Saturday 1 June 2024




These strange times make me recall that Gandhiji's first biography was published from London in 1909. It was republished in India by G. A. Natesan of Madras in 1919. After Independence, the Publication Division reprinted Natesan's edition in 1967.

The author of this intense biography was Joseph Doke, an English baptist minister, who arrived in South Africa in 1903 and who, in December 1907, sought out Gandhiji, to meet and see the man who was then leading the Indians of South Africa in a Passive Resistance Movement. Joseph Doke describes his first meeting with Gandhiji in his Johannesburg office thus:

"It was late in December, 1907, when I saw Mr. Gandhi for the first time. Rumour had been very busy with his name. The Passive Resistance Movement had come into prominence. Some small stir had been made in the newspapers by the imprisonment of a Pundit, and in one way or another, Mr. Gandhi’s name had been bandied from lip to lip. One evening, a friend raised the Asiatic question at the supper-table, and as we were comparatively new to Johannesburg, although not new to the country, he told us what he thought of the Indians. His account was so strange and so completely opposed to all our previous experience that it made us curious, and more than anything else decided me to interview the leader."

Doke's friendship with Gandhiji and his knowledge of the man deepened when a year later, in December 1908, Doke and his wife took a nearly fatally wounded Gandhiji home and nursed him back to health. Doke describes the incident thus:

"Another scene recurs to my mind with equal vividness. The Pathans had attacked him, striking him down and beating him with savage brutality. When he recovered consciousness, he was lying in an office nearby to which he had been carried. I saw him a moment later. He was helpless and bleeding, the doctor was cleansing his wounds, the police officers watching and listening beside him, while he was using what little strength he had to insist that no action should be taken to punish his would-be murderers. “They thought they were doing right,” he said, “and I have no desire to prosecute them.” They were punished, but Mr. Gandhi took no part in it."

This first biography of Gandhiji carries a foreword by Lord Ampthill, a British peer and Governor of Madras from 1900-1906, who until then had only heard about the unusual movement of Gandhiji and not met him yet.

The biography is entitled, "M. K. Gandhi—An Indian Patriot in South Africa". In those days, everyone who met him seems to have been struck by his intense patriotism, his love, respect and devotion for his land, his people and his civilisation. It is this aspect of Gandhiji that we have tried to document in our book, "The Making of a Hindu Patriot".

Attenborough's film indeed took Mahatma Gandhi to some new sections of the international elite. But it is not the film that made Gandhiji known to the world; if anything, he made the film known.

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