Tales of Young Gandhi
Author- Janhavi Prasada
Publisher- HarperCollins, Rs499
Janhavi Prasada through her book, Tales of Young Gandhi, tells us that how calling Gandhi ‘Mahatma’ has distanced people from his ideologies rather than bringing them closer to his teachings, writes AVANTIKA BOSE
Janhavi Prasada was born in Delhi, and raised in the Kumaon hills of Nainital and the Terai plains of Shahjahanpur, Uttar Pradesh. She works as a peace activist in the field of technology. She dabbles with a bit of outsider art and dedicates her time to the conservation and promotion of literature, music, local textiles, food, heritage monuments, environment and wellness in Uttarakhand. Tales of Young Gandhi is her first book.
Tales of Young Gandhi is illustrated by Uttam Sinha and is an attempt made by the author to humanise Gandhi. Through her book she tries to tell us how as a kid Gandhi was attracted to meat, smoking, alcohol, women and sex — everything that was ‘prohibited’ attracted him more, just like any normal teenager. It’s amazing how the man who led us to freedom was actually a very shy boy. This shows that we aren’t born great, we have to work towards becoming great. Only hard work and determinations pays off. Thus, trying to tell us that instead of putting him up in a pedestal we should see him as any other human being who made mistakes and learnt from them, and that we should embrace his ideologies. When asked why she wrote this book, Prasada answered, “There are over 250 statues of Gandhi across the world and one outside the British Parliament. look how the world values Gandhi. We have to value Gandhi in India and not reduce him to the fringes of a picture in a Government office, or an Rs2,000 note. His staff symbolised conviction, his watch symbolised the importance of time, his spectacles the vision for the people of India, and his khadi dhoti self sustenance. He is by far the only real super hero that India has had who took on the might of the Brits and threw them away with non-violence. Where in the world do you get such ordinary man with such extraordinary featsIJ He is our star so lets celebrate him”.
She further says, “A decade ago when I was 29 years old, I read My Experiments with Truth, Gandhi’s autobiography. It was the most tedious piece of writing that I had to traverse through but I kept going on because this book worth Rs20 kept opening one treasure of insight and inspiration after another, all from a man who I realised was completely ordinary but who achieved extraordinary feats by sheer faith, self determination and, above all, by following the path of peace. I began to read about Gandhiji in great depth. I travelled across the world to meet veteran Gandhians as well as ordinary people doing life-changing work on peace, non-violence, social justice, green technologies, climate control, health-hygiene, colour bias, sexism, self-empowerment all inspired by Gandhi. These people belonged to different professions and communities. For me it was a journey of discovery — of “Peace in Action” — peace as a way of life that is still relevant today”.
The author focuses on events of his life such as going to England to study, his stay in South Africa, his childhood where he experimented with smoking, alcohol and eating meat.
There are many books written on Gandhi, but they always focus on the great things he did and less talk about the mistakes he made, so we generally set it aside as things we have already read about in our history text books throughout our school lives. But this idea of the author to humanise Gandhi, is what makes us think that maybe not all, but we could incorporate some of his values into our lives.
Talking about whether she adopted any of his values Prasada states “Yes, of course, I don’t profess to be a Gandhian but after reading his autobiography and working on the graphic novel, there has been a lot of internalising, deep thoughts, constant questioning within me about my actions leading to consequences. There has been a key reinforcement of my value system that is basic to all humans — to be altruistic, truthful, empathetic, respectful, integral, healthy, environment friendly, self sufficient — all that Gandhi stood for. But hey, don’t take life so seriously. Have fun but do everything in a good measure. What worked for Gandhi in his time not necessarily can be worked upon now but what can work is to live life well keeping one’s core values intact to take you further in life. However, the most frustrating bits in my tryst with Gandhi has been with educated Indian parents not knowing who Gandhi was, where he lived, where he died, what his life message means to the world. If parents and teachers don’t mentor kids effectively then I don’t blame the kids. I too was a victim of the same system where I knew all about Gandhi but I never understood him deeply enough to impact my life. And when my mother told me to read autobiographies of leaders I would scoff at her. The biggest challenge is to be mentored by the right person, to show you the light, to help one learn, question, create, act, share, empathise — inculcating these values is a constant challenge. But using new-age interactive media campaigns, films, cartoons, graphic novels, music, art — you can strike a chord or two in someone’s heart and mind”.
Of course, there’s no denying that the graphic style of writing made the book interesting; made a heavy topic easy to read. And the amazing illustrations by Uttam Sinha just added to it. Talking about the graphic element in the book Prasada says “I thought that like me there are millions of youngsters who must get their hands on My Experiments With Truth but no one will read it in its present state. With my electronic media and technology driven mindset, most of my readings and knowledge about leaders and world history is through reading graphic novels — Persepolis, Maus, Bhimyana, Palestine and of course how can you forget Indian mythology with Amar Chitra Katha. We all grew up on that. I decided that an in-depth graphic format of the book must be done. It’s quick, easy, simple,visually stimulating, fun to read and retain — just what today’s generation with no time on their hands and stress levels at an all time optimum high, graphic renditions are a quick release for the mind.” Prasada also says that graphic or illustrated formats are not new concepts. She says that they have been there since the days of the early men who inscribed symbols to tell their tale, the Ajanta and Ellora caves, the Khajuraho temples, tribal art from Madhubani to Kalighats, miniature art from Kangra school or art to Kishangarh — all depict graphic forms of storytelling, an age old tradition. She explains, “Story telling is the art of dreaming, imagining and then using pectoral forms to bring the imagination to life. It’s an attractive form of expression and a form that creates a photographic memory forever etched in ones mind. With my graphic novel on Gandhi I want readers to etch his story forever in their minds — a story about a man who is so misunderstood in today’s day and age, a story of a man who was a reality almost 70 years ago. That’s not a long time in history, a story of a man who was so ordinary, so imperfect in many ways, yet a man who changed the fate of not only India but the fate of tiny little things that came around his aura.
“Wherever Gandhi went he made a change for the betterment of his surroundings and the people! We all just strive to imbibe that quality within us whether in a village or in a city — do little things that make a change as everyone has a Gandhi within themselves.”
The book has been written in a very easy and interesting manner. Though few stories about Gandhi’s life are fairly common, a lot of the incidents mentioned in the book at least for me were new and made me view Gandhiji in a completely different light.