Gandhi's Passion: The Life and Legacy of Mahatma Gandhi

Gandhi's Passion: The Life and Legacy of Mahatma Gandhi

Gandhi's Passion: The Life and Legacy of Mahatma Gandhi

Gandhi's Passion: The Life and Legacy of Mahatma Gandhi


More than half a century after his death, Mahatma Gandhi continues to inspire millions throughout the world. Yet modern India, most strikingly in its decision to join the nuclear arms race, seems to have abandoned much of his nonviolent vision. Inspired by recent events in India, Stanley Wolpert offers this subtle and profound biography of India's "Great Soul." Wolpert compellingly chronicles the life of Mahatma Gandhi from his early days as a child of privilege to his humble rise to power and his assassination at the hands of a man of his own faith. This trajectory, like that of Christ, was the result of Gandhi's passion: his conscious courting of suffering as the means to reach divine truth. From his early campaigns to stop discrimination in South Africa to his leadership of a people's revolution to end the British imperial domination of India, Gandhi emerges as a man of inner conflicts obscured by his political genius and moral vision. Influenced early on by nonviolent teachings in Hinduism, Jainism, Christianity, and Buddhism, he came to insist on the primacy of love for one's adversary in any conflict as the invincible power for change. His unyielding opposition to intolerance and oppression would inspire India like no leader since the Buddha--creating a legacy that would encourage Martin Luther King, Jr., Nelson Mandela, and other global leaders to demand a better world through peaceful civil disobedience. By boldly considering Gandhi the man, rather than the living god depicted by his disciples, Wolpert provides an unprecedented representation of Gandhi's personality and the profound complexities that compelled his actions and brought freedom to India.


For more than half a century, from the day I first set foot on Indian soil, February 12, 1948, the day one-seventh of Mahatma Gandhi's ashes were immersed in waters off Bombay, I have been fascinated by the remarkable life and tragic death of the man Indians call “Great Soul” (Mahatma) and “Little Father” (Bapu).

Stepping ashore at Bombay's bustling gateway to India I found myself surrounded by more people than I had ever seen, millions of white-clad mourners headed to Chowpatty beach, where a glistening white ship bore the urn filled with a portion of Gandhi's remains. As that bright vessel weighed anchor, thousands waded after it in the bay, hoping to touch the Mahatma's ashes before they were swallowed by the sea.

At that time I knew no more about Gandhi than that he was called the Father of India yet had been murdered by an Indian of his own Hindu faith. The many questions raised by what I saw and heard that day changed the course of my life from marine engineering to Indian history. A decade later, when I began teaching at UCLA, I wrote my first book about Gandhi, a fictionalized story of his assassination, published as Nine Hours to Rama.

Over the next four decades I periodically considered writing the history of Gandhi's life and his leadership of the Indian National Congress. After a year or two of trying in vain to plumb the ocean of Gandhiana with its conflicting currents, however, I returned enthusiastically to teaching, opting to tackle other subjects and less enigmatic lives. Though invariably daunted by Gandhi's elusive personality and the extent of his archive, I kept hoping that greater maturity and deeper knowledge of India would help me to understand the Mahatma's mentality and reasons for his often contradictory behavior.

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