Today it’s become a fashion to curse Mahatma Gandhi, the Father of the Nation of India. Perhaps a sizable chunk of our generation born in free India, especially after the seventies, considers him only as the root cause of many problems being faced by the nation and also seeks a sadistic pleasure in cursing him, abusing him, calling him names and what not. May be because cursing someone is always easy and we are fond of taking the easier path or may be because he is a soft target in the present scenario now just like many revolutionaries who laid down their lives for India but who unfortunately belonged to the upper caste strata of the Indian society which is the target of scorn in the present socio-political scenario. Well, non-violent Gandhi had to be a soft target only whose name cannot catch votes now. Cynics cannot dare to say anything critical of Ambedkar who is now a tough target but Gandhi! Who really cares for him (in India) now? Even the Gujaratis seem to have discarded him.
I myself have written a play (in Hindi) on Gandhian thoughts by keeping a veteran Gandhian character at the centre of the story and I maintain that Gandhi can be understood properly by that person only who has at least a pinch of Gandhi in his own personality. Gandhiji used to assert – ‘My message is my life only‘. Hence to grasp his message, one has to absorb at least a particle of the sublimity that pervaded his life, his personality and his vision. Else, misunderstanding him will always be very easy as it was and it is.
In his autobiography Gandhiji could cover only those incidents that had taken place in his life upto 1921. Later, he could not continue to write his autobiography further and this incomplete autobiography of his is known as this book which is, as per himself only, mainly an account of his experiments with truth. Truth which was no lesser than God to him. His assumption was – Satya Hi Eeshvar Hai (Truth only is God). In the last chapter of this book, he has affirmed without mincing words – “I have never felt that there’s any God different from truth“.
This book is a clear testimony of his relentless devotion to truth. He has criticized and condemned himself for his wrongdoings but at the same time his repentance and atonement inspires the reader and set the moral before him – ‘Consider it dawn when you awake’.
In the preface, Gandhiji asserts – “It is not my purpose to attempt a real autobiography. I simply want to tell the story of my numerous experiments with truth, and as my life consists of nothing but those experiments, it is true that the story will take the shape of an autobiography.“. And hence the title of this book is – ‘My Experiments with Truth‘ or ‘The Story of My Experiments with Truth‘.
This book, thus, intermingles the life of that extra-ordinary person with his quest for truth in everything coming his way. He is right in terming his life as nothing but the story of his experiments with truth. He has been candid throughout while penning down his experiences and thus this book also is one of his numerous experiments with truth only. The truthfulness of the facts laid down by him cannot be verified but there is enough evidence to believe that he has been honest right from the word ‘go’ to the ending word of the stuff.
Gandhiji had written this book originally in Gujarati while spending his time in jails as per the sentences awarded. After reading its both Hindi and English versions, I can say only one thing that it helps in understanding that person whom today’s generation may curse but cannot dilute his contribution to the nation and even more than that, to the mankind. Starting from his childhood experiences, the book details his variety of personal experiences till his age of 52 years. Though one third of his lifetime (which is perhaps the most significant phase of his life in the political context of India) is left out, nevertheless the reader can have a glimpse into his personality. And let’s not forget that a person’s personality is nothing but a result of his collective life-experiences only.
This book is studded with the events of his life which are glaring examples as to how he came across the life situations dealing with true and not true things. The way he dealt with those situations and the experiences he got through them have been elaborated in the book. He is nowhere biased and he has given a true account of what he found and what he felt.
Gandhiji has not been judgemental to others while spelling out various facts and his interaction with others. However he has been judgmental to himself at many places. He has condemned himself for many things and expressed his repentance for doing them. However for certain other things, he has left it to the readers to judge them and frame their own opinion which may be quite different from that of himself.
Since the narrative moves in a chronological order, this book is also an account of the British rule as it was during in that period in India as well as South Africa (where Gandhiji spent around two decades). It’s superficially informative regarding the happenings outside and it’s deeply informative and enlightening regarding the author himself. The things spelled out are peripheral only. The author’s objective is to speak out about himself only and let others judge himself and his experiments with truth which was the ultimate for him.
This book is not boring at all even for the reader who picks it up just out of curiosity and without having any regard for the author. The narrative flows very well and it’s systematically divided into chapters. Gandhiji’s secretary Mahadev Bhai Desai had translated the original Gujarati work into English and he has kept the soul of the original expression intact.
This book deals with not only Gandhiji’s experiments with truth but also with the experiments of truth with him as we move through his experiences. The tests of tough times strengthened the virtues embedded in him and finally, he felt that his belief in truth had stood the test of time.
In my review of Bollywood movie Kabhi Haan Kabhi Naa, I have asserted that an episode in the movie in which the hero Shah Rukh Khan admits his lie to his father, thus paining him but having the satisfaction of confessing fault before him, reminds an episode from Gandhiji’s life. It’s his confessing his sin of stealing gold of the house to repay brother’s debt to his father who suffered immense pain through this information but ultimately forgave his son. This book contains that episode also.
Most of us make resolutions from time to time (mostly at the time of the advent of the new year or like wise occasion) only to break them after some time. Gandhiji has underscored through his own experience that if you make a resolution, then better stick to it come what may, else you are dishonest to yourself. If you take the literal meaning of your resolution and not the spirit behind the words in order to find ways to escape it or do anything against it, it’s nothing but deceiving yourself. He has illustrated it through his resolution of not consuming cow milk or buffalo milk but later on agreeing to consume goat’s milk at his doctor’s advice. He asserts that he could never forgive himself for that and always repented for not being able to maintain his resolution (termed as Vrata by him).
I am finding myself as incompetent to do justice to this great book through my review. Gandhiji has elucidated truth as he perceived, understood and grasped it through his life-experiences. He was a firm believer in truth, if nothing else. If only he could write and expand this book further covering his experiences of later years ! Anyway, it was not destined. While signing off, he has stressed self-purification also and candidly admitted that his own self-purification is incomplete at the time of penning the book. However he has also asserted in this regard – “I am ashamed but not defeated“. And that’s what I also assert, i.e., on the path of truth, we may find ourselves as losers in the materialistic sense but should not develop the feeling of being defeated. An experiment with truth may or may not yield the desired result in the shorter period but such an experiment is worth making it.
This book is a gem of Indian literature because it is not fiction, nor is it a collection of sermons by a hermit. It is a true account of a truthful man’s life who was devoted to truth and truth only. Everything, including the freedom of the country, was futile to him in the absence of truth. This book is a must for every Indian and everybody interested in knowing about that time and those ideals relentlessly pursued by the person whose lifespan was an era for India as well as for the mankind.
This book is meant for those who curse and criticize Gandhi and also for those who respect him and seek inspiration from him. Love him or hate him, you will find this book of immense value. It’s easy to misunderstand anybody specially Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi (on the basis of hearsay about him) but very difficult to conceptualize and visualize him as Albert Einstein had rightly asserted for him – “Generations to come, it may well be, will scarce believe that such a man as this one ever in flesh and blood walked upon this Earth”.
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