Complementing Gandhi’s famous autobiography and structured as an inter-woven narrative, Restless as Mercury: My Life as a Young Man, an edited life story, is a monumental endeavour, and an experiment in creating a new genre. The book is both deeply illuminating and challenging. In his Preface to the volume, the editor, also the Mahatma’s grandson, reflects: ‘a story as first told is not a story, it is reality’ which ‘has the ring of truth’ and is ‘the original footage’ even if uneven or jerky. He therefore concludes:
Gandhi’s life story in his own words and those of his contemporaries who quote him is heard best when heard directly. It is the organic truth. This book is not Experiments with Truth taken further afield, nor is it a foil to the many remarkable biographies of him. It threads Experiments into other autobiographical texts including, somewhat unprecedentedly, what he wrote within the fold of his family he so loved but did not privilege.
In order to retain the original voice, tenor and ‘the ring of truth’, the editor mines five principal sources which narrate Gandhi’s life-experiences. These are as follows: Gandhi’s own profuse writings running into thousands of pages across the nearly hundred volumes of the Collected Works of Mahatma Gandhi. These writings are a testimony to his constant and total immersion in public action, political mobilization and public service; through and between the countless addresses, speeches, letters and other writings, they also reveal autobiographical and familial preoccupations. Besides the Collected Works, and The Story of My Experiments with Truth, predominantly the Gujarati original, Gopalkrishna also draws from Gandhi’s own words occurring in the narrations of five of his contemporaries: Prabhudas Chhaganlal Gandhi, Gandhi’s grand-nephew and later associate; Joseph J Doke, his first biographer; Millie Polak who wrote a book based on personal observation; and the works of his two secretaries Mahadev Desai and Pyarelal.
Undoubtedly, asserts the editor, Gandhi must have ‘vetted and checked’ the accounts recorded by both Doke and Millie Polak. Those by his nephew and secretaries would certainly have been passed after minute scrutiny for veracity. All these sources therefore contain the unmistakable stamp of his voice, the frankness and the searching clarity of his perspective on issues and on people. While Restless as Mercury coincides more or less with the time period of Experiments, it carries one distinguishing mark, says the editor: ‘it brings into focus Gandhi’s descriptions of his life in its familial aspect. His life in the epic domain of actions for public causes has been and will continue to be written about. His life as lived within the fold of domesticities has had fewer tellings. And that cannot ring truer than in his own and his intimates’ words.’