13 June, 2021

The Boer Battles

Historian Ramachandra Guha’s new book explores the critical formative years of Gandhi’s political life, his time spent in England and South Africa. An excerpt:

The Boer Battles

As a schoolboy, Gandhi befriended a Muslim classmate in Rajkot. As a law student, he shared a home with a Christian vegetarian in London. However, it was in South Africa that he more fully elaborated his unique spirit of ecumenism. This was religious—originally employed by Muslim merchants, Gandhi came to count Jews, Christians and Parsis as among his closest companions. It was equally social—a middle-class man himself, Gandhi was to identify deeply with hawkers and labourers. As the poorer Indians in South Africa were largely Tamil-speaking, he came to understand the diversity of language as well.

Gandhi was born and raised a Hindu, and he avowed that denominational label all his life. Yet no Hindu before or since had such a close, intense engagement with the great Abrahamic religions. He understood Judaism through a highly personal lens, through his friendships with (Henry) Polak, (Hermann) Kallenbach and Sonja Schlesin especially. His interest in Christianity was both personal and theological—he liked (Joseph) Doke and loved (Charles Freer or C.F.)...

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