Gandhi was fifty-five when he began dictating his autobiography in weekly instalments, one short chapter a week, for his magazine Navajivan. He was dictating, in Gujarati, to his trusted secretary and translator into English, Mahadev Desai, who also took part in many of Gandhi’s political campaigns. Writer and translator couldn’t have been closer; in its English translation the book sings, and for the first seventy or so chapters the writer is sufficiently far away from the events he is describing for the matter to be well sifted in his own mind. He is direct and wonderfully simple; the narrative is ordered. These early chapters have the quality of a fairytale, and it is possible while reading them to forget that the writer is a full-time politician, the creator of a movement unlike any other in India, and often uncertain of the next turn to take. Halfway through the book, in his account of events in South Africa, there is a narrative fracture; the politician and lawyer, the writer of letters and petitions, swamps the storyteller. It isn’t only that he has already written a book about South Africa; it is also that as he is dictating his weekly instalments he
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