He is known as a kindly father figure in India, but Mahatma Gandhi was also a racist bisexual who left his wife for a male Jewish bodybuilder, according to reports of a controversial new biography.
In Great Soul: Mahatma Gandhi And His Struggle With India, former New York Times executive editor Joseph Lelyveld paints a different picture of the Indian independence leader and activist. As the Wall Street Journal is reporting, the book "obligingly gives readers more than enough information to discern that [Gandhi] was a sexual weirdo, a political incompetent and a fanatical faddist -- one who was often downright cruel to those around him."
Among the various charges disclosed in the book: Gandhi not only slept in beds with young women under the age of 18, but also engaged in a long-term, gay affair with German-Jewish architect and bodybuilder Hermann Kallenbach, for whom India's peace icon at one point left his wife in 1908. As the Wall Street Journal reports:
"Your portrait (the only one) stands on my mantelpiece in my bedroom," he wrote to Kallenbach. "The mantelpiece is opposite to the bed." For some reason, cotton wool and Vaseline were "a constant reminder" of Kallenbach, which Mr. Lelyveld believes might relate to the enemas Gandhi gave himself, although there could be other, less generous, explanations.
Gandhi wrote to Kallenbach about "how completely you have taken possession of my body. This is slavery with a vengeance." Gandhi nicknamed himself "Upper House" and Kallenbach "Lower House," and he made Lower House promise not to "look lustfully upon any woman." The two then pledged "more love, and yet more love . . . such love as they hope the world has not yet seen."
Later, Gandhi is also said to have encouraged his 17-year-old great-niece, Manu, to be naked during her "nightly cuddles" with him, and began sleeping with her and other young women. He reportedly told a woman on one occasion: "Despite my best efforts, the organ remained aroused. It was an altogether strange and shameful experience."
As the Telegraph reports, the book also tackles both Gandhi's vanity and racist attitude, particularly toward South Africans. When he was arrested in South Africa, he is quoted as saying, "We were marched off to a prison intended for Kaffirs... We could understand not being classed with whites, but to be placed on the same level as the Natives seemed too much to put up with. Kaffirs are as a rule uncivilized."
Get top stories and blog posts emailed to me each day. Newsletters may offer personalized content or advertisements. Learn more