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The Gandhi Way, No. 70, Winter 2001-2

It is good to have this photobiography of Gandhi since there is only one other significant one in print, namely that of Eknath Easwaran (Nilgiri Press, USA). It is very attractive in appearance as one would expect from an art publisher, the pages are an unusual square shape and the hardcover - Gandhi in a shawl looking straight at the viewer - is in shades of brown.

The nearly 300 photographs have been selected from Peter Rühe's large collection which he has gathered in India over the last decade. They mainly derive from two sources, that of Vithalbhai Jhaveri's collection of over 9000 photos, and that of Kanu Gandhi, Gandhi's grandnephew who lived with Gandhi in the last 12 years of his life and took unposed photos during that time thus giving an intimate and private view of the public figure.

As one might expect the great bulk of the pictures are from Gandhi's Indian period from 1915 on. Some will be familiar to those who have read the larger biographies of Gandhi but many will be new. There are also pictures not featuring Gandhi, including some of amazingly large crowds (such as of the Salt Satyagraha, and of the scattering of his ashes) or the ghastly riots around the time of the partition of India. One of the most moving of the latter is a group of people looking down at the bones of a victim; the group includes Gandhi's secretary Pyarelal next to Dr. Sushila Nayar with Gandhi looking solemnly over their shoulders. There is the occasional amusing picture such as that of Gandhi standing beside the prize winning goat, which was named Mahatma Gandhi, at the Dairy Show during his 1931 visit to Britain. There are a few charming photos of Gandhi with children, and many with his various colleagues.

The book is divided into seven chronological sections, each with a fairly short biographical piece, and there is also a useful general introduction to the book as a whole. Unfortunately, there is a disappointing design defect here. The typeface of the text is small and thin; and the index and chronology and other features at the end of the book are positively microscopic. Worse still are the captions which are in a pale ink. Unless the reader has perfect eyesight (surely a minority of the population) it is a strain and irritation to read - a quite unnecessary defect. Fortunately the main feature of the book is the photos which form an excellent visual complement to the standard biographies.

We owe Peter Rühe a debt of gratitude for his assiduous collecting and preserving of images of the greatest individual and the most important nonviolent movement of modern times.

George Paxton