Many summers ago when Pramod Kapoor started Roli Books in 1978, he probably did not know there was an author in him. Slowly though he has undergone a complete change, from being just a publisher to a research scholar and now an author. He has just penned “Gandhi: An Illustrated Biography” that is predictably high on visual support. What is interesting though is the fact that Kapoor has been able to throw some light on Mahatma Gandhi’s personal relationships, particularly his exchanges with his son Harilal and his wife Kasturba. He recounts the difference in opinion and the quarrel between Gandhiji and his wife when the former brought a family of untouchables to his ashram in Kochrab in 1915. The quarrel went on till midnight when their teenage sons brought about a truce. More interesting is the reproduction of Harilal’s letter to his father in which he wrote, “A worm enters the body of a wasp and flies away having assumed the form of the wasp. I believe something similar happened to me. I have received much from you. I have learnt much. I was formed by you and my character emerged unblemished. The only difference is that I lacked the patience and endurance of a worm and ran away even before I could become a wasp.”
Besides Gandhiji’s fixation with sleeping in the nude with his teenage grandniece, despite his near and dear ones’ objections, there is an even more pertinent revelation about Gandhiji and VD Savarkar addressing a gathering together in London where Gandhiji spoke on Shri Ram, Savarkar on Durga, their choices of deities exemplifying their political ideologies. And for those who came in late, Kapoor has a revelation: the marital bond that the Godses and the Savarkars shared, another matter that Nathuram was convicted for the assassination of the Father of the Nation while VD Savarkar escaped. Though Godse was convicted, Kapoor writes, “Perhaps Gandhi would himself have defended Godse. In the twilight of his life, he had already pronounced a verdict on his would-be assassin.
‘If someone were to shoot me in the belief that he was getting rid of a rascal, he would kill not the real Gandhi, but one that appeared to him a rascal.’”
In the middle of hectic travel to promote the book, Kapoor took a few questions about the book that has some rare photographs, including those of Gandhiji with Charlie Chaplin, Sardar Patel besides poignant ones with Kasturba in varying stages of life.
A book on Mahatma Gandhi often just adds to the vast ocean on the indomitable figure. What were the challenges you faced to present something new in piecing together this biography?
In my six year long study and research I realised that Gandhi is analysed, reanalysed differently every decade or so. From early reverence to criticism by mostly western scholars books are full of personal interpretation by famed scholars. I simply conveyed my narrative through lesser known stories and anecdotes thus making my point by presenting anecdotes that described Gandhi’s life or his relationship with various people close or opposed to him and let reader form his own opinion.
Mahatma Gandhi was essentially a rebel. How did he turn out to be the saviour of the nation?
One thing Gandhi never compromised with was truth. In that context you can refer to him as a rebel. He was a strict disciplinarian, stubborn to the core, and liked to take charge of his family and close friends. He built a team of followers with whom he created a nation.
There are different schools of thought on Gandhiji's involvement with various Hindu and Muslim groups away from the mainstream of freedom struggle. For instance, people point out his happy relationship, if only for a while, with Gita Press. Could you please elaborate?
Gandhi worked relentlessly for Hindu-Muslim unity while remaining a Hindu believer. For him religion was a personal choice and should not be imposed. He did help create Khilafat Movement, and often considered himself close to the philosophy of Christ. Often in his evening prayer meetings the Quran and the Bible were recited.
Could you throw some light on Melville De Mello's seven hour long commentary on Gandhiji's funeral? The human element of it, the emotion of the moment....
I have described Gandhi’s last journey through Melville De Mello’s commentary. I heard the commentary several times and also thought of putting a CD of his baritone voiced commentary with the book. But the quality of the archival record wasn’t that great. He was an eyewitness from the closest quarters...in those days when VIP security wasn’t a big hindrance amongst commoners and leaders he mingled with both freely and gave a very emotional, unforgettable commentary.
You briefly refer to Savarkar's acquittal while Godse and others were convicted for the assassination of the Father of the Nation. What were the circumstances that led to Savarkar's acquittal?
That’s a big story and difficult to describe in few sentences. The fact is that authorities at the time did not present credible forceful evidence. There was enough circumstantial evidence but that was not enough to convict him. It was a public knowledge that Savarkar was closely associated with the group that conspired and killed Gandhi. There are photographs of all of them together and eventually Savarkar and Godse family got so close together that there was marital relationship between the two families.
Finally, you talk of Gandhiji at a time when people in the country are planning to build a Godse temple. The book could not have been better timed. Agree?
The book was not timed with anybody, particularly Godse in mind. It started as a publisher’s instinct and became one of the most passionate exercises of my life thus far. I pursued it to the best of my ability often challenging myself. For me it’s a pure labour of love.