and show us what we make of the challenges we face is what decides what we will become; how each one of us can be a Gandhi in our own way.”

While Arthy terms the research “ phenomenal learning experience”, she says they also discovered what a tough task they’d take on only when they began; “it was heebie-jeebie time.” Mamta describes the process as intense and fascinating in equal measure. Both mention discovering much they didn’t know about Gandhi and Mamta says, “That, I believe, has altered our view of the world in more ways than one.”

When asked how they decided on the episodes, Arthy responds with “Don’t even ask!” Mamta recalls, “We found that there are so many incidents from Gandhi’s life that give rare insights into his multi-layered personality, each one replete with wit, wisdom and depth of ideas. For every episode/anecdote that we kept we had to let go of another.” According to Arthy, what they wanted was “for him to come across as a human being, albeit an extraordinary one.”

Do they have a personal favourite story? Arthy says she loves all the stories about him adding, “I have a sweet tooth and am always being reprimanded for it. It was wonderful to know that Gandhiji had one too.” Mamta is inspired by the stories that “show how he always thought of others before himself. It was also fun to find out that while Gandhi observed stringent self-control when it came to food, he could give in easily to his craving for mangoes!”

Finally, I ask about the Gandhian saying that they most identify with. Arthy goes with “Happiness is when what you think, what you say, and what you do are in harmony” and “Freedom is not worth having if it does not include the freedom to make mistakes.” Mamta sticks with “‘Earth provides enough to satisfy every man's need, but not every man’s greed”, which she thinks is most relevant in today’s context.

Being Gandhi is published by HarperCollins. Gandhi in 150 Anecdotes is published by Puffin Books. Both books are available in bookstores and online

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Printable version | Jan 14, 2021 12:11:45 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/books/books-authors/review-being-gandhi-and-gandhi-in-150-anecdotes-tell-us-he-is-a-man-for-our-times/article29565599.ece

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