Friday, July 31, 2009

Mahatma Gandhi and Hermann Kallenbach.

He lived in this house while passive resistance, rechristened as SATYAGRAHA, was tested against a worthy opponent (General Smuts). The house in Johannesburg, where Gandhi lived for three years from 1908, is now put up for sale with no takers, even from the Indian community in South Africa. The government of India too is showing little interest. Not surprising, given that Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi, the Mahatma, is a chapter in the history of India which the political culture of twenty first century India finds it inconvenient to accommodate. The man and his ideals are fading from the mind of the modern India surging ahead to become a world economic power. So why make a song and dance of a house in South Africa, in which, once upon a time, lived the man who had his uses during India’s Independence struggle, but has become an anachronism in the polity informed by Manmohanomics and Machiavellism.

This story which was reported a few days back in all leading newspapers of the English speaking world, mentions a German friend of the Mahatma who was a stout and loyal supporter of Gandhiji during his experiments in passive resistance in South Africa. I dedicate this post to that little known man whom Gandhiji, in his writings, referred to as his ‘soul mate’.

Hidden away on a quiet street in Orchards, north of Central Johannesburg, the house was designed by Gandhi's confidant and architect Hermann Kallenbach, reported the story in the dailies.

Who was this Hermann Kallenbach?

Kallenbach was a German Jew who became a South African citizen in 1896, and then established himself as a leading architect in Johannesburg. Gandhi has this to say about how he became acquainted with him.

We met quite by accident. He was a friend of Mr. Khan's, and as the latter had discovered deep down in him a vein of other-worldliness, he introduced him to me.

Many a time Gandhiji acknowledges in his writings that his successful application of Satyagraha as a means of political resistance in South Africa wouldn’t have been the success it was without him.

When I came to know him, I was startled at his love of luxury and extravagance. But at our very first meeting, he asked searching questions concerning matters of religion. We incidentally talked of Gautama Buddha's renunciation. Our acquaintance soon ripened into very close friendship, so much so that we thought alike, and he was convinced that he must carry out in his life the changes I was making in mine.
At that time he was single, and was expending Rs. 1,200 monthly on himself, over and above house rent. Now he reduced himself to such simplicity that his expenses came to Rs. 120 per month.

It was against the Asiatic Act which made it mandatory that ‘every Indian, man, woman or child of eight years or upwards, entitled to reside in the Transvaal, must register his or her name with the Registrar of Asiatics and take out a certificate of registration’ that Gandhiji launched his SATYAGRAHA for the first time. In 1908, Gandhi abandoned his legal practice to take care of the struggle for the rights of Indians on South Africa. In this context Gandhi mentions how this was made easier ‘cos Hermann Kallenbach undertook to look after his simple needs.

The greatest support extended to Gandhi by Hermann Kallenbach is in providing near Johannesburg, the infrastructure for the Tolstoy Farm, which provided a place for the Satyagrahis who were moving in and out of prisons, and for their families. I t is amazing how a man of Gandhi’s ilk could have his eyes wide open to human weaknesses and be brutally practical. He writes:

Till now, the families of the jail going Satyagrahis were maintained by a system of monthly allowance in cash according to the need. It would not have done to grant an equal sum to all. A Satyagrahi who had a family of five persons …..could not be placed on par with a bramachari…….The principle observed was each family was asked to name the minimum amount adequate to their needs. There was considerable room here for fraud of which some rogues might not fail to take advantage. Others, who were honest but were accustomed to live in a particular style, naturally expected such help as would enable them to keep it up…...The only solution to this difficulty, namely, was that the families should be kept at one place and should become members of a sort of co-operative commonwealth----. Families of Satygrahis would be trained to live a new and simple life in harmony with one another…… Indians belonging to various provinces and professing diverse faiths would have an opportunity of living together.

And the result was the Tolstoy farm, which is a classic example of how this great man turned a problem into an opportunity to experiment with simple living as an aid to high thinking. This project became possible only when Hermann Kallenbach purchased a 1100 acre farm for the purpose at Lawley, twenty-one miles outside Johannesburg

Hermann Kallenbach took an active part in the Epic March of 1912- that climax of the Indian Campaign of Civil Disobedience - and was arrested.

Let’s take a look at this man through Gandhi’s own words:

In making these experiments I had several companions, the chief of whom was Hermann Kallenbach…. Mr.Kallenbach was always with me, whether in fasting or in dietetic changes. I lived with him at his own place when the Satyagraha struggle was at its height.
He is man of strong feelings, wide sympathies and childlike simplicity. He is an architect by profession but there is no work, however lowly, which he would consider to be beneath dignity. When I broke up my Johannesburg establishment, I lived with him but he would be hurt if I offered to pay him any share of the household expenses, and would plead that I was responsible for considerable savings in his domestic economy.

On another occasion, the Mahatma writes: It was really a wonder how he (Kallenbach) lived on Tolstoy farm among our people as if he were one of us. Gohkale was not the man to be attracted by ordinary things. But even he felt strongly drawn to the revolutionary change in Kallenbach’s life. Kallenbach was brought up in the lap of luxury and had never known what privation was. In fact, indulgence was his religion. He had had his fill of all the pleasures of life, and he had never hesitated to secure for his comfort everything that money could buy……Some Europeans called him a fool or a lunatic while others honoured him for his spirit of renunciation. Kellanbach never felt his renunciation to be painful. In fact he enjoyed it even more than he had enjoyed the pleasures of life before. He would be transported by rapture while describing the bliss of simple life……..he mixed so lovingly with the young as well as the old ….he would make them(young and the old)work hard(tending the fruit trees), but had such a cheerful temper and smiling face that everyone loved to work with him.

Gandhiji goes on and on and on about him.

And it is this man - Hermann Kallenbach - the subject of the Mahatma’s impassioned eulogy, who was the architect of the house that is now put up for sale, with no takers.

This house in which Gandhiji held discussions with his soul-mate on religion, Satyagraha, diet, and ahimsa - - - - .

A house where the best of east existed in a peaceful intellectual and spiritual companionship with the best of west, mutually influencing each other - - - -

That house has become worthless for us today.


  1. @shy
    thanks for pointing out the typo.haave made correction in date

  2. Forgive me for being cynic. It seems Gandhi and this guy formed a very solid "mutual appreciation society".

  3. Sorry madame. The wheels of time never turns back. The relics of old times must vanish eventually. The modern age must come.

    You wouldn't want to keep the dead body of someone forever, would you? No matter how great a man he was in his lifetime? It's just the law of nature that the new must replace the old.

  4. @ anon 1 - what's wrong with it? it's nature's rule that birds of the same feather flock together
    @ anon 2 - i would not equate KRALL, the house which is the subject of this post, to a dead body. The human body will rot but not human thoughts - relevant ones are untouched by time. KRAAL represents a way of life which can offer solution to extreme consumerism which is an offshoot of 20/21 century capitalism, which is at the bottom of the power struggle in the world now.

  5. Good post.Hope it will be turned into a museum as I believe there are few interested buyers now. Otherwise as Einstein said coming generation will refuse to believe that such a person lived on this earth.

  6. It was the same Anon, apologies for the confusion.

    1. "Birds of the same feather flock together." True. Eagles mix with eagles. But it is more extensive. Hyenas mix with hyenas. Swine with swine. Hitler and Mussolini formed another profound mutual admiration society. And pardon me, I am not a great fan of Gandhi anymore. He on the one hand wants to live in the age of Lord Ram without any progress, and on the other hand he will not even kill animals like his great Lord Ram himself used to do. I do not understand why such a backward person got such popularity. Just goes to show the extent of decay in Indian society.

    2. There are any number of great figures in history. Why are you not lamenting that the house of Sri Sankaracharya cannot be found anymore? There is a satiric malayalam poem by Kunchan Nambiar about what happens when death takes a vacation. "Irikkunnu muthumuthukkanum avante muthachanum", etc. Same applies for houses, artifacts etc.. Some 200 generations ago somebody might have defended the tribe bravely against attack of wild animals. And by your reasoning his weapons must be preserved forever.


  7. hello Mr.anon:-)
    i think our takes on ganndhi are as different as different can possible be.
    i believe gandhism holds the key to many of the evils of post industiralisation modernism which has reached its apex in this century. if our post independence planners had paid more heed to gandhi, india would have been a better place now with more even distribution of wealth. take care of the villages and the cities will take care of themselves, said gandhi. did we listen? NO. The result? desertion of villages, migration to cities, out of control growth of cities with 60 percent of population of some big cities living in slums, increase in crime rates etc etc
    industrialise intelligently, said gandhi. we didnt listen. What he was talking about is not to go back to stone age but to customise industrialisation to suit india's unique situation.he had warned several times about the dangers of neglecting india's greatest resorce - human resource. we paid not attention to it.he had his views on education - education for a world which was adopting western education system as universally applicable.
    no. after independence, we discarded gandhi. that's the biggest mistake we made.
    u were ridiculing gandhi's reluctance to kill animals. well in idia today, killing some animalas can land us in prison. in no time all animals will become endangered and vegetrianism might become the law of the land.
    reg shankarachsrya - well gandhi's KRAAL was in the news - so i reacted. if we dont take care of it, KRAAL also will meet the same fate as the house of Shankarcharya,
    btw, am a great fan of adishankara.

  8. Well, we have too many differences about Gandhi. I do not know where to start. In human history the forefront of civilization was always in cities. Don't you miss your Chennai days?

    As for the "education" that Gandhi wanted. I can do no more than to recommend Macaulay's celebrated essay on reforming Indian education. Here it is:

    Please read it without any pre-judgement. He tells the mere truth about the existing Indian education before the western one came. You could also read "Indulekha" too, to make the point.

  9. @ anon
    I've always thought that macaulay's treatise on education is the most disgusting piece of writing which betrays him to be a hardcore ethnocentric incurable imperialist.
    reg human history - what is history but a pack of official lies written by the dominant groups which were articulate and had the wherewithal to make themselves heard. history is textual not absolute.we live in times when history is being revamped.
    agree. our differences are too many and too fundamental to be bridged.
    nevertheless, ur comments are thought provoking - i like reading them.

  10. The british guys are all like Macaulay. Their thinking is ethocentric. They ruled India, they together with their brothers in the rest of Europe ruled the whole world. And they fought in the battlefields of Europe, or elsewhere, pouring forth the best of their people, the youngest of their tribes, the most enthusiastic and precious of them, into the mouths of cannons. They never hesitated to sacrifice the best of their blood in the battlefield, if somebody threatened their precious possessions, like India.

    That India got indpendence after a most bloody and gory war, apparently due to the efforts of a half naked fakeer whose motto was to do absolutely nothing to get the freedom which is your birthright. The great deciever managed to wrestle from the British what even the feared German Russian or French armies could not do, in all-consuming worldwide wars. This was when the subcontinet was mired in the submissive mentality, and nobody even really expecting freedom anytime soon, even in spite of bravadoes of people like Bhagat Singh, Khudiram Bose, Subhash Chandra Bose, Jatin Das or Chandrasekhar Azad. Does not something stink to the high heavens here? Britain sent the last of its men to the battlefield in the war with Germany, but gave up India when the fakeer threatened that he will do suicide without eating. This is most strange, if you ask me.

  11. @ anon
    i find gandhi is an issue on which the pro gandhi and anti gandhi groups can never see eye to eye.we can discuss it till the crack of doom but will always run parallel. better to leave it here :-)

  12. Maybe. I hope I didn't spoil your mood for further posting in this blog!

  13. I just read today about the relation between Ganghiji and Mr.Herman through a controversial article by some 'Pulitzer Award' winner writer. The cursorily about the so called controversial relation brought me coincidently to this blog.This enhanced my knowledge further. A new chapter about the personality of Gandhiji is before us .
    I think that before criticising or apprciating any thing or any person , we must analyse the entire facts, if we sicerely like to do so.If we want to just impress others, or join a particular group pro or against or to show others about your knowledge or to pass time etc.etc. ,than its a different matter.Otherwise , try to take something out of everything as a human being as everyone of us is just a little part in the very long evolutionary chain of an animal called, Human.

  14. @anonymous
    am shaken by the new book - am trying to understand the new allegations abt gandhi. will post a blog once i arrive at my conclusions.

  15. The book is titled “Great Soul: Mahatma Gandhi and His Struggle with India” by Joseph Lelyveld. There are some reviews in ‘Mumbai Mirror’, ‘Wall Street Journal’ (USA), Daily Mirror (UK) and other newspapers and journals which seem to indicate that the author has made the following remarks about the Mahatma:
    a]. Mahatma Gandhi left Kasturba Gandhi to live with a Jewish German Architect, Hermann Kallenbach in South Africa.
    b]. He had a close and possibly intimate relation with Kallenbach;
    c]. He made some racist statements about blacks in South Africa.

    3. The book appears to have made use of the following quotations from Mahatma Gandhi’s letters:
    a]. “Your portrait (the only one) stands on my mantelpiece in my bedroom and this mantelpiece is opposite to the bed.” – Mahatma Gandhi’s letter to Kallenbach.
    b]. “How completely you have taken possession of my body. This is slavery with a vengeance,” – Mahatma Gandhi’s letter to Kallenbach.
    c]. “more love, and yet more love…such love as they hope the world has not yet seen.” – Mahatma Gandhi’s letter to Kallenbach.
    d]. “We were then 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 — the convicts even more so. They are troublesome, very dirty and live like animals.” ¬ Mahatma Gandhi during a campaign for the rights of Indians in South Africa.
    e]. “the Indian is being dragged down to the position of the raw Kaffir, whose occupation is hunting and whose sole ambition is to collect a number of cattle to buy a wife, and then pass his life in indolence” ¬ Mahatma Gandhi’s letter to the legislature of Natal province in South Africa.
    f]. “We believe as much in the purity of races as we think they do.” – letter quoted above.

    4. None of the reviewers in India appear to have read the book by Joseph Lelyveld. (The book is not yet available in India – It is to be published by Harper Collins). All the comments are based on the review in the Wall Street Journal, which was repeated in the Daily Mirror. The reviewer, Andrew Robert appears to have mixed his own views with that of the author.

    6. It is not quite certain that the book uses these quotations in a negative way. I could find only one statement by a person who has actually read the book – Gandhian scholar Tridip Suhrud, author of books like 'The Autobiography of The Story of My Experiments With Truth'. Suhrud not only interacted with Lelyveld when he was researching the book but has also read it. He is aghast with the reviews and swears by Lelyveld. This is what Surhud says:
    "Lelyveld asks me what I think of Gandhi's relationship with Kallenbach and I say, 'It is almost like a couple'. The two had a deep bond that borders on attraction of platonic kind. Joseph is not talking about what the reviewers are claiming,"
    "It is a fascinating work. Lelyveld shows there is continuity in Gandhi as well as major points of departure. Gandhi of South Africa was not the same as Gandhi of Sabarmati ashram. And Gandhi of Sabarmati was not the same after Dandi March."

    5. The Author, Joseph Lelyveld has stated that his book is being quoted out of context and that he has never claimed that Mahatma Gandhi was bisexual or even a racist. In fact he says that the word “bisexual” never appears in the book and the word “racist” appears just once and only in a context very different from the kind being suggested in the reviews. Lelyveld states that the quotations which have been used are from Mahatma Gandhi’s own writings as contained in the “Complete Works of Mahatma Gandhi” and the diary of Hermann Kallenbach preserved at the Sabarmati ashram. He further says that the aim of 'Great Soul' is to sift the evidence and facts of Gandhi's life and discuss them in a careful, responsible and balanced way.

  16. Gandhi was very true to his thoughts.After the release of the book written by the 'Pulitzer Award' winner writer in 2011,now I realise that Gandhi should have written in his autobiography that I fought in South Africa in this way 1908 but a 'Pulitzer Award' winner writer in 2011 may visualise my action as a hetero sexual,but never write that way because I believe truth is GOD and my activities are no secret to anybody!I was loyal to Kasturba and committed.Never give any chance to opportunist writer of our century to earn more sale royalty!

  17. Even if (and this is a big "if") the claim that Gandhi was a bisexual is true: how does that take away from his teachings, and his actions? I see now reason why it should diminish his stature one iota.

    However, just for the sake of truth, I would like to know how strong are the claims that Gandhi and Kallenbach had a physical relationship. Is it based on hearsay, or is there strong evidence? I would like to see the full evidence.

  18. @ anon
    one cant say till one reads the book. also, it's easy to say things about a dead man who cant defend from the grave.


Dear visitors, dont run away without leaving behind something for me :-)
By the way, if your comment does not get posted at the first click, just click once more.