Moral of the Mahatma Story
Writing a book and marketing it are different things. While a writer can be commented upon only after his/her work has been gone through, marketing is a different business. Take, for instance, Gandhi - A Spiritual Biography. It has all elements to bring in readers of different genres. The title has Gandhi, which will serve to attract his fans. It has spirituality as well, bringing in readers of such books too and then it has biography, which anyone can give a try. Heady mix of words in the title, but does it all match up? Well, this is a mixed bag of tales and emotions.
Arvind Sharma has delved into a side of things which all of us rarely see in our world of ‘practicality’. He has tried to show us how Mahatma Gandhi was also a human like all of us, with all his shortcomings. But while he had those, he also overcame all those shortcomings and rose above them.
While all of us, through our school textbooks, have come to know the defining moment in Gandhi’s life, Arvind Sharma has a different take on it. For him, the incident of Gandhi being chucked out of a train in South Africa was one of the many steps that the man took and only then was the title Mahatma bestowed on him. I’d say that alone makes it a much better read than googling Mahatma Gandhi or reading from various other texts, only because it also brings out the side of Mahatma Gandhi that we have not been able to see until recently when Internet-penetrated our lives.
However, spiritual biography is something where I have a contention with Sharma. If he would have taken out the spiritual part, the biography would have become more reader-friendly. This is because spirituality is something that touches our lives not just on a large but a very small, rather microscopic level too. That is something that he has been unable to do while building the whole character of Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi and his transition to becoming Mahatma Gandhi. And this is where precisely he loses his readers. The pace at which events unfold does not help his cause either. From being a human who has his flaws and has struggles in overcoming them, Mahatma Gandhi seems to transcend them and become someone larger-than -life. But it only disconnects the reader from the tale as the depth to those events is missing.
Gandhi takes a vow, talks about difficulties he faced and how he overcame them, and the reader gets lost as how and why Gandhi was forced to take a vow has more depth than his struggle with his inner demons stopping him from achieving the desired objective. This does not happen once or twice but becomes a routine throughout the length of the book. The whole exercise is an effort to make a lost cause look like a winning one.
And all that he does while he stays in a mould, ahimsa being one of his moulds. Now, I would not know any better had I not gone through The Tao of Jeet Kune Do and how a bed-ridden Bruce Lee gave a spiritual form to martial arts on a micro scale and art as such on a macro scale, all that while he still is not using any story-telling forms and just using all that he has scribbled to make readers understand what he wants to say.
Spirituality is a subject which needs to be handled delicately as it can make all the difference between fiction and real, life-changing stuff. Moreover, for the average reader, spirituality is not a big draw. And here, it can make one sleep or sit up and take note of what is going on. I would put my money on the former.
But all said, Arvind should be commended for one other thing - trying to bring together facts and their spiritual side out. At least he tries to fulfil this Herculean task, if though he does not do so much successfully.