Gandhi Too, Ctd

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Two Indian readers share their perspective on the subject. One writes:

Indians don't usually discuss the sex lives of their leaders, much less their sexuality. If and when they do, its usually breathless gossip or political smears. (The Hindu Right in India, for example, has been obsessed with Gandhi's sex life for decades and has been milking that little bit about his sleeping practices for every last drop of salacity as long as I can remember.) Gandhi makes such a wonderful target because he never covered anything up, discussed his failings in public, was quick to tell everything to everybody without any fear as to the listener's opinion of him - and on top of all that, wrote it all down for posterity. 

Here's what you need to know about Gandhi - he was a crackpot. Seriously.

That's the reason for his success. He makes no sense whatsoever if you actually pay attention to all that he says. One of the more hilarious things is to read his biographies by Western historians who actually attempt to make sense of his life and actions. By the end of the book, Gandhi remains mysterious and the author is clearly having some kind of nervous breakdown. It's precisely what he did to the British.

But as far as his aversion to sex goes, here is what we were taught in middle school. I believe it's from "My Experiments with Truth", Gandhi's remarkably frank autobiography. In it, he says shortly after his wedding to Kasturba, his father lay dying in his room. He'd asked Gandhi to come sit with him for a while and he did, massaging his legs and such. In the middle of the night, the thought of his young bride got to be too much for him and he snuck away for a little midnight action. While he was making love to his wife, however, his father passed away. The two incidents were forever linked in his mind and he grew convinced that "lust" was one of the greatest evils of the world. He became a very disturbed man.

In the light of experiences like that, I don't see anything especially significant in him telling his beloved friend to stick to chastity. This was a man who had no problems whatsoever in quizzing a perfect stranger about his bowel movements and what that said about his health and how he could make it better. 

However, I'm completely willing to believe that he might have been bisexual. There is a very strong tradition of bisexuality in the subcontinent that we insist on brushing under the rug. We don't discuss it; we ignore it; and we continue to indulge in it across class lines. Gandhi may well have been part of the trend.

But his aversion to hetero sex is not an indicator of anything. In fact, the stated idea behind his lying between those two attractive young ladies was a test of his resolve, forcing him (and them) to confront their lustful natures and defeat it. Every night. Night after night. 

Seriously, the man was cracked. Men of genius frequently are. 

Another writes:

While I'm not about to argue that Gandhi was not bisexual, I think your discussion of his sexuality is missing a very important aspect. There is much complexity here. It's not just a sound-byte about the Mahatma being gay.

Gandhi chose celibacy as part of the Indian notion of "Brahmacharya" which has been loosely translated to mean "celibacy' but actually means the pursuit of the "Brahman" (eternal soul) through the living of the virtuous life. This virtuous life included the giving up of sensual pursuit, of which sex was but one aspect. Gandhi has also written how he saw it as the life that unified all his moral pursuits, and included not only his actions, but also his thoughts.

Thus, for example, he is ashamed that his "organ is aroused" because he is unable to control the desires of the body, which, according to Hindu ascetism, (and perhaps ascetism of all religions) keep one from achieving the eternal spiritual truth. His experiments sleeping with naked women, much criticized by his closest associates, were simply tests for both himself and the women - tests that neither would succumb to the desires of the body. These tests, and control in the face of temptation, were a means of making the body more resistant to desire and hence closer to the spiritual truth. It is in this context that one can view the promise that Gandhi and Kallenbach made to each other: that neither would succumb to the desires of the body.

The fact that he was so keen on these tests and saw them as intrinsic to his pursuit of the truth, tell me that he was concerned that his attraction to women was distracting him from spiritual work, and that, hence, he was certainly really attracted to women and knew it. Additionally, it is well-known that his father died while Gandhi was having sex with his wife and that Gandhi never forgave himself for this. In fact, the psychoanalysts Erik Erikson makes this a very key event motivating the rest of Gandhi's life.

That the Indian community speculated that Gandhi had left his wife for another man means essentially nothing in this context. It also speculated that he was sleeping with his brother's grand-daughter, for example, about his experiments sleeping with young women.

We will probably never know for sure what his actual sexual orientation was. But if the man "never covered anything up", why did he destroy his beloved's letters to him?

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