Uncle John's Bathroom Reader is pretty fearless about dishing the dirt on the great and good, and we were happy to help. We provided the footers for Uncle John's Bathroom Reader Plunges Into History and wrote an article on the career paths of Nazis. But one item was too hot even for Uncle John, namely a piece on the really weird kinks in the life and career of Mohandas Gandhi. Some heroes, I guess, are above dethroning, even in a bathroom reader. However, just because the item scared Uncle John, it doesn't mean you can't read it. And so, in all its uncensored glory ...
Yes, Mohandas K. Gandhi was one of the greatest heroes of the twentieth century. Yes, he shamed Britain into giving up the jewel of its empire. Yes, his life story made for a kicking movie. But Gandhi was also one very strange unit.
Although Gandhi became famous for his pacifism, his beliefs here evolved considerably over the years. In fact, until the British massacred hundreds of peaceful Indians at Amritsar, Gandhi was such a faithful British subject that he served in the imperial army.
In the Boer War, Gandhi led the Natal Indian Ambulance Corps and, in one of those weird coincidences, was one of the three future world leaders at the Battle of Spioenkop, along with Winston Churchill and Louis Botha. For his good work, Gandhi eventually won the War Medal and was promoted to sergeant major.
Gandhi also volunteered to serve in World War I, one of the few Indian activists to support England unconditionally. A bad case of pleurisy prevented him from serving, and in fact forced him to leave England and return to India.
Gandhi never quite seemed to realize that the non-violence he urged against the British would have failed horribly if applied to the Nazis. He urged the British to surrender, and suggested that the Czechs and even the Jews would have been better off committing heroic mass suicide.
Even as late as June 1946, when the extent of the Holocaust had emerged, Gandhi told biographer Louis Fisher: "The Jews should have offered themselves to the butcher's knife. They should have thrown themselves into the sea from cliffs."
As the Japanese advanced into Burma (now called Myanmar), there was a real possibility of an Axis invasion of India. Gandhi thought it was best to let the Japanese take as much of India as they wanted, and that the best way to resist would be to "make them feel unwanted."
(In fact, the Axis was helping a buddy of Gandhi's to raise an army of Indians that would have seized the country from the Brits, but that's another story.)
When Gandhi was 16, he was having sex with his wife at the very moment his father died. The trauma seems to have led him to develop some odd ideas about sex. He thought married couples should only have sex three or four times ... in total. In fact, Gandhi credited his spiritual powers to his ability to avoid ejaculation, and one morning he flipped out on discovering that he'd had a nocturnal emission.
Gandhi also had an unusual way of testing his celibacy. As an old man, he would ask the local hotties to spend the night lying naked beside him. His wife was no longer temptation enough, apparently, and he described her as looking like a "meek cow."
Gandhi's opposition to modern technology, including modern medicine, took odds turns. He didn't want his wife to take life-saving penicillin, because it would be administered with a hypodermic needle. He did, however, allow himself to be treated with quinine and even to be operated on for appendicitis.
He refused to allow his sons to get a formal education, and also tried to force his oddball sexual ideas on them. He so disapproved of the wife of his eldest son that the Mahatma disowned him. This son broke from the family and became an alcoholic. In rebellion against everything his father stood for, Harilal Gandhi even announced at one point that he had converted to Islam.
The Mahatma also had trouble with his second son, Manilal, who had an affair with a married woman. Dad made the matter a public scandal and pushed the woman involved to shave her head. Manilal was also briefly exiled from the family for lending money to fellow black sheep Harilal.
In the movie, Gandhi is seen fighting with his wife over her refusal to clean the latrine in the ashram.
This just scratches the surface of the one of the strangest elements of the Mahatma's makeup ... a fixation on bodily excretions that he pushed whenever he could on his family and disciples.
Gandhi seemed to be almost as interested in Indian sanitation as he was in Indian freedom. At his ashram, he designed latrines and ran latrine drills. "The bathroom is a temple," he once said. "It should be so clean and inviting that anyone would enjoy eating there."
Gandhi also took a great deal of interest in the bowel movements of his friends, and life at the ashram was marked by daily enemas. He also experimented with diet, to see what effect different types of food had on excretions.
Weirdest of all, it seems he also made a habit of drinking his own urine.
�Legends, Lies & Cherished Myths of World History by Richard Shenkman
�"The Gandhi Nobody Knows" by Grenier (Commentary, March 1983)
�http://www.mkgandhi.org/articles/boer_war.htm for name of Natal Ambulance Corps
�http://www.kzn-deat.gov.za/tourism/battlefields/conflict/spioenkop.htm for Spioenkop, verified at http://www.classicafrica.com/portfolio/threetreehill.htm
�http://www.progress.org/gandhi/gandhi08.htm and http://www.mkgandhi.org/biography/wrldwar1.htm for Indian attitudes on World War I
�The rebel in the Gandhi family, The Hindustan Times, July 19, 1998; verified at http://www.discovery.com/stories/history/messy/messy3a.html