More surprising facts about Gandhi’s sexuality
Jawaharlal Nehru, a nationalist colleague of Gandi’s, and independent India’s first prime minister, commented that the Mahatma’s pronouncements on sex were âabnormal and unnatural’ and âcan only lead to frustration, inhibition, neurosis, and all manner of physical and nervous illsâ¦ I do not know why he is so obsessed by this problem of sex’.
Nehru certainly shook his head over many things that Gandhi did and said, but whispers of his âunnatural’ liaison with a Jewish businessman and architect in South Africa never quite reached India. Gandhi found a camaraderie in South Africa with quite a number of Jews living in the territory, perhaps, one might suppose, because of their common alienation from the mainstream of society. One of these was a Lithuanian born Jew by the name of Herman Kallenbach, who made Gandhi’s acquaintance in 1904, at the beginning of the Satyagraha movement. Gandhi was by then well on his way to developing his âMahatma’ persona, and Kallenbach was entirely transfixed. He was a body-builder, a sportsman and a robust and athletic meat-eater. He was wealthy and successful, and many of Gandhi’s comforts were provided by him.
The two men were very close indeed, unnaturally close, some were apt on occasion to comment. The relationship, however, continued without any proof of impropriety, and even today, there is no solid evidence. However, letters unearthed since Gandhi’s death in 1948 hint very strongly that, even if an intimate relationship did not exist, they certainly sailed extremely close to the wind, bearing in mind the tenor of the times.
One particular letter, handwritten by Gandhi, is addressed to Kallenbach as âMy dear Lower House’, and is signed âSinfully yours, Upper House.’
Kallenbach and Gandhi lived together on and off from about 1907 until Gandhi left South Africa in 1914, and the letters archived between the two are part of a collection acquired by the Indian National Archive from the Kallenbach estate. And while there has been much suspicion that the more revealing of these letters have been held back from public scrutiny, even those on display leave nothing but questions.
âHow completely you have taken possession of my body.’ Gandhi was quoted as saying in a letter to Kallenbach. âThis is slavery with a vengeance.’
It is certainly possible, and homosexuality in the Victorian period was not at all uncommon, although public expression of it were still taboo. Gandhi’s interest in sex, and his fundamental libertarianism, would certainly fit well with such experimentation, and they would probably have been many who knew him who would not have been at all surprised.