Azad Kashmir Spectator

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Was Gandhi a GAY ?

JOSEPH LELYVELD’S hypothesis (in his just released book Great Soul: Mahatma Gandhi and His Struggle with India) that Mahatma Gandhi left Kasturba to spend two years with his architect associate Hermann Kallenbach to further an alleged homosexual relationship, exposes a complete disregard for facts. 

The Mahatma, according to Australian Gandhian scholar Thomas Weber, shared Kallenbach’s house, six miles from Johannesburg, at the height of his agitation against the racist Transvaal Asiatic Registration Act, which was enacted to get rid of Indians from South Africa. To concentrate on his campaign, Gandhi cut back on his hugely successful law practice, which partly funded the movement, and abandoned his Johannesburg home in a fashionable neighbourhood to keep his expenses down.

Like all decisions Gandhi took in his public life, it was driven by pragmatism. And Kasturba, as South African historian Kalpana Hiralal of the University of Kwazulu-Natal has shown, took charge of the Phoenix Settlement near Durban because her husband had no time for it.

When the Transvaal government incarcerated Gandhi for two months in January 1908, Kasturba, “in solidarity with her hus- band, lived on a diet of unsalted, unsweetened, unflavoured cornmeal mush or ‘mealie pap’.”

When he heard Kasturba’s health had deteriorated, Gandhi wrote from jail: “A great pain nibbles my heart. I am full of sorrow yet I cannot come and serve you.” These are not the words of a man who had deserted his wife to be with his “male lover”.

A wealthy architect who had developed upscale townships around Johannesburg, and financed the 1,100-acre Tolstoy Farm as a community for satyagraha volunteers and their families, Kallenbach met Gandhi in 1903. The man who brought them together was a barrister and co-secretary of the Natal Indian Congress, R.K. Khan. Gandhi made Kallenbach, a lifelong bachelor who called Kasturba ‘Mother’ and doted on the Mahatma’s four sons (his friend banned him from giving his children expensive toys!), give up his expensive ways as well as turn his back on alcohol and tobacco.

Writing in 1929 about their time together, Gandhi recounted how, under his influence, Kallenbach “reduced himself to such simplicity” that his monthly expenses on himself came down from 1,200 dollars, “over and above house rent”, to 120.

In The Story of My Experiments with Truth, Gandhi says Kallenbach was convinced he “must carry out in his life the changes I was making in mine”. Referring to their time together in his other book, Satyagraha in South Africa, he writes: “He would be hurt if I offered to pay him my share of the household expenses, and would plead that I was responsible for considerable savings in his domestic economy.”

Had the hyper-confessional Gandhi nurtured any feelings for Kallenbach other than bonhomie, he would have devoted reams on the subject. Instead, he just presents a loving account of their friendship that lasted much after he had left South Africa


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