Gandhi's Secret Gay Love Letters
When historian Joseph Lelyveld, released the biography Great Soul: Mahatma Gandhi and His Struggle With India, some Indian politicians who had not even read the book banned it in their home regions.
The reason? Because the book claimed that Gandhi was totally in love with a German-Jewish bodybuilder and lifelong bachelor named Hermann Kallenbach.
During their 41-year friendship, the two men wrote increasingly gay letters to each other, discussing their personal ideals and fawning over their mutual admiration of one another.
These letters were supposed to go up for auction sometime soon at Southeby's in London, but the Indian government paid more than $1.28 million to snag the 1,000+ letters and put them in the National Archives where they might never be seen again.
But before we get to why the Indian government would want Gandhi's gay letters, let's take a peek at just how gay they might be (via Doug Ireland of Chelsea Now):
"In a letter written from a London hotel during a trip to lobby British authorities in 1909, for example, Gandhi’s infatuation with Kallenbach is clear: “Your portrait (the only one) stands on my mantelpiece in the bedroom. The mantelpiece is opposite the bed.” Cotton wool and Vaseline, he says, “are a constant reminder.” The point of his observations, Gandhi goes on, “is to show to you and me how completely you have taken possession of my body. This is slavery with a vengeance...”
Vaseline?? Oooh, gurl! Let's see what else:
Two years later, “in a mock-serious agreement for his friend to sign, using the teasing pet names” they habitually employed in their letters (“Upper House” for Gandhi, “Lower House” for Kallenbach), Gandhi makes his love-object promise not to “look lustfully upon any woman” and “not to contract any marriage tie during [my] absence.” The two “Houses” then pledge “more love, and yet more love… such love as they hope the world has not yet seen.”
Upper house and lower house? Mmmm-hmmm. We get your "code."
After Kallenbach died, Gandhi burned most of their letters (the ones that were up for auction came from Kallenbach's grandniece). Lelyveld says that Gandhi was simply “honoring his friend’s wish that they be seen by no other eyes.”
But Ireland of Chelsea Now suggests that Gandhi may have destroyed them in fear that if they might be seized in the event of his arrest, used to charge him with homosexuality (a crime at the time) and released to discredit his movement against British Imperial rule.
But perhaps the Indian government bought the letters not to hide away the possibility of Gandhi's bisexuality, but simply to fill the gap in the National Archive's current collection of Gandhi's letters.
Raj Jain, a overseer of the Indian National Archives private division says, “Right now we don’t know what restriction will be imposed [on the letters]. But as per previous practices, similar archives are open to scholars and students for research and examination."
That's good. That way future queer scholars can delve more into the leader's intense relationship with the bodybuilder and also find out where Gandhi got that fabulous get up in the picture above.