Spanish Writings on Gandhi



Enrique Gallud Jardiel
Indian Horizon, vol. 43, n.um. 4, 1994


In 1930 a famous Spanish journalist, Adelardo Fernandez Arias, better known by his pseudonym "The ever-restless fellow", beautifully summed up the Mahatma's personality:

Gandhi is a mystic like Buddha, profound as Confucius, leader as Moses, psychologist like Mohammad, philosopher like Zoroastro, practitioner of self-denial as Jesus and revolutionary like Luther. (A través del país que Gandhi despertó, Barcelona, 1930, p. 120).

Unfortunately, whatever was written up to the decade of the nineteen sixties on Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi in the Iberian Peninsula, was fragmentary in nature and based, generally, on second-hand material taken from French and English sources. These sporadic writings had little literary quality and fell far short of the expectations of a good biography. Of course an emphasis was put on non-violence as a political creed with the translations of foreign authors (Romain Rolland, Lanza del Vasto) highlighting on such themes as the Civil Disobedience Movement and the personality of Vinoba Bhave. Travel literature could not add much to whatever was available, because during the period of the Mahatma's political activity and the movement for India's independence, the Spaniards did not visit India frequently.
Among the books written in Spain on Gandhi during his life-time, one could mention only as an original contribution the work of Juan Guixé entitled Mahatma Gandhi (1930), although it is an extended pamphlet rather than a book and deficient in terminologies and even in proper names ("Gokade" is mentioned in place of Gokhale and the transliteration of the term "hindustani" appears as "indo-satani"). The work is written in a precious style which is marked by a literary flair. Its most common characteristic is the presentation of Gandhi as a Messianic figure. The doctrine of ahimsa is examined with reference to primitive Christianity and the author establishes a direct comparison between Gandhi and Jesus Christ, raising the former to the level of a prophet. However, a positive element of the booklet is that it includes an abundance of extracts which have been very well selected from the writings of Gandhi found in Young India, which would otherwise never have come to light for the Hispanic reading public and which helped in understanding directly his political intentions, apart from the intentions of the author.
A short biography entitled Gandhi by a Spanish author, F. Torres, appeared in 1959. This did not show any real commitment and was not well documented. Gandhi's work in his own country was almost totally ignored and the booklet concerns itself largely with the racial discrimination that he had to suffer in South Africa. The emphasis was on exotic and picturesque elements and on eccentricities that were to be found in relation to his life.
During the seventies almost nothing was written in Spain on this subject, apart from a short narrative by Ana Fraga which bore the title The Polítical Thought of Gandhi (1967), of insignificant quality and very limited circulation. On the contrary, there appeared translations of important biographies of foreign authors, such as Jean Lacroix, Edmond Privat and Otto Wolf among others, the major part of which was centred in the political aspects of the subject, as for example, The Final Hours of Gandhi by Stanley Wolpert, and Three Assassinations by H.S. Hegner, coinciding with the interest aroused in the theme of the film entitled Nine Hours to Rama of the American director Mark Robson, released in 1963, which was concerned with the analysis of the psychology and the political intentions of Nathuram Godse, on the eve of the crime. The glorification of Gandhi as a martyr for a just cause led to idealization, as can be seen in the following description by Juan B. Bergua, well-known Spanish expert in mythology, in the year 1963:
That man admirable in many ways and a thousand times admirable as the champion of non-violence. That man of habits, of life, of perfect austerity, champion in returning to the times of the Vedas, (Introduction to "The Ramayana", Madrid, 1963, p. 47).

Ramiro Antonio Calle Capilla wrote in 1970, Three Great Hindy Mystics. His intention was to deal with Indian spirituality and for this purpose he chose three figures: Ramana Maharshi, whom the author calls "the mystic of spirituality", Gandhi, "the mystic of politics" and Rabindranath Tagore, "the mystic of literature". The space allocated to the last two figures was a little arbitrary; there was excessive idealization of politics and spiritualization of literature.
Seventy pages dedicated to Gandhi, drawn obviously from Indian sources (Gandhi by B.R. Nanda, 1960 and Gandhi, Revolution without Violence by Shahani, 1962), are concerned with an extremely positive description of the individual. Political details are ignored the situation of the country under the British dominion is no touched upon, even Nehru, Patel and other personalities of the time are not mentioned. The book is about the cultural evolution of Gandhi and about the influence of the European intellectuals and especially that of Tolstoy on him. The contacts of the Mahatma with Annie Besant and the Theosophist Blavatski are mentioned as well as that of his stand on Theosophy. Emphasis is laid on hi¡ reading of the Bible and the Bhagavad Gita. The chapters dedicates to the description of his death and the circumstances that surrounded him are given a very poetical treatment, which is a kind of stylistic climax in an entirely metaphorical language. To sum up: a book very pleasant to read, but rather patchy and evidently incomplete.
The first Spanish book on this theme in a non-Spanish language appeared in 1971 and was entitled Ahimsa, the Non-violence of Gandhi in Catalan language, by Aurora Díaz-Plaja, following or the trail of some articles which had been published earlier ("Gandhi Apostle of Peace" by the above-mentioned author, in the journal Patufet, n. 26 and "The Confessions of our Gandhi" by M. Basso in Cavall Fort, n. 63). This book is addressed to the youth in which it is exhorted to follow the example of Gandhi in "his struggle against the established order". An attempt has been made to present Gandhi as a leader who can be followed for any pacific movement, including the "hippy" phenomenon, which is specially mentioned. The work is divided in two parts: an account of Gandhi's activities and a commentary on his ideas on specific themes.
The first part is quite incomplete regarding basic information for the uninitiated. The political activities of Gandhi in India are briefly narrated in only two pages. The emphasis is on his attitude to the problems of caste and untouchability rather than on his efforts to achieve independence of the Indian people. There are many quotations from Gandhi's autobiography, My Experiments with Truth and the author indicates the points of contact between the Mahatma and Martin Luther King.
The second part of the book describes Gandhi's views on various subjects: war, colonialism, religion, women, etc., and makes a very interesting reading. The European authors who had influenced Gandhi are mentioned (Tolstoy, Max Muller, Ruskin, Nietzsche), as well as Gandhi's own preferred readings. His vows are listed and explained, also vows that he presented for the members of the Sabarmati Ashram: truth, non-violence, brahmacharya, eating judiciously, honesty and austerity. Gandhi's politics of non-co-operation with the British government are explained. His religious Syncretism and his preoccupation with the problems that fanaticism created among his people are also described. However, the chapters of the book are not adequately integrated, nor do they follow a logical order, thought each chapter is interesting in itself.
In the same year the Spanish version of Gandhi by Robert Payne appeared, which was a very well conceived book and which created a good deal of interest in the Iberian Peninsula. It may be kept in mind that the writings of Gandhi himself were even then mostly unknown and were not translated till the end of the decade. Understandably, much more than Payne's book was the reception given to the Spanish edition of the work of Dominique Lapierre and Larry Collins Freedom at Midnight which appeared in 1976, which presented to a certain extent a vivid picture of the independence movement, although with a rather limited comprehension of the Indian psyche and the personality of Gandhi. Be that as it may, this sensational book played its role in giving an idea of what had been the century's biggest freedom struggle.
From that moment on, Gandhi was considered in Spain as an appropriate subject for the reading of children and young people alike, and biographies of the Mahatma started appearing in the editorial series of illustrious men, in which the values are brought into limelight, outside the context of the person's immediate surroundings. Thus, Gandhi is presented not as a product of his times, but as an eternal figure which could have existed at any time and place. All these books were based on material taken from foreign sources and these were generally written by writers who were given this task to do so and not because they had any special enthusiasm for the Indian leader.
A good example of this type of writing is Gandhi by Juan Ignacio Herrera, published in 1979. The work is full of quotations which are used for dramatic effect and its object is to moralize in a definitive way, so far so that a code of Morality is spelt out, as the hallmark of Gandhi's activities. The language, moreover, is rather heavy for the reader.
However, during this period, we got a biography of Gandhi, which even though it was not a definitive one, was undoubtedly, the best among all those that have been written in Spain. It is Life and Thoughts of Mohandas Gandhi written by Marisa Martínez Abad. It is a well-documented effort running to two hundred pages and written in an attractive style, without pretending ever to be an erudite treatise. There are very few dialogues and the quotations are not very lengthy, which together with its elegant style makes the book an enjoyable reading. The book consists of several short and effective chapters, where Indian concepts are explained with clarity. There is an purpose, although rather briefly to present all the aspects of interest that the theme may have, thus making the book comprehensive. It may be mentioned that it is a good biography in the real sense of the word: the milieu is described, although in a secondary way and the work concentrates on the psychology and the ideas of the protagonist. The author acknowledges that she has directly drawn from Universal Voyage in Search of the Truth of Eugene Lefreue, To India of Raimundo Panikker, and the biographies of Payne and Nanda. The work begins with an introduction to the history of India, to its religion and art. It contains a genealogical tree of the Gandhi family from 1670 onwards and his personal history, at the same time showing the figure amidst the Hindu-Muslim conflicts. The main concern is in describing positively the Gandhian spirituality, which is called as "practical idealism" and its effectiveness in real life. She does not exaggerate any particular element, as we find in other publications on Gandhi and she has a precise sense for discretion. The book includes facets such as no other Spanish biographer mentions (for example, the relations of Gandhi with Gokhale or the comments on Gandhi by Churchill and George V). It is, definitely, the best work on Gandhi written by a Spanish writer.
As a contrast to the book we have just commented upon, we have one which descends to the level of a defamatory libel and which only bears the name of Gandhi in the title as a publicity stunt. We refer to the book The Destrucción of Gandhi (1983) written by Manuel Leguineche, which appeared in Spain shortly after Richard Attenborough's film Gandhi was released in Spain. It is a sensational work, written in a journalistic style, in which the author describes his experiences in India of India's wars with China and Pakistan and the Janata government in 1977, presenting a fanatically negative vision of the country and those who ruled it. References is made to several British sources, in which it is "the continuous degradation of India" that is mentioned and a systematic mockery is attempted of Hinduism and Indian spirituality. Very little is said on Gandhi by way of factual analysis, but an attempt has been made at debunking of his charismatic figure, by describing him as "naked Fakir", "holy caricature", and an "anachronism converted into myth". He is presented as a Puritan, excessively preoccupied with sexual themes and as a highly intransigent person: "With his sons he was a tyrannical, aggressive, cruel, an unjust father" (p. 193). His way of wearing clothes, of speaking about his private life is ridiculed. The author while referring to Gandhi's political life, presents him as a kind of messianic dictator, and even goes on to say that he dominated India of his times as if he was a God and Nehru was his Prophet. Unfortunately the book does not tell us who was this Gandhi whom he has criticized so much, nor does the author refer to Gandhi's role in the history of India freedom struggle.
Thereafter, the books that have been published in Spain on the Mahatma have been biographies to be read by the youth, such as Gandhi, the Leader of Pacifism (1983) by E. Sotillos and Gandhi (1986) by Juan Antonio García Barquero; both the books are general in nature and describes the modern India and its culture and philosophy. These books do not deal in depth with the realities of British colonialism and the Indian freedom movement. They are not also true biographies. They are structured in brief chapters, given a sort of over-view, with an abundance of illustrations and without any intention of dealing with the life of the Mahatma. They write about his human profile, his doctrine of poverty and austerity and they give some anecdotes and quotations from his books.
We have mentioned so far the Spanish writings on Gandhi. But at the present moment the Spanish interest in India is rather limited. Since the words and actions of great men have a perennial significance it is hoped that the interest in the teachings of Gandhi will grow in future, which will lead to better documented writings on this great and strange figure.