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Atlanta Author’s Pilgrimage of Faith

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August 2005
Atlanta Author’s Pilgrimage of Faith

A book signing at the IACA was the culmination of Dr. Uma Majmudar's lifelong labor-of-love ? the study of Mohandas K. Gandhi. The resulting book uses the backdrop of psycho-spiritual studies to dissect and unravel the journey of Gandhi from an ordinary man to a Mahatma.

By ALKA ROY

"Majmudar's Gandhi emerges not as a strange great figure on an exotic stage but as a pilgrim on an obstacle course to which other pilgrims too are drawn, and to which we too, no matter who we are or where we come from, might potentially be drawn," writes Rajmohan Gandhi, the grandson of the Mahatma, in his foreword to Uma Majmudar's new book, Gandhi's Pilgrimage of Faith: From Darkness to Light.

On Saturday, July 23rd, IACA (Indian American Cultural Association) held a book reading where Dr. Majmudar talked about the book and the journey that led to it. Dr. Majmudar has called Atlanta home since she arrived here in 1971 with husband, Dr. Bhagirath Majmudar. She is currently a lecturer in the Religion Department of Emory University. This, her first book, has been published by the State University of New York Press (SUNY).

Gandhi was undoubtedly one of the most influential men of the last century. From books to films, he has been the subject of numerous works of art and literature. His own discourses, writings and an autobiography add to this mountain of work. So, why another book on Gandhi? What will it possibly tell us that we haven't already heard?

Dr. Majmudar candidly raised this question at the reading. She shared how she thought about this as she read hundreds of books relating to faith and Gandhi while doing the research. But she felt something was missing. "My first approach was hero worship [but] then I wanted to objectively look at how he became what he became. From Mohandas to Mahatma."

At the reading, she talked about how a particular moment in Gandhi's life is often viewed in isolation, as the turning point, but how that moment was shaped by many others before. She refers to his London years as the "training ground" and not a waste as some scholars have suggested. She talks about Gandhi in a personal way: his naivet� and awe when he first arrived in Ahmedabad; and how he shivered in his flimsy silk suit on his arrival in London.

During the sweltering afternoon at the IACA (where the AC was practically non-functional) Dr. Majmudar spoke to the 70 or so people who, she acknowledged, "braved the heat" to listen to her. She mostly wanted them to think of Gandhi as a deeply religious human being whose faith in non-violence and truth made his message universal. But his iconic status and her personal fascination were not ignored, as evident in the opening paragraph of her book's preface.

I have never seen Mahatma Gandhi, nor have I met him in person. I have only heard his voice on All India Radio in the mid-forties, a voice so feeble it was hardly audible. But what a magical effect it had on all its listeners ? young and old, men, women, and children! Bapu's (Bapu: father) was the voice that stirred souls , that inspired the people and spurred the whole nation to action ? to launch the first bloodless revolution in history against the mighty British Empire that had ruled over India for 150 years.

Dr. Majmudar has been an active member of IACA. Her talk ? which was preceded by Gandhiji's favorite bhajan ("Vashnav jan to"), beautifully sung by Madhavi Dave, and an introduction by Dean Carter of Morehouse College (who was in turn introduced by Ani Agnihotri of IACA) ? focused a lot on how she came to write the book.

She wanted the community she considers her family to know that things can be difficult and may take a long time, but that she's a living example of what possibilities exist. It took Dr. Majmudar eight years to complete her Ph.D. at Emory University (which she started after raising her two daughters). Her dissertation on "Mahatma Gandhi's Trajectory in Truth and Fowler's Theory of Stages of Faith" was the starting place for her book, which took another two years. The two-year process involved whittling her dissertation from 800 to 240 pages - so as to provide a book for mass consumption as opposed to the academia only. Dr. Majmudar credits her older daughter, Nija, for helping with the edits. "We struck a win-win deal," she told the audience. She would bring her chapters to Nija for editing and look after her grandchildren (Nija's two children) in return.

The prestigious SUNY press, which according to the author rarely publishes first-time writers, also offered three critics who reviewed the book's progress. Dr. Majmudar is proud of her achievement as a lecturer, woman, mother, grandmother, wife, daughter and a member of the Indian-American community. She told the audience, "My father's soul is blessing me right now. It was his dream that I become a writer and a professor. Whatever your heart's desire, go ahead and do it."

Instead of reading from her book, Dr. Majmudar chose to offer her insights into Gandhi's life and approach. How he not only continues to inspire the world with his message of non-violence but also continues to fascinate people by what he was able to accomplish, and who he became in the process. What is also unique about him is how closely he was connected to his faith, beliefs and Hinduism, and yet how it never got in the way of his work and only strengthened it.

"The book proposes that the power which empowered Gandhi's soul, which sustained him through the darkest hours of his life, and which helped him become ?whole,' was his ever-growing faith in God as Truth and the innate Godliness of the human soul. Weak in flesh, Gandhi was strong in spirit to keep striving for Truth through the end," offers a promotional descriptive for the book.

Stressing on Dr. Majmudar's goal of wanting to see Gandhi more objectively, the description continues, "Its use of James Fowler's structural developmental theory of ?Stages of Faith' not only helps the author analyze Gandhi's multidimensional personality and faith, but also lets the readers witness the entire ongoing process of Gandhi's developing identity and faith."

Dr. Majmudar has also been invited to lecture at Morehouse College for a class, Life & Thought of Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi and Martin Luther King, where her book will be on the syllabus as a required reading. But Dr. Majmudar remains humble. Judging by the passionate way in which she talks about her journey to write the book, her faith, her family and the journey of Mahatma Gandhi, it is clear that this book is a labor of love.���

Many who had gathered at the IACA stayed to buy the book and to have it signed by the author. Uma Majmudar sat signing the book in her bright blue silk sari, braving the heat. In her closing remarks, she added, "Today we need Gandhi, we need to revive his message. In 1945 he said, ?If the world does not now turn to non-violence, it is spelling a certain suicide for the whole human kind,' which rings true even today."

On July 23rd the local Indian-American community was visibly proud to have one of their own take her own leap of faith in unraveling the making of the Mahatma.


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