Was Gandhi Gay? Letters Fuel Speculation About Relationship With Hermann Kallenbach

Category: Media & Culture / Jan 31, 2013 6:03PM EDT
A collection of letters from Mahatma Gandhi, to his friend Hermann Kallenbach in South Africa, have generated speculation on the nature of their relationship, while providing fresh insight on Gandhi's initial time in South Africa. The letters, papers and photographs that shed new light on Mahatma Gandhi and his time in South Africa are on display at the National Archives in New Delhi, after they were auctioned in London. The documents, spread over 13 sections, belonged to Hermann Kallenbach, who became arguably Gandhi's closest friend after they met in Johannesburg in 1904. Although relatively few are in Gandhi's own hand, the wealth of material from family, friends, associates and Kallenbach himself make the collection a key biographical source for one of the 20th century's most revered figures. In one of the letters, Gandhi has addressed Kallenbach as 'My Dear Lower House' and signed off as 'Yours Sinly, Upper House' that aroused queries about the proximity of his relationship with the German-born Kallenbach. However, historian Gurpreet Maini said today's writers were reading too much into the friendship between Gandhi and Kallenbach which could be deeply 'platonic'. "This is a very important friendship that Mahatma Gandhi had and I think unfortunately a lot of aspersions are cast on this relationship in today's writing. But in retrospect it could be a very deep platonic friendship and why must we always read meanings into this kind of relationship," said Gurpreet Maini, while speaking to a journalist in New Delhi on Thursday (January 31). Kallenbach met Gandhi in 1904 in South Africa, where the Indian leader spent more than 20 years of his life before returning to India permanently in 1915. Gandhi's time in Africa, ostensibly as a lawyer, had a profound influence on his thinking as he joined the struggle to obtain basic rights for Indians living there. The organiser of the exhibition, Rajmani said Mahatma Gandhi had a deep impact on Kallenbach, which changed not only his thinking but also his way of life. "If any visitor comes here he will see that in the beginning Hermann Kallenbach was Jewish by birth, you will find him in a suit and wearing a tie. Finally, when you leave this room you will find him in a dhoti. I can show you one photograph here that he is with Jawaharlal Nehru wearing dhoti like Gandhiji only lower portion is dhoti and upper portion is free. So that shows the impact of Gandhiji on Hermann Kallenbach," said Rajmani. Recently, there has been a huge surge in Gandhi memorabilia. In one of the more bizarre sales in recent years, samples of soil and blades of bloody grass purportedly from the spot where Gandhi was assassinated in 1948 sold for 10,000 pounds at a British auction in April, while a pair of his glasses fetched 34,000 pounds. For keen visitors, the letters showcase the early ideologies of Gandhi and the various experiences he had during his stay at the Tolstoy farm - built on a tract of land donated by Kallenbach. "I think when you are writing a letter to someone then you have certain kind of feeling towards that person and these times we have e mails and phones, we don't use letters but generally in that time when you are writing letters to someone then you have some kind of personal attachment to them," said Sarda Das, a visitor Kallenbach, a German-born Jewish South African, was an architect who fell under the influence of Gandhi and his ideas, and the two men became lifelong friends. He gifted a large piece of land to his mentor, which he named Tolstoy Farm, in honour of Russian author and philosopher Leo Tolstoy whose ideal of peaceful resistance influenced Gandhi. (Video Source: Reuters)