In spite of spectacular developments in the sphere of technology, advent of fresh technological gizmos, books remain something special for people at large. And if the book is beautifully composed, focuses on two great Indian personalities whose works spanned almost the same period, it becomes par excellence. “Mahamana and Mahatma” by S. Somadkandan and Rama Venkataraman is of this genre.
The lives and contributions of two eminent Indians — Madan Mohan Malaviya, the large-hearted (Mahamana) and Mahatma Gandhi — in two parts, with the third comparing and contrasting them comprise this book. While Malaviya's life has been chronicled fully, only two decades of Gandhiji's pioneering work in
The early chapters speak of Malaviya's orthodox upbringing, austere habits, excellence in academics and sports, classical learning, and prodigious memory. After graduation, he worked as editor in quite a few daily/weekly papers such as
Malaviya's dream was to establish a
Gandhiji, as a young barrister, sailed to South Africa in 1893 for a brief; but had to stay there till 1914 to fight for the cause of the Indian indentured labour, and, in the process, suffered physical assault, humiliation, fines, and imprisonment on a number of occasions. He founded the Natal Indian Congress. Lord Ripon did not agree to disenfranchisement. The local authorities imposed restrictions on immigration, trading licences, and so on. In spite of this, Gandhiji rendered service through the Indian Ambulance Corps in the Boer war and Zulu rebellion. In a sense, his years in
On Harijan temple entry, Malaviya believed that the best way to achieve it was persuasion, not legislation as Gandhiji would say. Again, while Malaviya argued that contesting elections and becoming members of local bodies/provincial legislatures would strengthen the hands of freedom-fighters, Gandhiji preferred boycotting all government-aided institutions. Malaviya was against boycotting educational institutions, since that would harm the interests of the younger generation. Malaviya did not share Gandhiji's optimism that the Khilafat movement would help in promoting Hindu-Muslim unity. But the best part of it all is that, although they did not see eye to eye on several matters, the two leaders agreed to disagree and did not let the differences engender any bitterness or rancour. They always had respect for each other. Of the two, Gandhiji emerges as the more obdurate and impulsive. In this well-researched work, the authors' anxiety not to omit a single incident is palpable throughout. But the book admits of some abridgement without losing out on anything significant.