“Gandhi Before India” by Ramachandra Guha (Knopf, 688 pages, in stores)
South Africa and its bloody Anglo-Boer War more than 100 years ago powerfully impacted three major 20th-century figures: India’s Mohandas Gandhi, Great Britain’s Winston Churchill and Oklahoma’s Will Rogers.
“Gandhi Before India” casts an interesting perspective on that war, although the book’s primary goal is to spotlight the racist South African forces that molded the historic “nonviolent resistance” stance Gandhi took to rebuff the British Empire and lead the way to independence for India.
The young journalist Churchill, later to become the prime minister who led Britain during World War II, was imprisoned by the Boers during that South African bloodshed. Having experienced defeat and incarceration, he gained empathy for those he later ordered into combat.
In the war’s aftermath, young cowboy Will Rogers waded through the Boer War graveyards and battlefields of Ladysmith, South Africa, to discover innate talents that launched a show business career and catapulted him into world renown for his great humanitarian substance and wise advice for powerful figures.
With the emphasis on South Africa, this detailed biography of Gandhi’s early years reflects an understanding into the makeup of all three men. As Rogers researchers, my wife Michelle and I returned earlier this year from a monthlong prowl across the South African landscape seeking insight into the Oklahoman’s transformation from footloose cowboy to superstar. This book offered vital input into our understanding.
As a noncombatant in the Anglo-Boer war, Gandhi left his family and law practice to lead an Ambulance Corps that mercifully rescued wounded British soldiers. He dodged bombardment to sabotage Boer telegraph lines at Ladysmith, the town where Rogers soon took his first step toward fame.