On April 29, SAI hosted a book talk with Ramachandra Guha, who discussed his new book Gandhi Before India. The event, which took place at the Harvard Book Store with a packed audience, was moderated by Pratap Bhanu Mehta, President of the Centre for Policy Research, Associate Professor of Government and of Social Studies, Harvard University, who began by commenting on the wide range of Gandhi scholarship in fields including philosophy, political science, law, and history, that is now beginning to emerge. He noted that Gandhi is finally being treated as a thinker in his own right.
Guha’s book, Mehta said, was a critical component of this new literature and was a monumental biographical account of Gandhi in South Africa. Guha began his talk by explaining his interest in Gandhi and why we chose to write this book, as well as the ways in which it helps us refine our understanding of Gandhi and his life.
In each of his previous books, Guha noted, he had to reckon with Gandhi in some way, so this book was always waiting to be written. While Gandhi’s associates in India, friends, enemies, and colleagues are well-known, the similar circle he inhabited in South Africa is far less familiar.
This book, Guha suggested, is an attempt to explain that period of Gandhi’s life, and to place him in context to show how his life in South Africa converted him from a lawyer to a Mahatma. After the speech, there was a vibrant question and answer session, from participants engaging both with Gandhi’s thinking and with the approaches that Guha had adopted in writing the book.
At the end of the event, audience members enjoyed a cake in honor of Guha’s birthday.
-By Madhav Khosla, PhD. Candidate, Political Theory, Harvard University