Sunday, August 21, 2011

Joseph Lelyveld

Joseph Lelyveld is a former executive editor of the New York Times. His latest book is Great Soul: Mahatma Gandhi and His Struggle With India, which was banned in some Indian states because of its very brief discussion of Gandhi's possible physical relationship with a male architect.

From Lelyveld's Q & A with Randy Dotinga of the Christian Science Monitor:

Q: What surprised you about the reaction to the book?

I was struck by the fact that hardly anybody reacted to what I considered to be the main themes of the book, what I said I was setting out to do. A lot of the reviews got tangled up in reconsideration of Gandhi by the reviewers or side issues.

I was trying to take Gandhi seriously as the social reformer he always meant to be. That's why the book is called "Mahatma Gandhi and His Struggle With India." I wasn't setting out to challenge the traditional narrative of his life, but amplify it and consider it from another angle, how resistant India was to many of his central teachings, which remains true today. I thought that might be controversial in India, but it never was.

India maintains one of the world's largest standing armies and nuclear weapons. Gandhi, having read the accounts of Nagasaki and Hiroshima, said in 1947, "God save us from this atom bomb mentality," which was an amazing thing for him to say. India had just become independent, and no one imagined it going nuclear except Gandhi. The foreboding strikes me as quite extraordinary.

Gandhi's personal values included non-violence. Indians tend to see Gandhi as a symbol of nationhood, fearlessness, and courage, but they don't...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue