Most biographies of Mahatma Gandhi tell the story of a great political leader who led India to freedom. But for Gandhi, his politics was a part of his spiritual quest. Swaraj meant self-rule and not merely political autonomy, and Gandhi’s struggles were meant to aid the quest for individual self-perfection. Everything he did—the Dandi march or his fasts for self-purification—was part of this struggle for self-realisation.
This English translation of Narayan Desai’s epic four-volume biography in Gujarati, Maru Jivan Ej Mari Vani—hailed as one of the finest insights into the life of Gandhi—brings alive Gandhi’s quest as one indivisible whole, in which “the political” is not outside the realm of “the spiritual”. My Life is My Messageliberates the Gandhi story from the constraining tyranny of political discourse and gives centrestage to his “soulsearchings”. The struggle within and the struggle without, are both seen as aspects of the same reality—just as the inner journey of the self is depicted in its interaction with the life of the collective. What emerges is a full picture of Gandhi.
Drawing from a wealth of sources—what Gandhi wrote in letters, books and newspapers, spoke in intimate conversations with his fellow “servant co-workers”, and in speeches and interviews, besides what those around him wrote and spoke about him—the narrative is illumined, above all, by the author’s own life as an inveterate “Gandhijan”, ever since his childhood years in Gandhi’s ashrams.
Born in 1924 to Durgaben and Mahadev Desai, Narayan Desai chose not to have a formal education. He had father’s and Gandhiji’s blessings for the decision. He worked in Gandhiji’s secretariat with his father from 1936–46, and participated in freedom movement. Later, he was a very active participant and leader in Vinoba Bhave’s Bhoodan movement from 1952–60, and with Jayaprakash Narayan from 1960–76. He walked 12,000 km, received 3000 acres of land as gift and distributed it. He was National Secretary of the Shanti Sena, the All India People’s Committee, Chairman of the War Resistors International, and Founder Member and Director of the World Peace Brigade. An accomplished author and editor, he has written over 50 books in Gujarati, Hindi and English and has edited Bhoomiputra, Yaqueen, Buniyadi Yaqueen, Tarun Mun and Sarvodaya Jagat. He has won many awards that include the Bharatiya Gyaanpeeth Murtidevi Award, the Sahitya Academy Award and the Ranajitram Gold medal (highest literary award in Gujarati). In addition he received the Jamnalal Bajaj Award for constructive work and UNESCO Award for Non-Violence and Tolerance. Currently, he is Chancellor of the Gujarat Vidyapeeth, founded by Gandhiji in 1920, President of the Gujarati Sahitya Parishad. He is currently engaged in rendering Gandhi katha in India and abroad and taking Gandhiji’s message to the youth.