Wednesday, October 2, 2019

Gandhi’s London diary

‘What led to the intention of proceeding to London? The scene opens about the end of April. Before the intention of coming to London for the sake of study was actually formed, I had a secret design in my mind of coming here to satisfy my curiosity of knowing what London was.’ This is how Gandhi - born 150 years ago today - started a diary he wrote in London aged 19. Only the first 20 pages of the diary still exist, but the text is available online, and appears fairly banal. However, Gandhi has been the focus of diaries written by others, not least Mahadev Desai, his personal secretary, and the French writer/idealist Romain Rolland who did much to enhance Gandhi’s reputation in Europe.

Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi was born on the coast of present-day Gujarat, India, on 2 October 1869. He lived an extraordinary life, and is considered the country’s most important political and spiritual leader. He led India to independence in the middle of the 20th century, and was a pioneer of resistance (to the British rulers) through mass civil disobedience without violence, thus becoming an inspiration for similar civil rights movements across the world. He died in January 1948, leaving behind 100 volumes of collected writings, amounting to over 50,000 pages of text. Wikisource has an incomplete listing of the volumes, plus a photograph of them.

The very first volume, which covers the years 1988 to 1896, contains the first 20 pages of what is now called Gandhi’s London Diary. According to A Comprehensive, Annotated Bibliography on Mahatma Gandhi by Ananda Pandiri (which itself runs to three volumes), the diary originally included 120 handwritten pages. In 1909, Gandhi gave it to his nephew who was travelling to London; ten years later the nephew gave it to Mahadev Desai. By then, Desai had become Gandhi’s personal secretary and would stay so for over 25 years. For some unknown reason, Desai copied out only the first 20 pages of the diary, and the contents of the other 100 pages remain unknown.

Here are the first and last surviving paragraphs from Gandhi’s London Diary. All the pages between these two extracts are devoted to an analysis of how the trip to London came about, and a description of the sea voyage. Thus, in fact, it is not a proper diary at all.

October-November 1888
‘What led to the intention of proceeding to London? The scene opens about the end of April. Before the intention of coming to London for the sake of study was actually formed, I had a secret design in my mind of coming here to satisfy my curiosity of knowing what London was. While I was prosecuting my college studies in Bhavnagar, I had a chat with Jayshankar Buch. During the chat he advised me to apply to the Junagadh State to give me a scholarship to proceed to London, I being an inhabitant of Sorath. I do not perfectly remember the answer I made to him that day. I suppose I felt the impossibility of getting the scholarship.’

. . .

‘Mr. Mazmudar, Mr. Abdul Majid and I reached the Victoria Hotel. Mr. Abdul Majid told in a dignified air to the porter of the Victoria Hotel to give our cabman the proper fare. Mr. Abdul Majid thought very highly of himself, but let me write here that the dress which he had put on was perhaps worse than that of the porter. He did not take care of the luggage too, and as if he had been in London for a long time, stepped into the hotel. I was quite dazzled by the splendour of the hotel. I had never in my life seen such pomp. My business was simply to follow the two friends in silence. There were electric lights all over. We were admitted into a room. There Mr. Majid at once went. The manager at once asked him whether he would choose second floor or not. Mr. Majid thinking it below his dignity to inquire about the daily rent said yes. The manager at once gave us a bill of 6s. each per day and a boy was sent with us. I was all the while smiling within myself. Then we were to go to the second floor by a lift. I did not know what it was. The boy at once touched something which I thought was lock of the door. But as I afterwards came to know it was the bell and he rang in order to tell the waiter to bring the lift. The doors were opened and I thought that was a room in which we were to sit for some time. But to my great surprise we were brought to the second floor.’

Elsewhere on the internet, one can find information on Tim Watson’s theory about the missing diary pages being suppressed to hide Gandhi’s affiliation to freemasonry; and there are other Gandhi conspiracy theories in his book Gandhi - Under Cross-Examination

More interesting, though, are the diaries written by others which have Gandhi as their focus. In contrast to Gandhi, for example, his secretary Desai was a committed diarist, and eventually published nine volumes - Day to Day with Gandhi. These can read freely online at Internet Archive or  the Gandhi Heritage Portal. Here is one extract.

15 October 1924
‘Four weeks have ended today since the tapasya of the fast for 21 days was begun. I had ended that chapter with a description of Bapu’s mental struggle and of the happy ending of the fasting vow. It seems that the painful duty of having to write about the fourth and even the fifth week will fall upon me, because it will take Gandhiji at least a fortnight to be up and doing. After a long fast a man may usually feel dull and listless, may not relish new food or may even be tempted to be a glutton, as a reaction from his long abstinence. Bapu has suffered from none of these. He has now begun to take ordinary food with the same ease and cheerfulness as those with which he had begun the fast. The vow ended at 12 noon, but because of the prayer etc. the fruit juice could be taken at about 12.45 p. m. Two days later he began to take milk and gradually increase its quantity - 2 ozs., 3, 4 and so on - and today he has come to 25 ozs. of milk and a few oranges. Before the end of the fast, quite a number of Jain munis (sages) had written to him specially to send their blessings and felicitations as well as detailed suggestions as to how to taper off the fast. The letters revealed inordinate love for Bapu, but owing to his vow to take only five articles of food in a meal, he has not been able to follow in practice anyone of these instructions except that of taking fruit. Even with the diet he is taking at present, everything - sleep etc. - goes on with clock-work regularity. [. . .]

Bapu is generally open to visitors at all hours of daytime except this period of prayers etc. A friend urged: “Now, please, enough of such a terrible vow! Wickedness is certain to persist to some degree in this world.” Immediately Bapu countered with a laugh: “Don’t you suppose I am vain enough to think I possess the power to remove the wickedness of the world! If I fasted, it was only for my own purification. It was my religious duty to undergo that much penance. That has been done. The fruit rests with God.”

Gandhi was also a star character in the diary kept by the French writer and idealist Romain Rolland. Indeed, in 1976, the Indian government published a volume of Rolland’s writings concerning Gandhi: Romain Rolland And Gandhi Correspondence (Letters, Diary Extracts, Articles, Etc.), this too is available at Internet Archive. (NB: An earlier Diary Review article on Rolland - Love of humanity - stated that the only published extracts from Rolland’s diaries in English concerned Herman Hesse. However, this was clearly incorrect as the Gandhi book contains many extracts from his diaries translated into English.) Here are several extracts.

February 1929
‘Gandhi announces in Young India his intention not to leave India this year and to give up the journey to Europe which had been settled on. I understand his reasons only too well; it is an armed vigil. Gandhi has recently obtained from Congress that a final deadline should be set for England by which to grant India her requested constitution. After this deadline, which expires on 31 December next, Gandhi has promised to join the rest of his people in seeking total and unconditional independence. It is thus important that he should not leave the battle-posts at which he is waiting. I write to him, however (17 February), to say that if he cannot come himself he should send to Europe one or several Indians whose moral personalities carry worldwide authority in order to enlighten Europe about the struggle which is about to begin. It is only too clear that as soon as it starts the British Empire will blockade India and flood world opinion with its own false reports so as to turn the world against India. India should thus take the first step.’

December 1932
‘Gandhi is talking about another fast to obtain the opening of a temple to the untouchables; I tell him by cable that European opinion will not follow him in a repetition of his heroic act of last October, if it is for a secondary objective.’

December 1937
‘Gandhi gravely ill in Calcutta (where he wore himself out trying to obtain the liberation of the political prisoners). Tagore, himself scarcely out of bed after a serious illness, comes to see him, and there is a most touching scene. Tagore arrives, still very weak, and unable to climb the stairs. At the doorway he learns that Gandhi is better; he is pleased and, not wanting to disturb him, offers to leave without seeing him. He is told that Gandhi would like to see him and that, but for his state of health, he himself would have gone to Santiniketan. Tagore allows himself to be carried in an armchair; he finds Gandhi at prayer; he remains seated during the prayer, but does not want to disturb the prayer by speaking to him, and he leaves praying for him and blessing him.’

This article is a revised version of one first published 10 years ago on 2 October 2009.


Capt A.Nagaraj Subbarao said...

'Why was Gandhi in touch with the head of the Muslim League, a known terrorist organization? And why was this organization based in London? It is well known that MI6 and British Freemasonry were behind the creation of the Muslim Brotherhood, generally regarded as Islamic Freemasonry, which boasts known terrorists like Osama bin Laden among its membership. It is also well known that the CIA was behind the creation of al-Qaeda, the Mujahaddin and the Taliban. . .’ Etc. etc. etc.'

How can the two periods be juxtaposed?

It was a 'common' British ruse to divide India along religious lines so that there would be little unity amongst its massess. Gandhi, saw this very early & attempted to bridge this divide.

Also, Gandhi was called a Mahatma, because he held out hope to the most backward of India's people.........not because he was a Freemason.

Paul K Lyons said...

The reference to the name Mahatma in the article is part of a quote which is introduced as 'propaganda for [a] lecture'.