Gandhi, an inspiration and a despair to all who approached him, has been subjected to more analysis than any other person in contemporary history. And yet something is missing in the puzzle that Gandhi was and is. This volume attempts to understand and to explain him by laying a little more emphasis on the societal factors and the situations that shaped him and structured his personality during his formative years in England and South Africa.
Apart from what little Gandhi told us in his autobiography, My Experiments with Truth, nothing much is known about the society in which he lived and the cultural and intellectual ethos with which he grew. The autobiography, while a book of great historical importance, is not of much value as a source of information and needs to be supplemented, corrected and balanced by drawing upon contemporary documents.
This is by no means an easy task. Gandhi is many men in one. Moreover, as a continuously evolving phenomenon, Gandhi underwent several startling changes in his habits, views, and approaches to life. He therefore cannot be evaluated out of the time-frame that was in existence at the time we talk about.
Gandhi suffered a lot by the process of deification that started with his death or even before it. Much that is written about him is sheer hagiography interspersed with a few pieces of demonology. His human face is disfigured and almost lost in the eulogies and the condemnations heaped on him. We must strive to brush off the cobwebs gathering around him and portray him as the simple yet stupendous figure he was. He was not born a saint but raised himself to Mahatmahood by strenuous efforts. He was singularly unfit for public life but made himself The Leader through agonizing struggles, converting his several failures and mistakes into stepping stones to the ultimate glory.
Sanghavi chronicles these changes that were full of difficult decisions in personal and public matters till Gandhi arrived to occupy the top position in the list of those who are spiritually advanced and in the list of those who lead their fellow beings to their mundane goals.
This is one book that was waiting to be written. As a comprehensive study of the formative years of Gandhi and written primarily as an individualâ€™s political biography, it will surely be not only a contribution to our understanding of Gandhiâ€™s life and work, but also to peace and conflict studies in general. This is not dry history but a historianâ€™s attempt to gauge something of the spirit of Gandhiâ€™s times and to define the matrix-personal, social and political-From within which Gandhiâ€™s worldview emerged.