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Wednesday, February 19, 2020

Gandhi, Unseen

Yet, after reading Pramod Kapoor’s voluminous tome on Gandhi, I cannot but conclude that this book adds significant value to the biographical corpus of the Mahatma.

Written by PAVAN K. VARMA | Updated: November 21, 2017 5:28:48 pm
Gandhi on Juhu beach Photos courtesy: Roli Books Gandhi on Juhu beach Photos courtesy: Roli Books

Book- GANDHI: AN ILLUSTRATED BIOGRAPHY
Author: Pramod Kapoor
Publication: Roli Books
Pages: 324
Price: Rs 2,495

Many readers could legitimately ask: Is there scope for another biography of Mahatma Gandhi? So much has been written on this iconic man; so many facets of his remarkable life, both in the public realm and the private, have been published, that this question cannot be dismissed.

Yet, after reading Pramod Kapoor’s voluminous tome on Gandhi, I cannot but conclude that this book adds significant value to the biographical corpus of the Mahatma.

Firstly, this is an extensively illustrated biography. Kapoor has scoured many sources worldwide to bring to the reader hitherto unseen visuals, not only of Gandhi but of the tumultuous era he lived through. Secondly, the visuals are competently annotated, and in this sense combine both illustration and narrative. Thirdly, there is a great deal of textual material consisting of letters, documents, notes, media extracts, cartoons, commentaries, advertisements, posters and postal communications that have been skillfully interwoven with the chronological narrative.

GANDHI: AN ILLUSTRATED BIOGRAPHY, Pramod Kapoor, Roli Books, book review, indian express book review

Gandhi was, as even the legions of his admirers readily accept, an exceptionally complex man. He treated his life as an open book, and this only further revealed the layers of this politician and statesman. Kapoor’s book is important for not providing a uni-dimensional portrait of Gandhi. Both the text and the photographs provide an intimate insight into the persona of Gandhi. For instance, while fully fleshing out his public profile, it also dwells on Gandhiji’s relationship with his estranged son Hiralal (in fact, the 14 pages of Hiralal’s anguished letter to his father is reproduced), the often excessive standards of compliance he expected from his wife Kasturba, his experiments with sex, including sleeping naked with his teenaged grandniece, and his contemplating marrying, when he was almost 50, Tagore’s attractive niece, Sarla Devi Chaudhurani.

The truth is that the Mahatma’s political legacy was so towering that a grateful nation internalised without demur his minor fads and foibles as well. But, for an objective biographer, it becomes incumbent to avoid selectivity, and to present the subject of study as completely as possible. It is in pursuit of this objective that Kapoor comes closest to success.

GANDHI: AN ILLUSTRATED BIOGRAPHY, Pramod Kapoor, Roli Books, book review, indian express book review Gandhi Rabindranath Tagore Photos courtesy: Roli Books

The result is this book, a riveting narrative of one of the greatest human beings of the world. What I find amazing is that there are some very important facets of the Mahatma that are still not available to the diligent researcher. Kapoor writes that “the private papers of some of those very close to him (the Pyarelal papers is one such example) as also his personal letters to his immediate family, are not in the public domain—they remain unpublished and inaccessible to most biographers, locked away in government and private vaults”.

GANDHI: AN ILLUSTRATED BIOGRAPHY, Pramod Kapoor, Roli Books, book review, indian express book review Gandhi playing with a child during a voyage to England Photos courtesy: Roli Books

I can imagine how frustrating it must have been for Kapoor not to be able to access them. But given what he has managed to lay his hands on, this illustrated biography is a must read for anyone who wants to immerse herself in the life of the “father of the nation”.

Pavan K Varma is an author, diplomat and a Rajya Sabha MP

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