Book Review – ‘Sketches from Memory’ by Margaret Chatterjee

Vol I A Journey to Gandhi
Vol II Remembering Gandhi
Margaret Chatterjee
Promilla & Co 2009
pp194 +76
ISBN 978 81 85002 95 8 Rs. 300

Margaret Chatterjee is a philosopher and a Gandhi scholar, as well as a long-time Friend of the Gandhi Foundation. English by birth but now living, in her senior years, once more, in Delhi, these two volumes are reflections on some of the experiences in her life and the people she has met who left a mark on her.

This is not an autobiography and there is thus much not revealed here including her marriage to an Indian professor of English, her move to India, and her children. Instead there are about 100 short sketches, some about relatively well known figures such as Mulk Raj Anand, Krishna Kripalani, Ninian Smart and Nirmal Kumar Bose, others about ‘unknowns’, even sometimes unnamed by the author, but not forgotten by her.

Her philosophical inclination showed itself early, around three years old, when she concluded that although a crumb of bread could be divided until it could not be seen that didn’t mean it wasn’t there. Unusually, her parents attended services in many different churches and different denominations exposing their daughter to different preachers and liturgies but also to the music performed there. Music is one of Margaret’s great interests which also extends to skillful performance of the piano and voice.

Her career took her to many countries – USA, Russia, Israel and various European states and there are stories from many of them. It was through Nirmal Kumar Bose, the Bengali colleague of Gandhi, above all that she became convinced that Gandhi was the “key to understanding India”.

In contrast to the author’s quite demanding writings on Gandhi and religion these sketches are a delightful easy read especially as she brings out the positive characteristics in the friends that she has met on her journey through life.

George Paxton

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Categories: Reviews & Arts


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