We were walking aimlessly in the Harvard campus around the Faculty Club just soaking in the dean spirit. ( I sneaked in to find a big table laden with salads, cheese, sandwiches and wine glasses.) Sneaked out and crossed the road to the Harvard Book Store in search of bargains on second hand books. Saw some chairs being arranged. ‘What’s happening?’ ‘ Oh, we are having a book launch… Gandhi Before India by Ramachandra Guha.’ ‘ Is the author going to be here? ‘ ( That’s the plan.’. “ Holy gosh! Ram Guha here. Out of all days, this evening! Couldn’t believe my luck.
Soon the space was filled and there were people standing. Pratap Bhanu Mehta did the introduction. But the electricity started flowing the moment Ram Guha took the stage. His introduction to the book was high-energy, witty and substantive.
He started with how the book idea for the book germinated in his head when he was invited once in the 90’s to take a class in Berkley. He chose the subject of ‘ Arguing with Gandhi’. US universities like guest lecturers to choose their subject but the deigned to offer some words of warning. ‘ Are you sure? You may have just 3 or 4 students attending’. Someone added, “ And they are likely to be ABCDs – American Born Confused Desis’. ( And EFGs as well perhaps, another one added, ‘ Emigrant Foreign Gujarati s.’ ‘ But obstinate as always I held my ground’, Ram Guha tells the audience. ‘ So when I landed in Berkley on a Saturday I couldn’t sleep the night worrying about the size of the class he was going to take. Next morning I pick up a local Sunday paper and found a small ad from a laundry whose headline intrigued me. ‘ Only Gnadhi knew fast better than us. Get your laundry in 8 hours.” I am in luck I chuckled to myself. If a laundry owner here knows Gandhi well enough to pun on ‘ fast’ I am going to do better than ABCDEFGs! ‘
Unlike most books in Gandhi this one has dug into sources outside the 100 volumes of collected works by Gandhi and offers some great insights into what formed Gandhi . It talks , for example, of how Gandhi showed first hints of original thinking and advocacy of causes when he wrote for the journal published by the Vegetarian Society of London. It reveals what a maverick Gandhi was right from the beginning, visiting churches when he was in London, having a British couple and a Muslim eat off the table of his conservative Gujarati household while in South Africa.
It’s on my must-read list and I am ordering it from Flipkart soon.
No I didn’t buy the book from the store, opting for a nice black ‘ Harvard Bookstore’ T-shirt instead. ( Actually Jojo bought it for me. And it looks quite cool. )
(Jojo made a solo trip to Harvard the next day to meet his friends and had a rollicking party at the house o a professor who has been advocating legalization of marijuana. Among the guests was Bob Marley’s granddaughter. No wonder Jojo forgot all about returning home at the promised hour. Alas no pictures as Jojo lost all his photos trying to transfer data from his new Nexus phone on to the computer.)
- Times Square