One of the first assignments that marked my transition from Environmental Educator to Editor-at-Large as it were, was to work on redoing an exhibition gallery at the Sabarmati Ashram in Ahmedabad. The Gallery aptly called My Life is My Message was a chronological walk-through of Gandhiji’s life. I had, long ago read Gandhi’s Autobiography or The Story of My Experiments with Truth. As a student of political science, I had also studied Gandhi’s role in making an independent India. Now I was excited to be a part of this project because I felt it would give me a better understanding of the entire life and thought of Mahatma Gandhi.
And it was indeed a year when I discovered the many many facets of Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi!
These facets were revealed in Gandhi’s own words through the incredible collection of over 34,000 letters, articles and speeches, which have been complied in 100 volumes titled Collected Works of Mahatma Gandhi (CWMG). They have also been published in Hindi as Sampurna Gandhi Vanghmay and Gujarati as Gandhijino Akshardeh.
As fascinating as the contents, is the process that culminated in the volumes.
The mammoth project on translating and compiling all of Gandhi’s writings and speeches covering the period from 1884-1948, and almost 60 years of very active public life, in South Africa, England and India, was launched in 1956 by the Government of India under the supervision of a one-time advisory board formed of Gandhi’s closest associates. Most of the works were collected between 1960 and 1994 under the chief editor the late K. Swaminathan—who started the project when he himself was 64 years old. He continued on the project till he lost his eyesight when he was in his early 90s. The English CWMG project closed in 1994 with the publication of the 100th volume.
Gandhi wrote and spoke in three languages—English, Gujarati and Hindi. So the project involved not just collecting but also translating from the original to the other two languages. The compilation was to be published in all three languages. For each individual version there was a 25-35 member team including proof readers, translators and editors carefully handpicked for their knowledge of world literature, world religions and world history besides their professional expertise. They took around 40 years to translate the collected material.
The arrangement of materials is chronological with all items of a particular date, whether article, speech or letter being placed together. This gives the reader a picture of how Gandhi functioned and how he dealt with issues as they came up—dealing on the same day with matters of great public importance as well as concerning himself with intimate personal problems of individuals.
It is also astounding to find what a prolific writer Gandhi was, and how much writing he could manage in a tightly-packed day. For a great period of his life he did not take the assistance of any stenographer or typist and used to write in his own hand. When he was physically unable to write with his right hand he trained himself to write also with his left hand.
The 100 volumes of the English edition run into more than 50,000 pages; and CWMG has long been recognised as one of the finest examples of editorial and translation work undertaken anywhere in the world.
I had the incredible experience of working with the tireless and dedicated team in the Archives at Sabarmati Ashram, to track what Gandhi did, said and wrote day after day, through the original editions of the CWMG. To flip through the fragile yellowing pages and to read about the amazing variety of topics that Gandhi could think over, and write about, on any single day was uplifting and at the same time humbling. (We who feel so smug at turning out a 500 word piece in a day!).
It was the year I discovered Gandhi—a friend to children and the challenger to the Raj; the gentle nurse and the Satyagraha planner; the nature cure experimenter and the shrewd negotiator….and so much more.
Today this awe-inspiring treasure is available at the touch of a button through the Gandhi Heritage Portal—a digital platform that hosts the all the works of Gandhi, writings on Gandhi by other authors including books, tributes, journals and other media such as videos, photos, among others in 28 different languages from across the globe.
This in itself is a project that is as big in scale as the original compilation. Take a look at the world’s largest digital repository on Mahatma Gandhi www.gandhiheritageportal.org