Naked Ambition, a new biography of Mahatma Gandhi by Jad Adams published recently in the UK, highlights an aspect of the man’s life which India is uncomfortable with—his testing his own celibacy by getting women to sleep naked with him. An interview with the author:
Q How many women did Gandhi actually sleep naked with?
A I can think of six… Sushila Nayar [personal physician], Abha Gandhi [wife of grandnephew], Manu Gandhi [grandniece], Kanchan Shah [wife of Madanlal Shah, ashram manager]…there may well have been others.
Q What about Gandhi surprised you?
A A celibate should keep away from women and not engage in nakedness and talking about sex. Gandhi was constantly talking about sex. It was a progression of sexual behaviour and sexual talk which goes on throughout the last half of his life.
Q Can you illustrate this progression?
A In the ashram, men and women were expected to live separately, yet Gandhi himself would encourage wives of his followers to come into his room.
Q Why did he suddenly start testing himself?
A Gandhi made a vow of poverty and chastity. Poverty was easy for him. However the control of sex, he found impossible. I think he was trying to trick himself to do something he wanted to do, but didn’t break his vow.
Q Gandhi never tried to hide these experiments.
A In fact, he wanted these things to be discussed. If there was a deception in Gandhi’s life, it was a self-deception.
Q Were there any psychological consequences on the women?
A I think that these women considered what they were offering a service for this great man, and they were pleased to have done so. I don’t think they were forced into it by any means.