Ramachandra Guha

  • Aired:  04/24/14
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"Gandhi Before India" author Ramachandra Guha delves into Gandhi's early life as a failed lawyer and up-and-coming activist in South Africa. (6:57)

[ APPLAUSE ]>> Jon: WELCOME BACK, MY GUEST

TONIGHT, ANAUTHOR, HIS NEW BOOK IS "GANDHI

BEFORE INDIA," PLEASE WELCOMERAMACHANDRA GUHA.

HELLO, SIR.

THANK YOU FOR JOINING US.

NICE TO SEE YOU.

THANK YOU FOR BEING HERE.

THIS IS -- HERE IS WHAT I LOVE.

THIS IS THE BOOK, GANDHI BEFOREINDIA.

WHEN YOU ARE DEALING WITH ANICONIC FIGURE, A FIGURE THAT

BELONGS TO THE AGES, TO BRING APERSPECTIVE TO IT THAT IS

VIRTUALLY UNKNOWN TO MANY PEOPLEWHO BELIEVE THEY KNOW HIM WELL.

I BELIEVE I KNOW GANDHI, YOU SAYGANDHI I HAVE ALL OF THESE

THINGS I THINK I KNOW.

>> YES.

>> Jon: I DON'T KNOW ANYTHING. THIS IS AN AMAZING EXPERIENCE TO

READ ABOUT HIM IN HIS YOUNGERLIFE.

>> YES.

I THINK IT IS IMPORTANT, JON,NEVER TO TRUST YOUR SUBJECT'S

AUTOBIOGRAPHY.

YOU KNOW, EVEN A GUY AS FAMOUSAS GANDHI, I MEAN YOU WRITE YOUR

MEMOIRS?

>> Jon: WHAT?

>> YOUR BIOGRAPHER WOULD SAY,THIS IS A PREEMPTIVE STRIKE

AGAINST ME. YOU HAVE GOT TO STOPIT.

>> Jon: I SEE.

>> NOW, GANDHI HAS WRITTEN ABOUTHIS LIFE, OTHER PEOPLE HAVE

WRITTEN ABOUT GANDHI'S LIFEBASED ON GANDHI'S WRITINGS.

BUT WHAT I TRIED TO DO WAS TOLOOK AT PERSPECTIVES THAT GO

BEYOND HIM, WHATPEOPLE ARE SAYING ABOUT HIM,

IN SOUTH AFRICA FOR EXAMPLE THEWHITE NEWSPAPERS,

NOT -- IN A NOT DISSIMILARMANNER TO THE NEVADA NEWSPAPERS

YOU WERE JUST TALKING ABOUT,WROTE VERY VICIOUS THINGS ABOUT

HIM. YOU KNOW, SATIRICALFUNNY POEMS. YOU KNOW,

THEY WERE HIS FRIENDS, HISRIVALS. SO WHAT OTHER PEOPLE ARE

SAYING AMOUNT GANDHI, LETTERS,DOCUMENTS CAN ILLUMINATE HIS

LIFE, HIS EARLY FORMATION, HISVIEWS, MUCH BETTER THAN HE IS

REMEMBERED OR DARE I SAY ITMISREMEMBERED MEMORIES OF HIS

EARLY LIFE.

>> Jon: BUT THAT IS WHAT ISSO FASCINATING.

WHAT I LOVE ABOUT WHAT YOUBROUGHT TO THIS IS CONTEXT

BECAUSE AS YOU LIONIZE ANINDIVIDUAL THEY BEGIN TO NARROW.

>> ABSOLUTELY.

>> Jon: IN OUR MEMORY.

AND YOU FORGET, YOU KNOW, IT ISLIKE WHEN I LOOK AT A BLACK AND

WHITE PICTURE.

I FORGET, OH THAT JACKET COULDBE BRIGHT GREEN, THAT HAT COULD

BE YELLOW.

YOU FORGET THAT PEOPLE LIVEDTHEIR LIVES IN COLOR.

>> INDEED.

>> AND THEY LIVE THIER LIVES INRELATIONSHIPS. YOU TALKED

ABOUT LIONIZE, YOU KNOW, I'VETRIED TO HUMANIZE GHANDI.

>> Jon: YES.

>> GANDHI WAS ORTHODOX HINDUPATRIARCH. AND HE WAS MADE MORE

SENSITIVE TO GENDER RIGHTS BY AREMARKABLE WOMAN SECRETARY HE

HAD, A JEWISH WOMAN CALLED SONJASCHLESIN. YOU KNOW,

HE WAS AN UPPER CASTE HINDU BUTIN SOUTH AFRICA BECAUSE HE WAS

FORTUNATE TO LIVE IN THEDIASPORA WITH WORKING CLASS

TAMILS FROM SOUTH INDIA. HEUNDERSTOOD THE ETHNIC,

RELIGIOUS, CULTURAL DIVERSITYOF HIS COUNTRY.

>> Jon: RIGHT.

>> HAD GANDHI SUCCEEDED AT THEBAR IN BOMBAY, YOU KNOW,

GANDHI AS A YOUNG MAN GOESTO LONDON, QUALIFIES AS A

BARRISTER AND COMES BACK WITHHIS SUIT TO BOMBAY AND FAILS

THE BAR NOT JUST ONCE BUTTWICE. AND HAD HE SUCCEEDED AS

A LAWYER IN BOMBAY YOUAND I WOULD NOT BE HAVING

THIS CONVERSATION. HE FAILEDAND RECEIVED PROFESSIONAL

OBLIVION BY AN INVITATIONIN SOUTH AFRICA WHERE HE

MADE HIS NAME AS AN ACTIVIST ANDWHERE HE MET AND BEFRIENDED AN

EXTRAORDINARY DIVERSITY OFPEOPLE WHO EXPANDED HIS

HORIZON. AND FINALLY, OFCOURSE, AGAINST RACIALLY

DISCRIMINATORY LAWIN SOUTH AFRICA HE LAUNCHED

THE WORLD'S FIRST NONVIOLENTPROTEST MOVEMENT, LATER

FOLLOWED SUCCESSFULLY BYDR. KING AND OTHERS BUT IF THIS

MAN HAD SUCCEEDED AS A LAWYER HEWOULD NOT HAVE TRANSFORMED INDIA

OR THE WORLD.

SO THERE IS A LESSON IN THIS.

>> Jon: THERE IS A LESSON.

AND LET THIS LESSON GO OUT TOJEWISH MOTHERS EVERYWHERE.

IF YOUR SON DOES NOT BECOME ALAWYER OR A DOCTOR, IT IS NOT

TRAGEDY, BUT, IN FACT, APRECURSOR TO GREATNESS! THANK

YOU! HERE'S WHAT'S SOFASCINATING, TOO. SO,

[ APPLAUSE ]WHEN YOU SAY --

>> NOT JUST JEWISH MOTHERS, BUTINDIAN MOTHERS.

>> Jon: ABSOLUTELY,

ABSOLUTELY.

THAT IS A UNIVERSAL TRAITAMONGST THE MOTHER CLASS.

WHEN YOU TALK ABOUT GANDHIBEFORE, IT IS HARD TO THINK OF

HIM EXISTING OUT OF INDIA ANDTHE IDEA THAT EVEN HIS FIRST

RISE TO CONSCIOUSNESS OFOPPRESSION WAS NOT EVEN WITHININDIA BUT

SOUTH AFRICA AND ALMOST NOT FORTHE APARTHEID STATE AND

SUBJUGATION OF THE BLACKPOPULATION BUT THE INDIAN

POPULATION THAT IS LIVING IN THEDIASPORA THERE.

>> YES. YOU KNOW, THE INDIANS,THEY WERE SEEN AS A SECT BY THE

EUROPEANS, BECAUSE OFCOURSE THE AFRICANS ARE MUCH

MORE NUMEROUS AND OFCOURSE THEY WOULD SOMETIMES RISE

IN INSURRECTIONS BUTTHEY WERE DISPERSED IN

THE COUNTRYSIDE AND THEY WERENOT EDUCATED.

THE INDIANS WERE RUNNING SHOPSON THE EUROPEN MAIN STREET,

DISPLACING DUTCH AND BRITISHSHOPKEEPERS. YOU HAD ERNEST

LAWYERS LIKE GANDHIWHO MIGHT TAKE OVER YOUR

BUSINESS, INDIANS ARE BECOMINGDOCTORS SO THERE WAS A KIND OF

PARANOIA ABOUT INDIANS AND WHOMIGHT MIGRATE IN THEIR LARGE

HOARDS FROM THEEAST AND CLAIM THE CONTINENT

YOU HAD COME IN, YOU KNOW,COLONIZING FROM THE WEST.

SO, THE FIRST RACIALLYDISCRIMINATORY LAWS SOME OF THEM

WERE APPLIED AGAINST INDIANS ANDTHE INDIAN RESISTANCE

LED BY GANDHI, YOU KNOW, OFCOURSE, THEN BECAME MUCH

GREATER AND MORE WIDESPREAD,THE AFRICAN NATIONAL CONGRESS

WAS FOUNDED IN 1912 TOWARDTHE END OF GANDHI'S STAY IN

SOUTH AFRICA AND ITS PARTLYINFLUENCED BY GANDHI'S EXAMPLE.

OF COURSE GANDHI WAS LIMITED ANDHE WASN'T A UNIVERSAL FIGURE AND

DIDN'T REACH OUT TO THEAFRICANS. HE HAD AFRICAN FRIENDS

BUT HE DID TAKE UP THEIR CAUSE,BUT BY SLOWLY AND PERSISTENTLY

UNDERMINING THE RACIAL EDIFICEOF THE SOUTH AFRICAN STATE IN A

MODEST WAY HE PREPARED THE WAYFOR NELSON MANDELA AND ALL

THE GREAT FIGURES WHO FOLLOWEDIN SOUTH AFRICA ITSELF AND OF

COURSE HE TRAINED HIMSELF TOUNDERTAKE THE KIND OF MASSIVE

FREEDOM STRUGGLE HE WAS TO DO ININDIA.

SO, SOUTH AFRICA WAS FORMATIVETO GANDHI.

AND IT WAS IGNORED INEARLIER BOOKS, SO I

>> Jon: AND FORMATIVE INOTHER WAYS ALSO BECAUSE HIS

INFLUENCES ARE COMING FROMTOLSTOY, FROM ALL

OF THESE DIFFERENT AREAS THATYOU WOULD HAVE NO IDEA ABOUT.

IT IS FASCINATING.

>> YES.

AGAIN, IT IS CURIOUS, JON,GANDHI SO FAR AS I KNOW, NEVER

READ WAR AND PEACE OR ANNAKARENINA, HE HAD NO INTEREST IN

TOLSTOY THE NOVELIST BUT TOLSTOYTHE PHILOSOPHER. TOLSTOY WRITES

IN QUOTING A LINE FROM THEBIBLE, THE KINGDOM OF GOD

IS WITHIN YOU. THAT IS YOUR PATHTO TRUTH AND

SPIRITUALITY IS NOT WHAT THEBISHOP SAYS OR WHAT THE HOLY

IMMAN SAYS NOT WHAT THE HINDUHOLY MAN SAYS BUT YOU FIND IT

YOURSELF. SO IT'S IN THEDIASPORA THAT HE READS

TOLSTOY. IF HE WAS IN INDIA,HE PROBABLY WOULD NEVER HAVE

ENCOUNTERED IT.>> Jon: RIGHT.

IT IS A FASCINATING LOOK FROMANOTHER PERSPECTIVE AND I LOVE

IT, AND YOUR ENTHUSIASM ISMAKING ME VERY HAPPY RIGHT NOW.

I REALLY DO.

THIS IS AN EXCITING BOOK AND ANEXCITING PROJECT, GANDHI BEFORE

INDIA.

IT IS ON THE BOOKSHELVES NOW.GET IT.

RAMACHANDRA GUHA, THANK YOU,SIR.

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