Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Book Review: The Man Before The Mahatma by Charles DiSalvo

On the jacket:

At the age of eighteen, a shy and timid Mohandas Gandhi leaves his home in Gujarat for a life on his own. At forty-five, a confident and fearless Gandhi, ready to boldly lead his country to freedom, returns to India.

What transforms him?

The law.

The Man before the Mahatma is the first biography of Gandhi’s life in the law. It follows Gandhi on his journey of self-discovery during his law studies in Britain, his law practice in India and his enormous success representing wealthy Indian merchants in South Africa, where relentless attacks on Indian rights by the white colonial authorities cause him to give up his lucrative representation of private clients for public work—the representation of the besieged Indian community in South Africa.

As he takes on the most powerful governmental, economic and political forces of his day, he learns two things: that unifying his professional work with his political and moral principles not only provides him with satisfaction, it also creates in him a strong, powerful voice. Using the courtrooms of South Africa as his laboratory for resistance, Gandhi learns something else so important that it will eventually have a lasting and worldwide impact: a determined people can bring repressive governments to heel by the principled use of civil disobedience.

Using materials hidden away in archival vaults and brought to light for the first time, The Man before the Mahatma puts the reader inside dramatic experiences that changed Gandhi’s life forever and have never been written about—until now.


Our school curriculum more or less had us reading about Gandhi every year, since the time we could read sentences. But if we sum our knowledge about him, there isn't much. In my case, there were lots of loopholes in my idea of his story. So, when The Man Before The Mahatma came my way, it was only a welcome read.

The author has very clearly done painstaking research on the Mahatma, and as a reader, I got a clear picture of how a common man became the Mahatma.  Why did he do what he did, what drove him, what was his upbringing like, how did the people in his life influence his actions, did he never wan't to give up on non-violence, was he really as much a politician as some people say he was, did he always think for the country or were some actions for his own good?

The Man Before The Mahatma answers these and many more questions, it tells us the story of the little man we all know as Mahatma. As this country's not very tolerant youth, Oct 2 and Jan 30 make much more sense to me now.

Rating: ****/5

[This review is for Random House India. The opinions are strictly my own and not been written under any obligation.]

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