Saturday, January 5, 2013

#48 The Story of My Experiments With Truth

The Story of My Experiments With TruthThe Story of My Experiments With Truth by Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

When young, Gandhi was extremely shy -- too shy to give a speech at a dinner with his friends, too shy to cross-examine a witness in court (he was a lawyer). He was also sensitive, though he tended to treat his childhood bride as a sexual plaything.

To a small extent in England, to a greater extent later in South Africa, and finally in India he began his work of organizing people behind causes. In England it was vegetarianism. In South Africa, anti-discrimination, and socialism. In India it was home-rule. Gandhi was tireless in helping others. For instance, while working as a lawyer in South Africa he volunteered a couple of hours a day as a compounding pharmacist because he liked helping people be healed.

Of course Gandhi had a lot of crazy ideas too. He had all kinds of alternative healing theories, which he himself calls quackery. He lived the life of an ascetic, giving up not only meat and other animal products, but eventually all condiments and spices and all but the cheapest and simplest of vegetable products. At one point he gave up salt. Eventually he gave up sex (though still married). To stay true to his pledge of no sex he had to give up ever being alone with his wife. He no longer shared a bed with her, and never did anything with her (even talk) unchaperoned.

The most frustrating things about this autobiography are that 1) he assumes that the reader is familiar with the circumstances of the time, such as political figures and events; and 2) he ends abruptly just at the point when his campaign goes India-wide and he gains world-renown, assuming that everyone is familiar with the story from there on out. I'll have to read something more on Gandhi in the future to get more of the story.

I found myself identifying with young Gandhi a lot: the shyness, the sensitivity. On the other hand, characteristics that came out later in his life I don't see so much in myself. I don't have the tireless selflessness, the devotion to a cause, nor the courage of Gandhi. I also don't have the cockamamie theories (at least I hope not), the sense of asceticism, nor the willingness to sacrifice family life that Gandhi had.

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