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The New Courage: An Essay on Gandhi's Psychology*

  • Susanne Hoeber Rudolph (a1)

In an era that takes matters of religious faith lightly, it becomes difficult to consider thoughtfully a man who is suspected of saintliness. The task is particularly vexing for Americans, who have no feudal historic memories to remind them that saints were once important people. The obvious solution is to avoid the issue of saintliness altogether—to avoid, for example, questions about whether Gandhi's political shrewdness was compatible with the essential innocence of heart that one asks of saints; above all, to avoid trying to satisfy a generation of ambivalent skeptics who in one breath deny that saints exist and in the next maintain that Gandhi could not have been one because he did not meet such and such criterion of saintliness. The issue of saintliness is a diversion from a serious consideration of Gandhi's contribution.

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1 Nehru Jawaharlal, The Discovery of India, ed. by Crane Robert (New York 1959), 274–75.

2 Schumpeter Joseph, “The Sociology of Imperialism,” in Imperialism and Social Classes (New York 1951), 6598.

3 Woodruff's Philip two-volume work, The Men That Ruled India (London 1953–1954), admirably develops this picture.

4 Spear T. G. P., The Nabobs (London 1932), 198–99, lists twenty-six quotations expressing European sentiments about Indians in the eighteenth century. Of these, ten include some allusion to weakness or feminine qualities, like the following: “Indians are a very sober People and effeminate…” (Luillier Sieur, A Voyage to the East Indies, 1702, 285); or the more perceptive: “'Tis a mistake to conclude that the natives of Hindustan want courage. … With respect to passive courage the Inhabitants of these Countries are perhaps possessed of a much larger share of it than those of our own” (Rennell Major, Diary, January 20, 1768, 182).

Basham A. L. has pointed out in The Wonder That Was India (London 1954) that homosexuality was rare in ancient India, and certainly never assumed the status it had in Greece or Rome.

5 Strachey John, India: Its Administration and Progress (London 1888).

6 Macaulay T. B., “Warren Hastings,” in Critical and Historical Essays (Boston 1900), V, 130.

7 Strachey, 335–36.

8 From The Vegetarian, February 28, 1891, in The Collected Works of Mahatma Gandhi (Delhi 1958—), I, 30.

9 Vivekananda Swami, “Lectures from Colombo to Almora,” in The Complete Worlds of Swami Vivekananda, 3rd ed. (Almora 1922), III, 242.

10 Gandhi, An Autobiography: The Story of My Experiments with Truth, translated from the Gujerati by Desai Mahadev (London 1949).

11 Gandhi Prabhudas, My Childhood with Gandhi (Ahmedabad 1957), chap. 2.

12 Tendulkar D. G., Mahatma: Life of Mohandas Karatnchand Gandhi (Bombay 1951—), 1, 28.

13 Ibid., 31.

14 Autobiography, 23. Gandhi's sister Raliatbchn, on the other hand, recalls that Gandhi was quite nervous about the prospect of a beating for this offense (P. Gandhi, My Childhood, 22).

15 Ibid.

16 Autobiography, 17.

17 Ibid., 5. Gandhi's relations with companions of his own age may have been affected by the fact that he would not fall in with the usual rough and tumble of youthful life. He could not be relied upon to tell white lies to cover up group pranks and would not strike back in any encounter. Whatever moral precocity was involved in these deviations received some positive recognition from his schoolmates, who used him regularly as a referee in games. These recollections are Gandhi's sister's (P. Gandhi, My Childhood, 27–28); they were recalled after Gandhi became “Mahatma” and may deserve a little caution.

18 Autobiography, 13–14.

19 “… she could not go anywhere without my permission. … And Kasturbai was not the girl to brook any such thing. She made it a point to go out whenever and wherever she liked. More restraint on my part resulted in more liberty being taken by her …” (ibid., 10).

20 “The first three children of Kaba Kaka and Putlibai gave them little trouble, but young Mohan was a bit of a problem. Not that he was mischievous or one to annoy his elders. He was not a difficult child but he was exceedingly active and energetic. He was never at one place for long. As soon as he was able to walk about, it became difficult to keep track of him” (P. Gandhi, My Childhood, 25).

21 Fischer Louis, The Life of Mahatma Gandhi (London 1951), 75.

22 Autobiography, 16.

23 Ibid., 17.

24 Ibid.

25 Ibid., 18.

26 Ibid., 20.

27 “The opposition and abhorrence of meat-eating that existed in Gujerat among the Jains and Vaishnavas were to be seen nowhere else in India or outside in such strength” (ibid., 18).

28 Ibid., 34–35. The account which he gave to an interviewer from The Vegetarian on June 13, 1891, is slightly different. There he says he asked the senior Patel, who told him crossing the waters was against caste rules: “… if our brethren can go as far as Aden, why could not I go to England?” (Collected Works, 1, 59).

29 Autobiography, 43–44. Gandhi in London wore “… a high silk top hat burnished bright, a Gladstonian collar, stiff and starched; a rather flashy tie displaying almost all the colours of the rainbow under which there was a fine striped silk shirt. He wore as his outer clothes a morning coat, a double-breasted vest, and dark striped trousers to match, and not only patent leather boots but spats over them. He carried leather gloves and a silver-mounted stick, but wore no spectacles. He was, to use the contemporary slang, a nut, a masher, a blood—a student more interested in fashion and frivolities than in his studies.” (Quoted in Nanda B. R., Mahatma Gandhi: A Biography [London 1958], 28.)

30 Fischer says Gandhi earned from five to six thousand pounds a year (Life, 74).

31 See, e.g., “The Grievances of the British Indians in South Africa—The Green Pamphlet,” written in 1896 (Collected Works, 11, 1–52).

32 I am indebted for this point to Professor Chandran Devanesan's manuscript of a forthcoming work on Gandhi.

33 Autobiography, 47.

34 Ibid., 41.

35 Ibid., 45.

36 Ibid., 58.

37 Ibid., 68.

38 Ibid., 52.

39 Ibid., 53.

40 Ibid., 79.

41 Ibid., 81.

42 Ibid., 83.

43 Ibid., 85.

44 Ibid., 91–98.

45 Gandhi's first South African client told him: “What can we understand in these matters? We can only understand things that affect our trade. … We are after all lame men, being unlettered. We generally take in newspapers simply to ascertain the daily market rates, etc. What can we know of legislation? Our eyes and ears are the European attorneys here” (ibid., 115).

46 Ibid., 105.

47 A contributing factor in the success of the first speech may have been that Gandhi spoke in Gujerati. His audience consisted mainly of Memon Muslims and very few among them knew English (Tendulkar, 1, 46). It is interesting that when Gandhi returned to India in 1896, with three years of South African successes behind him, he failed once again to manage a public speech before a large Bombay audience (Autobiography, 146).

48 These issues are developed at some length in my article, “Conflict and Consensus in Indian Politics,” World Politics, XIII (April 1961), 385–99.

49 Autobiography, 112.

50 Ibid., III.

51 Gandhi M. K., Woman's Role in Society, compiled by Prabhu R. K. (Ahmedabad 1959), in the chapter, “Woman not the Weaker Sex,” p. 8.

52 Nehru Jawaharlal, Freedom from Fear: Reflections on the Personality and Teachings of Gandhi (Delhi 1960), 12.

* My thinking about biography and culture owes much to Erik Erickson.

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World Politics
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