December 2004




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Mira & the Mahatma


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- Exploring a complex relationship


Shruti Sethia

Mira And The Mahatma…
Exploring a complex relationship

Mira And The Mahatma (Penguin) is a semi-fictional account of the complex relationship between Mahatma Gandhi and Madeline Slade, the daughter of a British admiral---whom he re-christened Mira….


It is 1925 and India's struggle for freedom is in utter disarray - impeded by factionalism among its leaders and rising incidents of communal disharmony across the country.

Mahatma is a perturbed man. Having withdrawn himself from active politics, he is in the Sabarmati Ashram in Gujarat, immersed in what he considers the most important undertaking of his life - the creation of an ideal community guided by the highest standards of self discipline, tolerance and austerity.

Mira And The Mahatma (Penguin) is a semi-fictional account of the relationship between Mahatma Gandhi and Madeline Slade, the daughter of a British admiral. Madeline became Mahatma’s disciple and thus begans an extraordinary association between two individuals driven by distinct passions.

For Gandhi true spirituality lies in self-rule, a mastery of self that liberates the being from all forms of craving, physical and emotional and total dedication to practical work in service of society.

Madeline believes that the path to ultimate truth is the complete surrender to a human embodiment of the Eternal Spirit - and that for her is Gandhi himself. This explains why Gandhi re-christens Madeline as Mira - after the Rajasthan princess, who abandoned everything in the pursuit of spiritual love for Govind.

Its is not before Mira's all consuming desire to serve Bapu translates into a desperate need to be close to him at all times and clashes with the exacting moral and spiritual codes he has laid down for himself and those around him. And as the self-doubting Mahatma, seeking to distance himself from Mira yet loath to let go of her, he wrestles with his inner phantoms. That’s when Mira's life begins to take a dramatic turn.

Complex Relationship

In his bold fictionalized exploration of this complex relationship, Sudhir Kakkar displays his skills at handling delicate material with remarkable sensitivity, instinctive empathy and high imagination. The writer took three and half years in writing and researching the book which is also being translated in German, French and Italian.

A psychoanalyst and writer, Goa-based Kakkar’s critically acclaimed earlier novels, The Ascetic Desire and Ecstasy, also published by Penguin in India have been translated into several languages around the world. He admits that the book may stir some controversy but that has not been his intention. "It is sourced from actual letters exchanged between Mira and Gandhi," says the author.

Kakkar strongly refutes the charge that he has harmed the image of the Mahatma. He observes that he has not brought out anything new. He has only brought into open something that was lying in the back burner for so many years. "There are no ‘revelations’ for anyone who is familiar with Gandhi’s own writings. In his own writings he reveals more about himself than any writer can ever do," says Kakkar.

The author adds, "For great men and women, the distinction between private and public life collapses. Our curiosity about their lives is much greater than our interest in what they have preached or stand for. Gandhi himself did not believe in the personal and public distinction. The book only brings him closer to all of us and encourages us to again engage with him instead of seeing him as a distant, iconic figure."

Mira who spent nine years with Gandhi retired to the Himalayas in 1934 and finally left India in 1958. She died in Austria in 1982 where she lived an austere life of a recluse in a house that was a near-replica of the Sabarmati Ashram.

Kakkar's expositions appear more aimed at entertaining the reader rather than providing information that can be substantiated by history. Since it is more fiction, the author has felt free to juggle facts.

"It is only the informed and broad-minded reader who will enjoy reading the book," says Kakkar aware of the fact that the book will engage the reader more for its sensual appeal than its historical relevance.




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