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Gandhi Through a Child’s Eyes

An Intimate Memoir

Book cover photo

By Narayan Desai

Translated by Bhal Malji
Edited With an Introduction and Notes by Mark Shepard

“Gandhi was father to the ashram, leader of the nation, Mahatma to the common Indian. But, to us children, he was above all simply a friend.”

So says Narayan Desai in this memoir of childhood with Mahatma Gandhi. Son of Gandhi’s chief secretary—and today a major figure in the worldwide nonviolence movement—Desai spent his first twenty years in Gandhi’s ashrams. Drawing on this rich background, he offers a rare, intimate, and revealing portrait of Gandhi and the people around him.

“This short memoir convincingly evokes the charisma of Gandhi, the charm and humor of the man as well as the inspired wisdom of the sage whom millions called Mahatma, ‘saint.’ A series of deceptively simple anecdotes, the book juxtaposes the day-to-day adventures of childhood with the dramatic events of the struggle for Indian independence. Gandhi Through a Child’s Eyes will delight students of Gandhi and his ideas. Younger readers will find it an inviting introduction to one of the 20th century’s most influential leaders.”—Steve Hogan, Small Press, June 15, 1992

Ocean Tree Books

Paperback ~ 1992

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Book cover

Sample Text

The ashram had its rules—strict always, often stern, sometimes harsh as well. Bapu made these rules. His word was final in how they were applied.

In these ways, Bapu could be seen as the patriarch of a large, extended family. But my personal view of Bapu—and I believe the view of the other ashram children—was completely different. For us children, he was never the stern disciplinarian, never the dictator. To us, he was above all simply a friend.

Let’s take the example of the dining hall. The rule was that all the ashramites eat their meals in this hall. The ringing of the ashram bell would call us to the meal. At the second ringing of the bell, the dining hall doors closed. The third ringing began the prayers.

One time, I was late getting to the dining hall. Just as I was climbing the stairs, the bell rang for the second time. The dining hall doors slammed shut.

Now, what child anywhere on earth has adhered to the rules and regulations regarding meals? Just the same, a closed door now stood between me and my food.

I began imagining the scene on the other side of the door. People would be sitting on the floor in four rows. Their plates would have been filled with rice, vegetables, milk, and slices of yeast bread. My mother, working in the kitchen, would be worrying over my absence. Bapu, sitting near the door, would be looking around at everyone with a smile.

I don’t remember whether it was someone else’s idea or my own, but standing at the closed door, I began to sing.

Open the gates, O Lord, open the gates of your temple.

All was quiet in the dining hall, so my young voice carried inside. Bapu burst into laughter, and the doors swung open for Babla!

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