Homer Alexander Jack’s The Gandhi Reader: A Sourcebook of His Life and Writings depicts Gandhi’s thoughts and the ways he regarded issues during that time. We are privy to the innermost workings of his mind including the colorful life he led at childhood. Known for his adherence to non-violence, we read the exemplary way he walked his talk. There is transparency in this man and people were awed at how he charmed people to his non-violent principles. He knew that violence was not something to be proud of and the pages of this book attest to the many examples of that.
For instance we see how he offered non-violence as the cure to the difficulties that the Jews faced in Germany when he strongly states,
If I were a Jew and were born in Germany and earned my livelihood there, I would claim Germany as my home even as the tallest Gentile German might, and challenge him to shoot me or cast me in the dungeon; I would refuse to be expelled or to submit to discriminating treatment. And for doing this I should not wait for the fellow Jews to join me in civil resistance, but would have confidence that in the end the rest were bound to follow my example.
He is able to do this because he follows his own principles amidst the lies and corruption at that time. This 1930 persecution of the Jews bothered him because it was outright murder and he could not stand the outright violence.
The book gives readers a peek into his childhood days and parentage. It is in Chapter One where we learn about his ancestors. It states that for three generations from his grandfather, his ancestors have been Prime Ministers in the Katiawad states, referring to his grandfather as a man of principle. We also learn how different he was from his father in that even if they both were brave and truthful; his father was short-tempered while he had tolerance and patience at all circumstances. Like his father, he too was incorruptible and impartial, always given to what was just and right. Like him, his father had no love for riches and so they did not inherit much from him. This early Chapter gives a good glimpse of his roots and how this was the background that spurred him to be a man of influence himself.
This anthology of his writings also shows to us how well-learned Gandhi was, employing his skill in written language to show us how he thinks and looks at situations and people. He posits that even if his father did not have the opportunity of higher education, he was rich in experience, which served him well in his family and work affairs. The anthology is edited by topic and in chronological order revealing a man who remains fearless of the wrath of his enemies. We see therefore, the complexity of a man as he trudges through life, letting the world know of his vision of non-violence for the world as he saw the violence then. His complexity is in his simplicity because we find him intriguingly different from his peers who resolved differences with fights and arguments while he adhered to non-violence and simple living. It seems his words were his weapons. They were mightier than any gun or sword for he cut to the very being of leaders and politicians. This inspired awe which further puzzled other leaders because men of stature followed him even if he was a small, unassuming man. They saw him as a giant of a man, a man of principles, and values, a man who exchanged peace for war.
When he says that the most outstanding character that his mother taught him was that of saintliness, readers surmise that he got the best characteristics from both his parents. He further writes, “Living on one meal a day during Chaturmas was a habit with her.” (p. 5) making us conclude that indeed, Gandhi got the best values from his parents. He learned from his mother how to fast, how to remain steadfast and non-violent because of the saintliness she portrayed. He learned how to become like a man of steel when it comes to principles, unbending and true, just like his father. These information serve as pillars of his life and as readers we continue to see in the many pages that follow, about his beginnings and how he emerged as India’s leader par excellence.
Moreover, the book chronicles how he married at thirteen. He squirmed at the thought of writing that part of the book because he feels that he could not boast too much about it, having undergone a “preposterously early marriage” (p.6) at the age of thirteen, yet he continues that he has to divulge this part of his life for he “cannot do otherwise, if I claim to be a worshipper of Truth.” (p. 6).
The many anecdotes that pepper the book is delightful read. We first chance upon how he was transferred to the van compartment even if he possessed a first class ticket, just because he was colored. These incidents give readers a look at the character of this man and how he responded to situations. These were no ordinary events because they had a purpose on why he wrote it. He wanted to show how men viewed people of color like him which was to be his journey in life—proving to all and sundry that people of color had the same, if not more, brains than the favored whites. What was intriguing about him though, was the fact that he made his point in most situations by just remaining silent, with a one liner to reiterate his point. That day when he was shoved out of his first class cabin, he froze in the compartment because it was severe winter then. As he sat there shivering, he concluded that, “The hardship to which I was subjected was superficial—only a symptom of the deep disease of color prejudice.” He went on to fulfill his mission, having that first baptism of fire, for he continued head on, unmindful of the hardships and challenges he would face, cognizant only of the fact that he wanted to eliminate that prejudice.
The events that follow in the following chapters give us in vivid detail how this man of honor and dignity went through his life and official duties, to pursue his mission of non-violence. In fact, this book reads like a series of events on how one ought to respond peacefully. The book is like a primer on non-violence from a man who practiced it every moment of his life, who breathe it and who stayed till the end of his course advocating it so that leaders of nations will be inspired to follow it and thus, avoid wars and unnecessary deaths in the process.
Even till the end, when Britain declared, without consulting India, that it was at war, Gandhi was still after peace and seeking to save Britain its face saying that he would not embarrass Britain. But he declared that he would not participate in the war efforts. Gandhi knew that concrete results would be better if it was achieved through non-violence and he lived this mission all throughout his life, detailing his exploits in this book that is a delightful read from cover to cover.
The Gandhi Reader: A Sourcebook of His Life and Writings by Homer Alexander Jack
Grove Press. New York. Available Online at: