Mahatma Gandhi is “the greatest Indian since the Buddha to get all his works together, to translate, collate, edit, meticulously annotate footnotes, and give a detailed chronology in each volume”, said historian Ramachandra Guha Tuesday.
Speaking at the 65th Sahitya Akademi Foundation Day Lecture, titled ‘Mahatma Gandhi as a Communicator’, the Padma Bhushan awardee added that “Gandhi, the great writer and communicator in two languages, was an utterly mediocre student”.
Guha said he is the first biographer of Gandhi to discover this piece of information, compiled in a book (published in the 1960s by the Publications Division) by J M Upadhyaya — the headmaster of Gandhi’s school, Alfred High School, Rajkot, later renamed Mahatma Gandhi Memorial School and now turned into a museum.
Upadhyaya, Guha said, while going through old papers in a cupboard, found that “Gandhi’s attendance record was very spotty, almost half the time he didn’t attend class”, adding, “his marks were even less distinguished. In his matriculation examination, Gandhi got 44.5 per cent in English and 45.5 per cent in Gujarati”.
Gandhi, the “failed student and failed lawyer” (in Rajkot and Mumbai), made his writing debut with six articles in the journal of the Vegetarian Society of London. The lawyer, who came into his own only in South Africa, started the newspaper Indian Opinion in 1903 (printed in English, Gujarati, Tamil and Hindi) “to further his social movement, political cause”.
Gandhi “had four callings: freedom fighter, social reformer, religious pluralist and constructive worker, which he conducted concurrently. But he had a fifth calling: writer-editor; his output is colossal (90 volumes),” said Guha, touching upon his works including Hind Swaraj (1909) and newspaper Young India (1919, renamed as Harijan in 1933).
“But unlike Rabindranath Tagore, Gandhi was not an expressive writer. It is not false modesty to say, the best non-fiction writer is grossly inferior to the best novelist, and certainly to the greatest poet,” he added.
Guha also recounted that while Muhammad Ali Jinnah sounded like a “phonograph record, possessed by a complete certitude, Gandhi believed in dialogue and was open to change”.