A Conversation With: Historian Ramachandra Guhatags: interviews, Ramachandra Guha
Ramachandra Guha is one of India’s foremost public intellectuals and historians. “Gandhi Before India,” his first volume of a two-part biography of Mohandas K. Gandhi, was published in India earlier this month. India Ink spoke to Mr. Guha about his decision to work on a biography of Mr. Gandhi, his choice to make Mr. Gandhi’s years in South Africa as the first volume of the biography, and Mr. Gandhi’s journey from a boy in the western state of Gujarat to his return to India as a major political figure.
How did you choose to focus on Gandhi’s South African years as a book?
I found that most of the academic literature on Gandhi is based on his own writings. It is very important for a biographer to work with multiple sources. I went around researching Gandhi, I found a lot of interesting writings about Gandhi scattered in the archives around the world.
I was struck that Gandhi’s years in South Africa were under-researched, little known, a whole host of fascinating material about the secondary characters I have written about in this book, the larger historical context, how Indians were placed between the Africans and the British. One of the reasons that the South African period was not covered was that Indian scholars were not allowed there during the apartheid. When I went to South Africa and looked at the colonial archives there, I found an immense amount of material about Gandhi’s early life. It is really half his life. He lived in South Africa till he was 45. That was when I decided to write a whole book about Gandhi’s time in South Africa.
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