Few individuals have ever dominated politics the way Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi did during his lifetime. Combining statecraft and spirituality, he formed an iron bond with India’s peoples that has been documented endlessly, making him perhaps the most written-about Indian of all time.
Given this, you would think there is little new to offer on Gandhi. Yet, Pramod Kapoor, the founder-publisher of Roli Books, has managed to find a host of rare, even unpublished, photographs from the life of the father of the Indian nation. In his book
Gandhi: An Illustrated Biography, Kapoor shies away from the big questions about Gandhi’s life – he concedes, in fact, that the book contains material that “historians considered irrelevant”.
To Kapoor, though, the 300-odd images have certain pertinence. Whether it is the image of a recommended diet plan for Subhash Chandra Bose or the photograph of Gandhi sitting bare-chested at a tony garden party, the book shows the human side of the man anointed as Mahatma.
Gandhi was near-obsessed with dietary habits. Here is a plan he drew up for one of his fiercest political opponents, Subhas Chandra Bose, in 1936. In his teens, a Muslim friend had convinced Bose that eating meat was the key to becoming strong – and therefore overthrowing the Raj. Gandhi came from a Vaishnav family that strictly forbade eating meat. Although Gandhi ate meat a few times, his guilt got the better of him and he gave it up. For the rest of his life, Gandhi would not touch fish, poultry, meat or even eggs. Gandhi’s experiments did not end there: he would write that he had "a hobby of a lifetime, namely, dietetic experiments. They are to me as important as many of the most important activities which have engrossed me from time to time”. As an adult, Gandhi even gave up the crown jewels of Indian food: spices. He ate mostly boiled vegetables. He did not consume cow or buffalo milk either, thinking the process of dairy farming in India to be cruel to animals. Instead, he drank goat’s milk. Gandhi’s food fads were well-known, given that the Mahatma himself gave them wide circulation, even authoring two books on diet. Writing on a new experiment on eating raw food, Gandhi quipped, “I have been known as a crank, faddist, mad man. Evidently the reputation is well deserved.” Gandhi isn't exactly known for his abilities as a sportsman. Yet, here he is with the Grayville Cricket Club in Durban, South Africa. Cricket featured again in Gandhi’s life during his career as a politician in India, while World War II was raging on. There was a cricket tournament organised in Bombay city at the time called The Pentangular, which featured teams representing communities: Europeans, Hindus, Muslims, Parsis and the Rest (Indian Christians mainly, but also Buddhists and Jews). Recognising the communal consciousness that the tournament was encouraging, Gandhi moved in to stop it in 1940. In 1946, the Pentangular was abandoned and the Ranji trophy, played between provinces, took its place as India’s premier domestic cricket tournament. Credit: Alamy A policeman confronts Gandhi in South Africa as he leads a protest against racist laws (1913). Credit: Alamy Gandhi gets a grand reception in his hometown of Kathiawar after his return from South Africa in 1915. This was starkly different from how he left India. As he was about to depart for England from Bombay, there was anger among members of his caste about him leaving. The Modh Banias were of the opinion that travelling to England would destroy caste purity. A meeting of community eleders was convened where Gandhi reiterated that he would not enter into a relationship with a woman in England and stick to the caste's diet rules. His promises did not move the council, which excommunicated Gandhi from the caste – an order that was rescinded when Gandhi eventually returned. Gandhi's anti-colonialism extended to clothes. While the traditional Indian menswear of wearing only a dhoti was seen as uncivilised, Gandhi embraced it to be close to the common Indian. Credit: Getty Images Gandhi at a Western-style garden party, dressed only in a dhoti. Gandhi gave up wearing anything other than a dhoti and a sheet to cover the upper body in 1921. This was seen as a regressive step by many Britons as well as elite Indians – some even laughed at him. Yet, there was also an appreciation that he was choosing to dress as millions of rural Indians and, as anthologist Emma Tarlo writes, it was taken as a sign of Gandhi being a religious ascetic. Credit: Alamy Winston Churchill had contemptuously called Gandhi a "half-naked fakir" in 1931, referring to Gandhi's habit of dressing only in a dhoti. Unfazed, this is how Gandhi used the phrase in a letter to Churchill in 1944. In 1931, Gandhi even went and met the English king in a dhoti, a fact that caused much amusement in the British press. When asked if he had worn enough clothes at the meeting, Gandhi famously quipped, “The King had on enough for the both of us.” Credit: Chicago Tribune Archive Gandhi met Charlie Chaplin even though the Mahatma had no idea who he was. In their brief meeting, they ended up arguing over the use of machinery. While Gandhi favoured a return to manual labour – as illustrated in his use of the charkha to spin cloth – Chaplin believed that automation was synonymous with progress. Credit: Alamy A satirical poem on the tussle between Gandhi and MA Jinnah. The "saint" here is Gandhi and the "demagogue" Jinnah. Gandhi and Jinnah had known each other for long, since they both hailed from present-day Gujarat and worked in Bombay city. Yet, their paths diverged early on as Jinnah stuck to old-style moderate politics within the Congress, while Gandhi turned to mass agitations. Later, as Jinnah chose communal politics in the Muslim League, he would go up against the Gandhi-led Congress. A crowd gathers at Noakhali station to watch Gandhi arrive. Gandhi spent October 1946 in Noakhali – a district in Bengal, now in Bangladesh – in response to communal rioting. To keep the peace he later headed to Calcutta. While both Punjab and Bengal were partitioned, the latter saw little violence, some credit for which should go to Gandhi’s appeal for peace. The British Viceroy of India called Gandhi a “one-man boundary force” for his role in pacifying Calcutta. Credit: Alamy Gandhi meeting Lord and Lady Mountbatten in Delhi. Gandhi with his grandniece Manubehn in Calcutta. On the day of Independence Gandhi was in this city with Bengal Prime Minister Huseyn Shaheed Suhrawardy, pressing for communal peace. Credit: Private Collections Gandhi on his final fast in Delhi in 1948. This was his way to repudiate the communal violence that had gripped the subcontinent and to pressure the Indian government to transfer the Rs 55 crore owed to Pakistan as part of the Partition settlement. Credit: Getty Images Gandhi after he was shot dead by Nathuram Godse in Delhi on January 31, 1948. Godse was unhappy with Gandhi’s efforts to end the communal rioting and blamed the Mahatma for Muslim appeasement. Credit: Getty Images
All images courtesy
Gandhi: An Illustrated Biography, Pramod Kapoor, Roli Books .