Did Gandhi have a gay lover from SA?
His enduring image is as the father of India, the loincloth-clad hero of his country’s struggle for independence.
But newly revealed letters have added to the speculation about a secret side to Mahatma Gandhi.
They detail his close friendship with a South African bodybuilder, Hermann Kallenbach, with some suggesting the pair may have had a physical relationship.
The letters, written by Gandhi, went on show in New Delhi on Wednesday, the 65th anniversary of his assassination.
One, handwritten to Kallenbach, is addressed to “My dear Lower House” and signed “Sinly yours, Upper House”.
However scholars looking for clear evidence of the full extent of the men’s relationship, the subject of speculation for years, were left disappointed.
The archive of letters and photos belonging to Kallenbach was purchased by the Indian government in 2012, just before it was due to be auctioned by Sotheby’s in London. Curators acknowledge that they have put only a sample of the correspondence on display at the National Archives museum.
Mushirul Hasan, chief of the National Archives, denied that the collection had been screened and controversial letters left out because of Gandhi’s iconic status.
“These are original letters and we have provided a sample of the correspondence between Gandhi and Kallenbach. There is a lot that is new and significant,” he said.
“Nothing controversial has been left out or necessarily included.
“They had a marvellous relationship and the archives reveal the intensity of that relationship.”
Gandhi moved to South Africa in 1893 after training as a lawyer. He already had a wife, Kasturba, as a result of an arranged marriage in 1883, according to local custom, when he was 13 and she was 14.
The couple had four sons: Harilal, born in 1888; Manilal, born in 1892; Ramdas, born in 1897; and Devdas, born in 1900.
His wife joined him in South Africa in 1897 and they lived there until they returned to India in 1914 to join the gathering political movement against British colonial rule.
Kallenbach, a German-born Jewish architect, lived with Gandhi in Johannesburg for about two years from 1907 - a year after Gandhi took a public vow of celibacy.
The relationship between Gandhi and the wealthy South African was chronicled in a book two years ago by Joseph Lelyveld, former editor of the New York Times.
In Great Soul: Mahatma Gandhi And His Struggle With India, Lelyveld quotes a letter from Gandhi to Kallenbach in which he wrote: “How completely you have taken possession of my body. This is slavery with a vengeance.” Lelyveld defended his book against accusations that he had suggested Gandhi was bisexual. “The word ‘bisexual’ nowhere appears in the book,” he wrote afterwards.
Raj Bala Jain, part of the National Archives team that studied the Kallenbach collection in detail, said she was surprised how their relationship had been misconstrued.
“I did not find even a single letter with sexual overtones,” she said.
“Friendship can be misinterpreted. I think Gandhi was very normal and above such things.”
Indians fret about auctions of Gandhi’s belongings, saying they insult the memory of a man who rejected material wealth. “We are talking about Gandhi. Such emotions are justified,” said Mr Hasan. - Daily Mail