Commentary Magazine


Gandhi

To the Editor:

Three cheers for Richard Grenier [“The Gandhi Nobody Knows,” March]. I always wish his articles were longer. The late Dwight Macdonald was right when he said that Mr. Grenier is “our best practicing movie critic/historian” [Letters from Readers, August 1981]. . . .

I expect Mr. Grenier will find the response to his article heated—charges of racism, cultural imperialism, and character assassination, if not of having personally introduced cobras to the subcontinent. A pity, since the essential point, as I read it, was not that Gandhi was an offensive villain, but simply that he was . . . someone whose character and ideas—and influence—grew out of a specific culture and historical situation, and who cannot, honestly, be isolated from them. Or, more generally, that he deserved the dignity of being dealt with as an individual, not as an empty human shell into which the film-maker Richard Attenborough could pour an expedient, contextless, prettied-up idealism. . . .

Christopher Dunn
Potsdam, New York

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To the Editor:

I did not see the movie Gandhi, nor do I intend to. As a recent emigrant from the Soviet Union, I do not actually have to see propaganda to know it. Reviews are quite enough. However, I did have to listen to my liberal American friends raving about the movie, the man, and, most importantly, the “lesson”—the applicability of Gandhi’s teaching to real life. I then reminded my friends of Gandhi’s notorious letter to Martin Buber in which, as Mr. Grenier points out, Gandhi preached that German Jews had the moral obligation to stay in Germany and, by willingly submitting to Nazi atrocities, teach mankind a moral lesson. The amazing thing is the answer I received: “Well, it might have worked.” What has happened to American liberals? How and when did they lose any semblance of moral discernment so that they can no longer distinguish between democratic Britain and Nazi Germany (or, for that matter, between the United States and the Soviet Union)?

If anything, Gandhi’s record of passive resistance and civil disobedience should serve as a glorious monument to Western civilization at its best—because it worked. How can anyone ignore the fact that it could only have worked because Gandhi was dealing with a decent and moral society?

I know the Russians are going to like this movie—if they are smart they will be showing it all over Afghanistan in no time.

Lena Mandel
New York City

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To the Editor:

After reading “The Gandhi Nobody Knows” I was reduced to the kind of admiration that is usually reserved for the high points of dazzling scholarship. Richard Grenier’s research, his marshaling of data, his general writing skill all make me wonder what peaks he can leap to next. . . . The article on Gandhi is even more fun than his leveling of Reds [“Bolshevism for the 80's,” March 1982] and Missing [“The Curious Career of Costa-Gavras,” April 1982]. . . .

Roy Traband
Amarillo, Texas

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To the Editor:

I admire Richard Grenier for being so knowledgeable, but I admire him even more for his talent in thoroughly documenting the historical background and thus exposing a completely unhistorical film. For saying “J’Accuse” to all distortions, he certainly merits an Oscar.

Johanna B. Angel
New York City

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To the Editor:

Richard Grenier’s article on Gandhi is illuminating, elucidating, brilliant. Not only does he tell us about the movie, but about the man, and, indeed, the entire culture and religion that the movie purports to represent. . . .

Robert Carlen
Stony Brook, New York

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To the Editor:

Richard Grenier undertook the much-needed job of debunking Gandhi. I applaud his effort. At the same time, some small points need to be corrected and I would like to add something to strengthen his argument.

When Gandhi supported the Khilafat movement of the Indian Muslims after World War I, he opposed the creation of new states for the subject peoples of the Ottoman empire, which had been envisioned by the treaty of Sevres (1920). One of the new states called for by the victors in World War I was an Armenian state to be set up in eastern Anatolia in part of historic Armenia. The Armenians had just suffered the first modern genocide at the hands of the Turks. The massacre continued after the end of World War I in areas which France and the Russian Bolsheviks handed over to the new Muslim Turkish government of Ataturk, as well as in Smyrna, conquered from Greece.

By his support of the Khilafat movement, Gandhi was disregarding the national rights of the Ottoman subject peoples and especially those of the Armenians. He was saying in effect that mass murder did not bother him. Genocide, he implied, was OK. Let me add that the Armenian massacres were not an obscure event. In fact, they received worldwide attention. Surely Gandhi was aware of them from the British papers. These facts strengthen Mr. Grenier’s argument.

Where Mr. Grenier is mistaken, I believe, is in attributing to the Arabs in general the desire to separate from the Ottoman empire—and from the Caliph or Ottoman Sultan. In his well-researched work, The Emergence of the Middle East, Howard Sachar makes the point that the Arab Muslims supported the Ottoman empire during World War I and focused their loyalty on the Caliph as the titular leader of Islam, as did the Indian Muslims. Elie Kedourie has also made the same point. . . .

Elliott Green
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

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To the Editor:

I do not feel competent to comment on Richard Grenier’s dissection of the movie Gandhi. I was only sorry when his excellently written analysis ended. However, my own reaction after leaving the movie theater was quite different. I was thinking, what if the Palestinians were to take up ahimsa (nonviolence)? Mr. Grenier writes that “Britain . . . was a moral nation and nonviolent civil disobedience was plainly the best and most effective way of achieving Indian independence.” Would not the same apply to the Palestinians and Israel?

What if the PLO worldwide, and the Palestinians on the West Bank and in Gaza would stop violence and switch to ahimsa? Are the Israelis capable of an Amritsar? I believe not, but if such a massacre were somehow to occur, it would stir up a nationwide revolt in Israel.

Walter A. Sheldon
Scarsdale, New York

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To the Editor:

If the intention of Richard Grenier’s caustic attack on the film Gandhi was to replace one caricature with another, his success has been supreme. Insofar as the article gives some credit to the British Raj, it is appreciated; but by tipping into caricature of its own, it is as incorrect as the film itself and far more harmful.

Richard Attenborough concentrated on the saintly in the presentation of an image and an ideal to which the best in the tradition of India would aspire. Mr. Grenier portrays that vivid and varied, vast, poor, and struggling nation without a touch of the affection or understanding which it so richly deserves.

Selectivity in the choice of fact may produce a theatrical hyperbole in which the overall truth transcends selective inaccuracy. Conversely, a selection of inaccuracies and their presentation in a brilliant diatribe can create an overall untruth of its own.

We Jews often and rightly complain of potted denunciations of all that is Israel, by reference to interconnected themes which illuminate only the darkest sides of the life of that nation. Mr. Grenier should not extend the same imbalance to his view of India.

Om, shanti, shanti, shanti—the Hindu dream of eternal peace—deserves a better and a fairer interpretation than Mr. Grenier sees fit to give it. Gandhi’s Jewish supporters in his South African days and thereafter would have been ashamed—as I am.

Greville Janner, MP
President, Commonwealth Jewish Council
London, England

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To the Editor:

Richard Grenier has exploded the myth of Mahatma Gandhi and the integrity of the film which won eight Academy Awards. While I appreciate the research (and intuition) Mr. Grenier used to devastate Gandhi’s reputation and to reveal the falsification of history and fact by the film’s director, Richard Attenborough, I nevertheless sense ideological overkill. . . .

Mohandas K. Gandhi obviously was a man of extreme contradictions, a man whose fierce sense of control and asceticism unnaturally forced life to obey impulses which are virtually irrelevant, even dangerous, to the political, not to say metaphysical, demands of contemporary reality. However, Mr. Grenier’s article implies that there has been a great conspiracy at work here, that millions of Indians and Westerners have been grossly deceived, that their veneration is totally misplaced, that this so-called saint was perhaps the worst hypocrite who ever lived.

While I sense the unconscious (as well as conscious) need of the liberal temperament to romanticize the concept of satyagraha (non-cooperation) and attach Gandhi’s mission to the simplistic notions of peace espoused by the anti-nuclear movement, I nevertheless caution Mr. Grenier about his cruelly truthful portrait of this man and the movie made to glorify him. . . .

Mahatma Gandhi showed enough courage and vision to make himself a heroic figure in his time; instinctively one senses that however misleading the film is, Gandhi himself was not the ignoble character that is the picture we have of him in Mr. Grenier’s article. It is unfortunate that millions of filmgoers might find this film relevant to the terrible political problems and challenges inherent in the struggle of East versus West. However, Mr. Grenier’s article is more likely to intensify the loyalties of critics toward the film and toward Gandhi. . . .

Gandhi may have been a stilted, even twisted human being, but his idealism pushed itself into a willingness to give himself over utterly to a notion of God and truth that, at least symbolically, expresses some yearning within the human soul for perfection. . . .

Mr. Grenier’s contempt for Hinduism—whatever may be its mythological idiocies—shows much more ignorance of the imaginative forces which work to order man’s perception of this universe than it shows the absurdity of anyone seriously considering that religion as “truth.” No, Richard Grenier went into overdrive, almost demoniacally under a compulsion to destroy Gandhi, Hinduism, and whatever innocent satisfaction someone could gain from watching this very flawed film. . . .

Robin Woodsworth Carlsen
New York City

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To the Editor:

Richard Grenier’s “The Gandhi Nobody Knows” attacks the film Gandhi by telling us that what we see on the screen is a sanitized, sentimentalized Gandhi. Mr. Grenier’s Gandhi is a lecher, racist, hypocrite, fool, and faddist who wrote “. . . less about home rule than he did about enemas, and excrement. . . .” The distinguished film director, Richard Attenborough, is depicted as a paid political propagandist for the government of India. “The film,” according to Mr. Grenier, “grotesquely distorts both Gandhi’s life and character to the point that it is nothing more than a pious fraud, and a fraud of the most egregious kind.” Mr. Grenier constructs his argument by telling us about scenes that should have been but were not included in the movie and by alleging that scenes that were in the film were not: “. . . [A]nother scene I would like to have seen in the movie: Gandhi starving himself to death to block affirmative action for Untouchables” and “. . . our movie shows none of this [communal riots and killing at the time of partition] on camera . . . the oldest way of stacking the deck in Hollywood.”

Let us take the “missing” affirmative-action scene. Mr. Grenier concludes that because Gandhi opposed separate electorates (i.e., Untouchables voting separately for Untouchable candidates) he opposed affirmative action for Untouchables. Not so. The “Poona Pact” (1932) that brought his fast to an end provided that legislative seats in proportion to their population be reserved for Untouchables, a policy model that was extended after independence to government jobs and university places and scholarships.

What Gandhi did oppose was separate electorates, a deeply divisive force in Indian politics. In 1908, separate electorates Were created for Muslims; Muslim voters voting only for Muslim candidates became the germ of Muslim separatism that led to partition. Gandhi opposed separate electorates for Untouchables because he was a nationalist. He wanted social transformation too. Untouchability was wrong, a false Hindu practice that he spent most of his life trying to eradicate by word and action. Contrary to Mr. Grenier’s assertion that Gandhi left no legacy to independent India, his campaign against untouchability is reflected in constitutional provisions, legislation, and affirmative-action policies. His legacy can be found abroad too in the political ideas and practices of Martin Luther King and South Africa’s African National Congress and in the economic ideas of E.F. Schumacher’s Small Is Beautiful.

Mr. Grenier’s allegation that scenes of communal rioting and bloodshed were kept off camera is used to play down the impact of one of the movie’s most dramatic scenes, the Amritsar massacre of 1919. “. . . [S]hot in elaborate and loving detail . . .,” it shows soldiers under the command of General Dyer shooting down unarmed Indians in an enclosed garden. Why get so excited about 379 dead, Mr. Grenier asks, when “Indians gave themselves over to an orgy of bloodletting” as soon as the British were gone? He sees no distinction between General Dyer’s official violence and the communal violence that nobody wanted, a distinction that marks the difference between tyranny and tragedy.

According to Mr. Grenier, why Gandhi ceased to be an imperial loyalist is a mystery. “I have studied the literature,” Mr. Grenier writes, “and cannot find . . .” a point of “‘agonizing reappraisal’” when Gandhi’s most fundamental beliefs were reexamined. Gandhi, he speculates, became a nationalist out of “unrequited love” of Englishmen and their ways and out of “holy opportunism.” There are other ways of reading the evidence. The massacre at Amritsar (together with the anti-sedition Rowlatt Bill that preceded it and the Khilafat issue that followed it) provided that point of agonizing reappraisal. Gandhi did indeed admire the British. When Gandhi appealed to Britain’s commitment to a government of laws against its denial of rights and repression, he expressed what he learned and admired about Britain’s best self. When he rebelled, it was because Englishmen had gone against their own principles. What was unrequited was Gandhi’s ethical commitment to nonviolent conflict resolution. It provided a way to search for common ground rather than victory. Winning in adversary proceedings or in war produced losers and victims rather than communities of shared values and interests.

Mr. Grenier would like to have it both ways, Gandhi the failed and rejected Englishman and Gandhi the Hindu opportunist. Gandhi in fact was both and more. His ethics of right means and brotherhood drew on aspects of Christianity, Thoreau, Ruskin, and Tolstoy as well as Hindu epics and sacred texts. Gandhi’s greatness lay in being at once a man of and for his time and a teacher whose words and acts resonated across national and historical boundaries. His achievement was not national independence for India—it would have happened without him—but helping Indians to find self-esteem, courage, and a public philosophy.

Mr. Grenier would have us believe this is all nonsense. In fact, according to Mr. Grenier, Gandhi was a racist. In South Africa Gandhi “. . . had no concern for blacks whatever. In fact . . . he volunteered to organize a brigade of Indians to put down a Zulu rising . . .” and was rewarded with a medal. . . .

In fact, Gandhi’s struggles between 1896 and 1914 in South Africa against repressive measures directed against Asians established the agenda, organizational forms, and tactics for the African National Congress, formed at Bloemfontein in 1912 to protect the interests of the colored peoples in South Africa. Gandhi was regarded as a founding father whose heroism made him a mythic figure. According to Lord Hailey, “There can be little doubt that the movement which has associated Asians as protagonists in the cause of Africans” originated with Gandhi and continues to this day to be encouraged from India whose leaders possess “an almost missionary zeal for the ‘liberation’ of colored races.” It is true that Gandhi raised a volunteer brigade during the Zulu war but, like the brigade he raised during World War I, it was an ambulance corps to care for the wounded and sick. He meant to nurture, not kill, while being loyal to an empire whose laws he hoped to change.

Mr. Grenier also tells us about his nonpolitical failures, about hysterical young girls who fought “for the honor of sleeping naked with the Mahatma and cuddling the nude septuagenarian in their arms.” Mr. Grenier seems to be obsessed with salacious versions of historical events of which he has no knowledge. They coincide with the frightful period between 1946 and 1948 when, in the midst of the partition bloodshed, Gandhi at seventy-seven brought something like peace to Bengal by becoming what Lord Mountbatten, the Viceroy, called a “One-Man Boundary Force.” Weeks of trekking through Noakhali in the midst of Hindu-Muslim bloodshed deeply shook his equanimity. Gandhi believed that his capacity to control the external environment was related to his capacity to control himself. At other times under trying circumstances, Gandhi imposed penances and fasts on himself. This time something more was needed. He warned his friends and followers that he was thinking of a bold experiment, “whose heat will be great.”

He asked Manu Gandhi, his nineteen-year-old grandniece, to share his bed. “Manu Gandhi, my grandniece, shares the bed with me, strictly as my very blood . . . as part of what might be my last Yajna [sacrifice],” he wrote to a colleague. Gandhi’s bedroom, then as always, was public; others passed through and could look in. He discussed what he was doing in daily prayer meetings, attended by hundreds. That no nudity was involved we know from accounts by members and visitors to the Ashram who report seeing Gandhi and Manu peacefully asleep.

What Gandhi did as an old man under great strain was an extreme version of a culturally sanctioned form of asceticism. It created a scandal among many followers. When they complained that gossip about this practice would harm his work, he was heard to say, “The courage which made a man risk public disapproval when he felt he was right was undoubtedly of a superior order.” . . .

Mr. Grenier is repelled by the idea of nonviolent resistance and finds naive the notion, so central to Gandhi’s method of conflict resolution, of appealing to an adversary’s best instincts. If Gandhi knew that hatred begets hatred and violence begets violence, he also knew that the use of nonviolent resistance was as difficult as it was rare. Gandhi recommended nonviolent resistance to Jews, Czechs, and Poles just as he did to his fellow Indians. For him it was the best, not the only, way. “If only the Jews of Germany had the good sense,” Mr. Grenier mockingly writes, “to offer their throats willingly to the Nazi butcher knives . . . they would arouse world opinion.” Mr. Grenier misses what the film in several scenes conveys with great power, that nonviolent resistance is resistance, that it requires a higher form of courage, that it is not passive as in the phrase “offer their throats,” that it provides an active way to resist injustice and oppression without hatred and killing.

Lloyd I. Rudolph
Susanne Hoeber Rudolph

University of Chicago
Chicago, Illinois

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To the Editor:

Richard Grenier’s article on Gandhi is both a valuable supplement to and an effective antidote against this motion picture. It expanded both my knowledge and my appreciation of Gandhi’s eccentricities. However, neither the facts about Gandhi’s peculiar personal life nor the quality of Candice Bergen’s acting justify making Miss Bergen the object of a scatological joke. . . .

Garth Peterson
Sioux Falls, South Dakota

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To the Editor:

Skepticism about mass-media sermons directed at our moral conversion is surely a healthy attitude. . . . But perhaps Richard Grenier goes a trifle too far. . . . Not satisfied with trashing the film and the director, he also trashes the man, pacifism, the Hindu religion, and the people and government of India. It seems to me that the last of these deserves our criticism (as it surely does) in part because it has abandoned the ideals of its founder. . . .

Henry S. Limouze
Wright State University
Dayton, Ohio

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To the Editor:

After reading Richard Grenier’s “The Gandhi Nobody Knows,” I felt that Mahatma Gandhi had been assassinated for a second time.

Jayant Gandhi (no relation)
New York City

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To the Editor:

. . . Masquerading as an expert on Gandhi, India, and Hinduism, Richard Grenier delivers a crudely woven web of half-truths, misrepresentations, and downright lies. . . .

Mr. Grenier accuses Gandhi of supporting Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose, leader of the Free India Army. What a blatant lie! It is a recorded fact that Gandhi (successfully) fought to expel his former colleague from the Indian National Congress when Bose turned to military methods to achieve independence. Many Indians blame Bose’s failure to overcome the British on Gandhi’s noncooperation. Mr. Grenier alleges that as independence approached, “Gandhi began endorsing violence left, right, and center.” Lord Mountbatten, who should know, stated that the old man singlehandedly stopped sectarian strife in Calcutta and eastern India during the days of the subcontinent’s partition, a feat that entire divisions of the Raj’s army could not accomplish in the Punjab. However, as a political leader, Gandhi is fair game. All politicians, even dead ones, must put up with writers of Mr. Grenier’s ilk. So must nations.

Mr. Grenier’s aspersions on Gandhi and India, through contrived facts, do not trouble us as much as do his venomous outpourings against Hinduism. Mr. Grenier would like his readers to believe that we Hindus grew up munching on cow dung and sipping urine. Every faith has adherents who belong to its outer fringe. Mr. Grenier presents a crass account of such fringe elements to portray Hindu culture and the religion. He insults the faith of over half-a-billion people—over a million of whom live in the Western hemisphere. His warped grasp of Hinduism is reminiscent of Adolf Hitler’s musings on Judaism. It does not occur to him that the Hindu majority in India never perpetrated pogroms, expulsions, and persecutions on its minorities—Buddhists, Jains, Zoroastrians, Sikhs, Muslims, and Jews. This is an enviable record stretching from the dawn of human civilization.

Mr. Grenier’s Hindu culture has the “caste” system as a basic tenet. This is as blasphemous as claiming that since slavery and the rise of the Protestant faith coincided historically, slavery is central to Western Christianity. . . .

In an unabashed trumpeting of colonialism, Mr. Grenier credits the British with giving Indians a sense of nation and democracy. Has he never heard of the Maurya dynasty which ruled the subcontinent (and beyond) as a single entity before there was a Roman empire? Writings of ancient Indian scholars all across the land are full of references to Bharat Mata—the Indian nation. Mr. Grenier has apparently never heard of Vaishali, either. Democracy flourished in Vaishali for centuries contemporaneously with the Greek city states. . . .

Krishna P. Singh
Martha J. Singh

Cherry Hill, New Jersey

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To the Editor:

. . . Rather than attempt a detailed reply to Richard Grenier’s disjointed attack, I wish to offer the following observations.

Mr. Grenier’s view of Hinduism as “a religion whose ideas I find somewhat repugnant” is disgraceful. . . . His understanding of Hinduism is naive at best. His view of the Vedas smacks of cultural and philosophical chauvinism and does little to convey the essence of Hindu metaphysics. He seems concerned with contradictions in the Upanishads, the sutras, and other Hindu doctrines and yet demonstrates little awareness that the scriptures of all major religions contain numerous examples of such contradictions, particularly if no allowance is made for context, metaphor, and levels of meaning. Surely Mr. Grenier would not expect all the books of the Bible to reflect a single philosophical viewpoint.

Mr. Grenier’s contention that Gandhi’s use of the word Rama cannot be taken to mean God is both petty and an insult to our intelligence. Hindus have no more difficulty in identifying Rama, both as an incarnation of Vishnu and as Brahman (or God), than an American would have in understanding the similarities between the terms Jehovah and God. . . .

Undoubtedly, the caste system is a perversion of the original four-level division in early Hindu society and repugnant to humanistic ideals, but such perversions are not unique to Hinduism, as any survey of religions will reveal. Surely any society that has persisted as a recognizable and coherent entity for 3,500 years must have some merit. If Mr. Grenier is offended by the fact that India wars with Pakistan or does not always follow the golden rule in national or international affairs, he need only be reminded of the moral distortions in societies founded upon the Judeo-Christian heritage: the Blitzkrieg, the Holocaust, and nuclear warfare are not products of the Indian mind, whatever its deficiencies.

Finally, I would like to remind readers that it was Gandhi’s very candor and ability to admit error which provided Mr. Grenier with the ammunition to conduct his character assassination. Few leaders have shared so freely their public and private thoughts and actions. I seriously doubt that any of us (Mr. Grenier included) would relish sharing all of our private thoughts, feelings, fantasies, and concerns with the public. . . .

Stan Blazyk
Galveston, Texas

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To the Editor:

Richard Grenier’s article on Gandhi . . . is a deeply insulting piece of writing bent upon heaping ridicule not only on the maker of the movie, Richard Attenborough, but also on Gandhi and the entire civilization of India. . . .

Mr. Grenier seems to depend upon V.S. Naipaul as his chief interpreter of India. . . . Naipaul is rightly admired for his ability to evoke the atmosphere of remote places for the benefit of Western readers, and there is no doubt that he is one of the greatest writers in the English world today. . . . Unfortunately, in the West his writings have been used only to discredit the Third World . . . especially in those quarters which feel that the Third World should never have been decolonized—“Look how uncivilized these savages are. Even Naipaul, himself a member of that group, says so.”

Mr. Grenier’s complaint against Gandhi is that he was inconsistent, that he did not advocate absolute nonviolence, and that he was a bundle of contradictions. . . . The only thing Gandhi claimed was that he was a principled person. To the standard that he set for himself, he was truthful till he breathed his last. The precepts that he followed were not etched in stone and unchangeable. He evolved them as he went through life. He was not always a vegetarian; he ate meat regularly for almost a year, even after the sensation of the dead goat bleating in his belly. He lied about his food habits to his parents. He stole loose cash to play games. He lusted after his wife and pestered her with demands for sexual favors. But he himself records all of these intimate details in his work, and also tells us how and why he arrived at decisions to moderate and even give up some of his cravings. His whole life, Gandhi maintained, was an “experiment.” . . .

Next there is Mr. Grenier’s crude attempt to play down Richard Attenborough’s credentials. By suggesting that he is devoid of talent in the high art of film-making, Mr. Grenier seems to imply that this film should not have received all the attention it did. Yet the fact that it received so many awards suggests that it had artistic appeal. Academy Awards, after all, are not given merely on the basis of sublimity of theme or the nobility of one character.

Speaking of motives, let me speculate on Mr. Grenier’s. Why is he so exercised over this film? . . . A real clue, it seems to me, lies in Mr. Grenier’s description of the reactions of Ralph Nader who reportedly saw the movie three times. Nader, according to Mr. Grenier, “conceived the extraordinary notion that Gandhi’s symbolic flouting of the British salt tax was a ‘consumer issue’ which he later expanded into the wider one of Indian independence.” . . . Could it be that it is this Naderite enthusiasm which provoked Mr. Grenier to sling mud at Gandhi the movie, Gandhi the man, and India the country that gave birth to him and that also provided him with the stage for the anti-imperialist drama that changed the world? Could it be that Mr. Grenier did not and does not like that change? . . .

If Mr. Grenier wants to save America from catching the “Gandhi bug” from Ralph Nader, that certainly is his privilege. But it does not call for twisting the historical nation and an entire civilization. As Gandhi himself steadfastly held: the end does not justify the means.

K.V. Nagarajan
Susquehanna University
Selinsgrove, Pennsylvania

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To the Editor:

. . . There is a general belief among some people that Gandhi was an apostle of truth, but the fact is that the film Gandhi is as far removed from truth as truth is from falsehood. It is a fake and fabricated portrayal of Gandhi. . . . What is the film trying to prove? That Gandhi was the liberator of India; this is a patent untruth. There were great Indian leaders before Gandhi and there were also leaders like Mohammed Ali Jinnah who was Gandhi’s contemporary for more than two decades. All students of history know that Jinnah was already an important leader and at the peak of his popularity when Gandhi returned to India from South Africa. Gandhi was not even an important member of the Indian National Congress until the 1920′s. Frantically in search of a political platform, Gandhi snatched the Home Rule League from Jinnah and succeeded in giving it a Hindu name and character. When Jinnah was head of the League, however, it was popular with all the people—Hindus, Muslims, Parsees, and the like. . . .

The film-makers have tried to make a romantic story out of Gandhi’s anti-British civil-disobedience campaigns, but why didn’t they have the courage to say that every time Gandhi started a civil-disobedience campaign he had to call a halt and repent? First it was in the early 1920′s. . . . At that time, Jinnah bluntly told Gandhi, “Your way is the wrong way, mine is the right way, the constitutional way.” History is a witness that Gandhi’s campaign created bitterness and resentment among large sections of the people and proved utterly fruitless. Then in the late 20′s, Gandhi again tried to revive his campaign and told the people that if they supported him victory would be just around the corner. . . .

In 1942 Gandhi tried his civil-disobedience movement for the third time. . . . This campaign also flopped . . . because it wasn’t until 1947 when the British finally left India, exactly when it suited them to leave. Thus Gandhi’s three campaigns had absolutely no effect or impact on the imperial timetable. In other words, Gandhi as a political agitator was a failure. . . .

Those who conceived the film should have known that Gandhi’s portrait could not be complete without a portrait of Mohammed Ali Jinnah. Instead the film gives us a most atrocious caricature of Jinnah in order to improve the image of Gandhi. To say the least, it is a monstrous way of presenting India’s freedom struggle. . . .

Gandhi and Jinnah reflected two attitudes, two philosophies, two ideologies. Gandhi developed a morbid dislike of every foreign product. His open condemnation of the Western way of life and of industrial advancement appeared to Jinnah an anachronism in the modern world. Gandhi and Jinnah were both men of high caliber (indeed it is an object of wonder that both belonged to the same Gujarati-speaking province of India) and both strove hard in their own way to end alien rule, but they possessed characteristically different qualities of leadership. . . .

It was easy to understand Gandhi at a distance: clad in a loin cloth, dwelling in a sweeper colony, and sleeping in an improvised bamboo hut, he seemed to symbolize the poverty and misery of India’s teeming millions. But those who came to call on him and were privileged to have a dialogue with him were completely baffled by his mystical and metaphysical ways of dealing with mundane political issues. Nehru, Gandhi’s pet apostle, found his mentor to be “a very difficult person to understand because sometimes his language was almost incomprehensible to an average modern.” During his viceroyalty, Lord Wavell admitted that even after he had spoken to Gandhi for half an hour he was “still not sure what he meant to tell me. Every sentence he spoke could be interpreted in at least two different ways. I would be happier were I convinced that he knew what he was saying himself, but I cannot even be sure of that.”

On the other hand, it was easy to misunderstand Jinnah at a distance: elegantly dressed . . . living in a palatial house, he appeared to many to be an armchair separatist and a solitary man who shunned the masses. But all those who met him with an open mind and who talked to him intimately were almost instantly converted to his viewpoint and were happily surprised to discover that he was more than just a Muslim leader. . . . The interviewers did not have to labor to find the man behind the mask, since Jinnah never wore a mask; he always said what he meant and meant what he said.

It was in fact Jinnah who played the most decisive role during the last crucial years of the British Raj in India. . . . Gandhi’s strategy had burst like a balloon; for all practical purposes he was not taken seriously. . . . It was Jinnah’s consent to the mechanics of the transfer of power which led to freedom in August 1947. There is enough . . . evidence to show that if there had been no agreement on the partition plan, there would have been a prolonged civil war and India would have been split into more than two states.

Jinnah became a legend in his lifetime because his life story is, in fact, the biography of a nation. When I met Lord Mountbatten, the last British Viceroy of India, a few years before his death, he told me that even during his short tenure in office he became convinced that had there been no Jinnah, there would have been no Pakistan.

That Jinnah made history is not open to question, but what history has made of him is a question which needs to be studied because the founder of Pakistan has yet to be properly introduced to the world. . . .

With the film Gandhi the Indians have succeeded in planting a publicity atom bomb in every Pakistani home. The film creates the impression that Gandhi was the sole liberator of India and Jinnah was only a camp follower. But for millions of Pakistanis, Jinnah is the undisputed father of the nation and creator of the state. There are many people in Pakistan who are bitter about the film. But there is no point in reacting hysterically; rather than condemn the film, we should try to counter it by producing a better film on Jinnah. . . .

Aziz Beg
Islamabad, Pakistan

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To the Editor:

I see from your Letters section that your correspondents and contributors are, in general, persons well-equipped to argue about their particular subject. I am not. I am simply a German-Jewish refugee from Nazi oppression who found a home in India, a warm welcome there, and freedom. . . . I am not a historian, nor do I know enough of Hinduism to argue against Richard Grenier’s greater wisdom. But, as a Jew, after years of being a non-citizen in Germany, I was given an unquestioned welcome by India. This welcome granted an outcast was and remains an unforgettable experience.

Mr. Grenier has every right to criticize the film Gandhi and, if he so wishes, Mahatma Gandhi’s philosophy. But he has no right whatsoever to criticize the man Gandhi or his country. . . .

To make a mockery of Mahatma Gandhi’s dream of nonviolence may sound clever. Of course violence erupted when the country was arbitrarily divided into India and Pakistan. . . . India is a country made up of human beings, with all the faults that all of us suffer from—no better, no worse. . . .

I cannot judge whether Mahatma Gandhi’s preaching of nonviolence was responsible for the following historical fact, but fact it is. British officials left India after the Declaration of Independence in August 1947, but many, many English families in the business community remained. Yet there was not one single incident, in a country numbering about 325 million people, where an Englishman was molested or harmed. I was there and can testify to that. . . .

Just one last word about the India that gave me a home for eighteen long years. I arrived in India with a deep-seated inferiority complex because I was a Jew. You have to be a refugee to understand this; I had been well-taught in Hitler’s Germany. And all of a sudden, I found myself in a country where the very word anti-Semitism was unknown. A haven and a heaven alike. I wonder if my experience of India and its people, the experience of one unknown and unimportant Jewish refugee, might induce second thoughts in Mr. Grenier. As a Jew, one who is deeply grateful to the country that permitted me to belong, I found your learned article, Mr. Grenier, an incredibly painful experience. Hence, this letter.

Edith Lewinsky-Mukerjee
Brussels, Belgium

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To the Editor:

. . . . Richard Grenier gives us a supposedly true picture of Gandhi that a historian cannot recognize. It is not my purpose to refute the innuendoes and suggestions, nor to support the repeated assertion that Gandhi was a “holy man.” Rather, it is to state the truth.

First error of fact: “He was not to have any serious misgivings about the fundamentals of the caste system for about another thirty years” after 1893. Yet only three years later, on July 9, 1896, in Bombay, Gandhi led the inspection of the Untouchables’ quarter when others refused. Five years later, in 1898, he had his famous quarrel with his wife about their carrying out the chamber pots of an Untouchable boarder, a scene shown in the movie. Seven years later, in November 1901, he set the notable example of taking on the work of Untouchables in cleaning toilets at the Indian National Congress in Calcutta. . . .

Second error: Gandhi “had no concern for blacks whatever.” Gandhi was decorated in the Zulu war for service which included saving the lives not only of whites, but of blacks on both sides, including enemy blacks whom he carried many miles over desert terrain to medical help. By 1906 he had already recognized the awakening of blacks in South Africa and supported their education (Indian Opinion, March 1906). That he did not undertake a campaign for black liberation is unquestioned, but he became a model for great African leaders like Nobel Peace Laureate Luthuli, Nkrumah, Nyerere, and Kaunda. . . .

Third error: “He was, furthermore, in the highest degree reactionary, permitting India no change in the relationship between the feudal lord and his peasants or servants, rich or poor.” Gandhi’s first satyagraha campaign in India was a successful protest against the mistreatment of poor railway passengers (November 12, 1915). Was the Ahmedabad mill strike of 1918 not for poor laborers? What was the Kheda tax protest in 1918 but for peasants’ rights? And what of the Champaran campaign for land reform which the movie shows? . . .

Fourth error: He did not have “the slightest sympathy with other colonial peoples . . . he was totally unconcerned with other Asians and Africans.” One should read his stirring speeches to the Inter-Asian Relations Conference at Delhi on April 1 and 2, 1947, the forerunner to the nonaligned conferences. Gandhi’s interest in colonial struggles goes back farther than most statesmen. Sample, for instance, the columns of Indian Opinion for 1906 in which he admires the “Chinese awakening” (May 26), assesses the impact of the Japanese victory over Russia, sympathizes with the Arab awakening, and criticizes the extravagance of the Shah of Persia (August 25).

Fifth error: in his rush to show that Gandhi came to his absolute pacifism late in life, Mr. Grenier leaves the impression that the young Gandhi was “not ill-disposed to war at all,” that he fought in three wars and at one time “led his Indian volunteers into the thick of battle.” The historical record shows that in each instance—the Zulu war, the Boer war, and World War I—Gandhi was an unarmed noncombatant who refused to kill a fellow human, and deplored the violence and suffering caused by war. . . .

Sixth error: That when the British “finally withdrew, blood-maddened mobs surged through the streets . . . one of the most hideous periods of carnage in modern history.” Such riots occurred not only following British withdrawal, but throughout British rule. Who then was responsible for such atrocities, the guilty Hindus and Muslims alone, or also those who brought “law and order” to India? Mr. Grenier claims: “Our movie shows none of this on camera.” I wonder where he was during the horrible scenes of Calcutta in the film. To state that ahimsa “had virtually no effect whatever when Gandhi tried to bring it into play against violent Indians” suggests that the reviewer was absent when the moving scene of the “Miracle of Calcutta” was shown. Gandhi more than anyone else stemmed the communal hatred rather than calling “for seas of innocent blood” as alleged.

Seventh error: Gandhi is twice accused of advising the Jews to commit “collective suicide.” Gandhi repeatedly recommended courageous resistance to Hitler, saying: “I am convinced that if someone with courage and vision can arise among them [the Jews] to lead them to nonviolent action . . . in truly religious resistance offered against the godless fury of dehumanized man . . .” (Harijan, November 26, 1938). Again, Gandhi did not counsel “collective suicide” for the Czechs. Condemning the shameful surrender of Munich as “a triumph of violence” he urged resistance and “the practice of nonviolence even unto death” (Harijan, October 8, 1938). Similarly, he told the British: “I want you to fight Nazism without arms . . . with nonviolent arms” rather than aping Nazi methods of terror and violence which he called “out-Hitlering Hitler.” . . .

Eighth: That “Gandhi did not worship the one God. He did not worship the God of mercy. He did not worship the God of forgiveness.” I recommend to readers Gandhi’s Supreme Power which begins with his article, “God is One” . . . (Young India, September 25, 1924). He surely worshipped God as Love: “God is Love, not hate” (Young India, December 26, 1924). . . .

Ninth: Mr. Grenier wants us to be apprised of the importance of Gandhi’s “obsession with brahmacharya, or sexual chastity.” He is apparently unaware of Gandhi’s own definition of the word in the chapter in his autobiography on the subject: “Brahmacharya means control of the senses in thought, word, and deed.” If we are going to portray the historical Gandhi truthfully we should show that while brahmacharya includes sexual restraint, it also includes control of all the senses, including one’s appetite. This accounts for Gandhi’s misunderstood dietary experiments, rather than the problem of elimination which obsesses Mr. Grenier. . . .

Tenth: That “Margaret Sanger argued her views on birth control with such vigor that Gandhi had a nervous breakdown.” I do not know what authority diagnosed this, but the doctors put him to bed for high blood pressure . . . M. Desai, December 13, 1935, in Works, LXXI, 169n).

Eleventh: That Gandhi “was bitterly hostile” to education. He opposed Western education, but was a great promoter of what we would call practical education in the spirit of service. Witness his school at Phoenix in 1909, his teaching with Kallenbach at the Tolstoy Farm in 1910, his work at Tagore’s Shantineketan in 1915, his lifelong chancellorship of the university he founded in 1920, his ashram schools, . . . and, above all, his Basic Education Program for India.

Twelfth: Gandhi’s supposed desire to have “all diabolical machinery and technology abolished,” which Mr. Grenier illustrates with the fictional episode of Gandhi’s “fury” over Bleriot’s. first flight over the Channel. This flight occurred on July 25, 1908, when Gandhi was not in England but was about to be sentenced to hard labor in a South African prison. As for Gandhi’s supposed hatred of machinery, the film shows part of his long quest for the perfection of the charka, a machine for spinning yarn. Gandhi also promoted appropriate technology . . . to improve the life of villagers. What he objected to was the importation of mass-produced goods which made India dependent upon imports and destroyed local crafts and machinery.

Thirteenth: “Gandhi seems to have written less about home rule for India than he did about enemas, and excrement, and latrine cleaning.” Not so. His first and probably his most popular book was titled Indian Home Rule (1909). There is no book on the other subject that so intrigues Mr. Grenier, though the Key to Health contains minor references to constipation and diet. . . .

Fourteenth: That “Gandhi was an extremely vocal individual, and . . . rarely fell silent.” This is an extraordinary inversion of the extent to which Gandhi developed control of his talking. The writer says nothing of the fact that Gandhi observed silence for a whole day of each week (try it some time) for twenty-seven years. In 1935 he was silent for a month, in order to catch up with work; in 1944-45 he was silent for three months! . . .

This is not the end of the catalogue of inventions in “The Gandhi Nobody Knows,” but it should suffice to show that the major facts are in error. Check my facts—I have given the references, and have tried to give them in the truthful spirit of Gandhi with all of his inconsistencies and quirks.

James W. Gould
Scripps College
Claremont, California

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To the Editor:

. . . Richard Grenier’s comments, from the petty (Hai Rama) and absurd (India as spiritually impoverished) to the scurrilous (emphasis on nude massages) show a great knowledge of the details of Gandhi’s life and not an ounce of understanding.

Stephen Scott
Calabasas, California

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To the Editor:

Hundreds of persons, who knew Gandhi personally or studied his life extensively, have held him to be one of the moral giants of the century. Comes now movie critic Richard Grenier and declares Gandhi a fraud, reminding us, in a base appeal to religious prejudice, that Gandhi “worshipped cows,” and asserting, without a shred of evidence, that he “sometimes verged on lunacy.” . . . Directly or indirectly, Mr. Grenier accuses Gandhi of nearly everything from scatology to nihilism. The transparency of his motive—character assassination—is exceeded only by the opaqueness of his understanding of the man.

Mr. Grenier’s “exposé” follows a pattern characteristic of most “hate” literature. Thus the opening suggestion that, given the reams of Gandhi literature (480 tomes), which include numerous “inconsistencies,” any good the reader may have heard about the man must undoubtedly be contradicted in some part of the literature, and that, alas, it falls to the present author to discover the truth and tell the public about the man “nobody knows.” (One wonders how many of these books the author read—480? 200? 10?) Then come the cheap shots, which denigrate the man by filling the reader’s mind with unseemly, if irrelevant, matter: descriptions of Gandhi defecating, giving or taking enemas, sleeping nude with “teenage girls,” etc. . . .

We are also told about the most horrible and strange aspects of his environment and his followers, apparently in the hope that we will transfer these images to the man himself. Thus we are told about Indian parliamentarians “defecating all over the place,” about one of Gandhi’s followers who drank urine daily, about another who had spiritual contact with Beethoven, and all the ugly details of the caste system.

Mr. Grenier suggests that Gandhi was a hypocrite and a “leader looking for a cause,” mainly because he was a British loyalist for much of his life and only turned against the British when it was convenient to do so. As much has been said about George Washington (who, incidentally, also coexisted with a caste [slave] system to which he was much less opposed than Gandhi was to his). Most preposterous of all is Mr. Grenier’s imputation of nihilism to Gandhi; the main evidence for this charge is a single statement by an Indian poet who, according to Mr. Grenier—are you ready for this?—“sensed a strong current of nihilism in Gandhi.” . . .

Some of Mr. Grenier’s points are petty almost beyond comment. Why, for example, should Gandhi be mocked for considering himself “an expert on diet” merely because he never “heard of a protein or a vitamin”? (I’m afraid this reveals the author to be more of a creature of Western TV culture than he might otherwise let on.) Why should Gandhi be criticized for saying, amid extremely unsanitary conditions, that a bathroom “should be so clean and inviting that anyone would enjoy eating there”? (Does Mr. Grenier prefer dirty bathrooms?) And what if Gandhi’s last words, “Hai Rama”—which Mr. Grenier so brilliantly interprets for us—really do not mean “God” in English but the seventh reincarnation of Vishnu? Would Mr. Grenier have preferred a Hail Mary, a menorah lighting, a Lutheran recitation? The man was Hindu, after all (a fact which Mr. Grenier, when convenient, reminds us of ad nauseam). . . .

The fact is, most great historical figures have notable defects, yet each is the sum total of his deeds and words and must be fairly viewed. . . . It is an ugly bigotry that allows us, so easily and smugly, to twist a highly moral and principled man like Gandhi into the hideous figure Mr. Grenier presents. Mr. Grenier’s writings are almost uniformly superb, but this one does not pass muster. . . .

David J. Cannon
New York City

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To the Editor:

I read Richard Grenier’s review of Gandhi with disbelief, shock, and dismay. . . . The Gandhi whom the world knows; who woke the Indian people out of their centuries-long sleep of slavery and servility; who instilled in them feelings of self-respect and pride; who inspired them to “do or die” in pursuit of their lost dignity and freedom; who taught them not to be carried away by feelings of hatred and revenge and to treasure the virtues of tolerance, charity, and love; the Gandhi who, through waking up India, woke up the oppressed and exploited of the entire Third World to reclaim their rights and thus changed the history of the world—this Gandhi turns out to be a figment of the imagination of simple-minded journalists like Margaret Bourke-White and calculating and opportunistic film-makers like Richard Attenborough.

First, about the movie. The most obvious gap, according to Mr. Grenier, in the historical accuracy of the movie is the complete absence of any reference to Gandhi’s loyalty to the British empire in his early career, practically till 1918 when he was forty-nine-years-old. Mr. Grenier’s point is quite valid, although the conclusions he draws from it are not. In his loyalty to the Raj, Gandhi was not unique but typical of many Indians of his generation. . . . This shows that Gandhi did not start with any inherent bias against the Raj but turned against it only when he was convinced of its unjust and tyrannical nature. . . .

Gandhi was indeed too idealistic in his attitude to Hitler and the Nazis, but every objection that is raised to his ethic of nonviolence can also be raised to that of Jesus Christ by whom he was deeply influenced. . . .

It is the height of absurdity and irresponsibility to say that Gandhi “half-welcomed” the civil war that broke out in the last days of the Raj and that the transition to independence would have gone more smoothly and swiftly without “this irrational, wildly erratic holy man.” The mutual killings by Hindus and Muslims were the undoing of everything that Gandhi had striven for in his life and he was totally devastated by this carnage. . . .

In his observations on Hinduism and the Hindus, Mr. Grenier reaches a new limit in indecency and irresponsibility. . . . I will first comment on his logic: Gandhi was a Hindu; Gandhi was erratic, hypocritical, dictatorial, racially biased, sexually obsessed, a lover of filth: therefore all Hindus are such and Hinduism is a despicable religion. How about a similar syllogism? Hitler was a European; Hitler was a racist, a fascist, and a murderer: therefore all Europeans are racists, fascists, and murderers.

Hinduism is a very complex religion and India is a complex country. It is difficult for Westerners, particularly for modern Westerners, to understand Hinduism. This is not to say that everything in Hinduism is noble and ideal. Hinduism suffers from the distortions and corruptions that all organized religions do. Perhaps the share of such things in Hinduism is larger because Hinduism has been under siege for about a thousand years. . . .

One would normally expect that a person writing on another religion and culture would have some humility. . . . Not so Mr. Grenier. . . . He pontificates that “concepts of mercy and forgiveness are absent from Hinduism. In Hinduism, men do not pray to God for forgiveness, and a man’s sins are never forgiven—indeed, there is no one out there to do the forgiving.” . . . What then is the meaning of reincarnation? Is the incarnated God not a personal God? Is incarnation itself not an act of supreme mercy and love on the part of God to save man, to forgive him? What do the multitude of Hindus worship in their temples if it is not a personal God, an ocean of mercy and love? . . .

Mr. Grenier has misrepresented, maligned, and abused a great man, a great religion, and a magnificent civilization. The arrogance with which he does this is a product of the affluence and technological superiority of the West, which Mr. Grenier confuses with moral superiority. . . .

Govind Narain Sharma
Acadia University
Wolfville, Nova Scotia

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To the Editor:

I’m sure biographical information on Richard Grenier would shed some light on his venom toward Gandhi, India, and Hinduism. Anyone as prolific, active, controversial, and complex as Gandhi can provide more than enough information on which to build a case, and Mr. Grenier does, in fact, yield to the temptation to depict Gandhi as Attila the Hindu. . . . He goes out of his way to attribute everything negative to Gandhi and indulges in a good deal of amateur psychoanalysis and weak speculation. The imbalance of this approach shows up at many points in his diatribe. . . .

Fortunately, Gandhi left behind a legacy of relatively consistent writings (as opposed to random private comments), any one of which contains more personal, spiritual, and social wisdom than Mr. Grenier would appear to be capable of in a lifetime.

Scott S. Smith
Thousand Oaks, California

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Richard Grenier writes:

Before dealing with my correspondents, I must apprise the reader, who is probably unaware of this, that my article was followed by a small explosion of articles on Mahatma Gandhi, running from one end of the English-speaking world to the other and, above all, to London, as the prizes which Gandhi accumulated drew historians and serious writers to examine the film in the light of the true events of the period—taking the subject out of the hands of movie critics, not notorious for their knowledge of history. Almost without exception, with some differences of emphasis, all these writers have taken the same line I did: that the film is wildly unhistorical and grotesquely misrepresents Gandhi at almost every major point, Salman Rushdie—himself an Indian—went so far as to write, in the Times of London: “Attenborough’s distortions [not only] mythologize, they also lie.” Another Indian, Vithalbhai Jhaveri, a Gandhi biographer, wrote: “The most un-Gandhian thing about Richard Attenborough is his lying.”

Although I chanced to lead the line of march in exposing this fraudulent movie-Gandhi, I was soon joined by Professor Elie Kedourie of the London School of Economics in the New Republic and by a front-page article, in, yes, the Village Voice, which attacked Gandhi the film, Gandhi the man, and Richard Attenborough, all with equal gusto. The article’s author, Elliott Stein, had the good fortune of being in India at the time of Gandhi’s release, and he describes the boycott of the movie by Untouchables, the release of poisonous snakes in a movie house by opponents of the film, and the barbed wire which rings Gandhi’s statue protectively in the Maidan, Calcutta’s Central Park. I recommend his report enthusiastically. My own article has been excerpted in major newspapers across the U.S. and in several foreign countries, and been the object of many syndicated columns and supportive editorials. Expanded, it has just been published as an “instant” paperback book by Thomas Nelson.

An American newsmagazine, which originally ran a total endorsement of the movie, later, when disturbances broke out in South Africa in connection with the film’s release, had to admit in its news columns that the movie, of course, had “oversimplified” Gandhi’s life, and that the Mahatma (as I wrote) had given no support at all to blacks. Attenborough was compelled to cancel a planned trip to South Africa.

I had already reported that the government of India provided one-third of the financing of the movie and exercised complete story control, making it quite unambiguously an Indian propaganda movie, and I later learned from the New York Times that New Delhi is also subsidizing the film’s release on the Indian domestic marke

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