Experiments in harmony with nature

GANDHI AND HIS ASHRAMS By Mark Thomson Publisher: Popular Prakashan Price: Rs 150

By Soumya Sarkar
Published: Wednesday 15 September 1993

MAHATMA Gandhi was environment-friendly in an age when the world was gearing up for the most intense exploitation of resources known to history. Underlying Gandhi's humanism was the idea that man's nature and his relation with the external environment represents an organic whole and cannot be compartmentalised. Gandhi advocated a lifestyle that strikes at the very root of consumerism and his experiments to streamline his ideas in practice is best exemplified in the ashrams he set up.

Despite a wide-ranging body of literature on Gandhi's life and work, his social experiments in the ashrams and communes he established with his followers has been neglected. Mark Thomson's book, by focusing on this particular aspect, attempts to critically evaluate a subject that is very relevant in today's environmentally aware world.

The book has been meticulously researched and is not without critical comment. Thomson uses the biographical style to describe the genesis, growth and eventual decay of the Phoenix Settlement, Tolstoy Farm, Sabarmati Ashram and finally Sevagram against the backdrop of the Mahatma's life.

An account of the formative years of Gandhi's life, which were influenced by thinkers like Tolstoy, Ruskin, Emerson and Thoreau, and the practical example of the Trappist monastery near Johannesburg is followed up with a description of the events that led Gandhi to set up the communes that were to follow a style of life that Gandhi was tentatively exploring.

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