28 July, 2021

Battlefield Banaras

Few, including sitting MP Narendra Modi perhaps, know of the Mahatma’s enduring relationship with the city

Battlefield Banaras

Gandhi liked to say that India lives in her villages. Seeing cities as emblematic of the avarice of modern civilisation, he founded two rural settlements in South Africa and two more in India. Yet one of the many paradoxes of Gandhi’s own life was that he was profoundly shaped by cities. It was through the Vegetarian Society of London that he first learnt the value of organised collective action. It was in that society’s journal that he cut his teeth as a published writer. And it was in London that he made his first English (and Christian) friends.

Gandhi’s two-decade-long stay in South Africa was also radically altered by his experiences of city life. He was based first in the port city of Durban, where he finally succeeded as a lawyer, having previously failed in Bombay and Rajkot. His clients were mostly Muslims and Tamils, thus further expanding his social horizons. Professional success was accompanied by a rising public profile. Living in Durban between 1893 and 1901, Gandhi founded the Natal Indian Congress, wrote countless petitions to the...

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