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Book name: An Autobiography or The Story of My Experiments with Truth
Author: Tridip Suhrud
Publisher: Penguin India
Price: Rs 899
Gandhi’s Story of My Experiments with Truth still remains a unique book in the annals of Indian civilisation. It is a confessional, a spiritual exercise, an autobiography and a document of a man trying to do that most difficult of things: understand his own motives and confront his own demons. But most of all, this is a text that is fundamentally an exercise in responsibility. The spiritual discipline that Gandhi tries to practice based on satya and aparigraha, is not, as these things often become, an exercise in spiritual narcissism or saving one’s soul amidst the corruption of society. What makes this document, and Gandhi, almost unique is the way in which he personally feels responsible for all things that afflict society.
The pathos of the book always comes from those moments where Gandhi thinks he is responsible for other people’s shortcomings and sins. In the political sphere Gandhi took responsibility for what his followers or what the nation did. If the nation or the non-cooperation movement turned violent, Gandhi thought it was his fault. Even in this book, the repeated moments of fasting come to, as it were, atone for other people’s sins. If someone commits a transgression in the ashrama, it must be because of Gandhi’s shortcomings. It must be a reflection of his weakness or lack of discipline. In this sense the book is not just about Truth, or reckoning with your passion, or communion with God or an inner voice, or being true to one’s convictions. Gandhi’s political philosophy is not just the claim that society would be non-violent only if everyone went through a form of self- purification, by confronting their passions. It is also the more striking claim that others’ shortcomings might actually be a reflection of one’s own. The violence of India is not the violence of his followers, it is his own violence. That is a torment almost no other leader in the world has borne.
Gandhi has been well served by scholars and associates. Most readers often forget that Gandhi’s principal works were first written in Gujarati, and we often find people commenting on the directness of Gandhi’s English based on Mahadev Desai’s text. Experiments has been available to us, through the translation done by Mahadev Desai. Since Gandhi approved of it, the English version has always been thought of as a kind of co-production between Desai and Gandhi. But as scholars like Bhikhu Parekh, Ajay Skaria and Tridip Suhrud have pointed out, some things are nevertheless lost in translation. Gandhi’s cadences are more fluent in Gujarati, and the translations are hurried in several key passages.
Tridip Suhrud’s text is a unique exercise. Rather than re-translating Gandhi, he has produced a text that gives a reader two things. It gives a vivid sense of where Mahadev Desai departed from Gandhi’s original Gujarati, leaving out whole phrases and even sentences, and, sometimes, recreating the text with meanings missing in the original. It also has copious notes explaining each and every reference in the text. This will become the version and text for our times. Suhrud has three advantages over previous Gandhi scholars. The first is that he meticulous beyond measure, and is the gold standard in detail and scholarship. Second, he knows Gandhi’s Gujarati milieu thoroughly. Third, he is an outstanding and subtle Gandhian thinker. He is not just a Gandhi scholar but a brilliant thinker as well. He brings a philosophical and moral psychological subtlety to his craft that is unique. The introduction is immensely valuable as a short piece on Gandhi.
Experiments ends with Gandhi’s own description of his enterprise. “Ever since my return to India I have had experiences of the dormant passions lying hidden within me. The knowledge of them has made me feel humiliated, not defeated. The experiences and experiments have sustained me and given me great joy. But I know I have a difficult path to traverse. I must reduce myself to zero. So long as a man does not of his own free will put himself last amongst his fellow creatures there is no salvation for him. Ahimsa is the farthest limit of humility.” It is still worth reckoning with the mystery of how Gandhi tried to reduce himself to zero, or put himself last, and in the process became unique and expansive. We should indeed be grateful to Tridip Suhrud, for giving us Gandhi through his labour of exactitude and humility.