Deutsche Version (German) - Upload: 20210423GMT1200 - Last update: 20240317ICT1819

  Gandhi and I 

An Autobiography


by Peter Rühe









Peace movement
















(to be continued)




The Occident made me a man, the Orient a child again




Now in my mid-sixties, I am of an age where reflection on life's journey is fitting, yet still youthful enough to refrain from taking stock. Thus, this document serves as a provisional report, reflecting my present perspectives and beliefs. Nonetheless, as life is an ever-evolving journey and I am continually adapting, my views on specific matters are subject to change. The benefit of publishing on a website lies in the ability to update, expand, or rectify the content at any moment. Documenting my memories is an ongoing endeavor, and I will periodically introduce revisions or enhancements. Consequently, the content you encounter here represents the latest iteration.

Please feel free to reach out to me if you have any questions or comments.



My life can be broadly categorized into three distinct phases. During the first phase, football was central, profoundly influencing my childhood and adolescence. The second phase spanned approximately 35 years, during which I dedicated myself to studying India, focusing particularly on Mahatma Gandhi's life and works. Currently, in the third phase, I am savoring the gradual transition into retirement in Thailand.



After World War II concluded, my maternal family was expelled from their homeland east of Berlin by the Poles. They could only take what they could carry on themselves and in carts. During their northward trek, my mother's youngest sister succumbed to typhus. They began anew in Wietow near Wismar, and my mother eventually moved to Teltow near Berlin to work as a chambermaid. At 17, my father was conscripted as a soldier and sustained a stomach gunshot and a knee injury at the front within his first week. He was captured by the US forces and spent a year as a prisoner of war in the southern United States, where he learned chess and engaged in sports. Post-war, he was sent to France, working for several years in Marseille's port and a steel mill. Upon returning to Berlin, he took menial jobs and cared for his war-affected parents. My parents met at a dance in the "New World" club in Hasenheide, Berlin-Neukölln, eventually marrying. I was born on May 12, 1957.


My childhood unfolded in a small attic apartment in Berlin-Rudow, where we lived as subtenants with my parents. I was nurtured in a protective environment, constantly surrounded by family and "Aunt Gothner," our landlord, her husband, and their son Klaus who was five years my senior. Occasionally, a cousin two years older would visit from Wismar. Aside from them, I recall no same-age playmates. Our barn housed chickens and my paternal grandmother's dog "Purzel," who were my primary companions during early childhood. I entertained myself with snail races on my legs and playing with earthworms.


My wooden scooter was a source of immense joy, ensuring I spent ample time outdoors daily. Although our means were modest, the love and care from my parents provided me with a joyful and untroubled upbringing.


In 1961, when I was four years old, my parents purchased their first car, a Lloyd Alexander. We embarked on journeys throughout Germany and even as far as Italy, which was an immense experience for us all. At the age of five, we relocated to a cozy 2.5-room rental apartment in Berlin-Buckow, and I commenced my schooling. I was a relatively serene and average student; however, physical education was always immensely enjoyable.


At seven, my father enrolled me in the football club Britz-Süd 49, where I initially played as a defender. But it wasn't long before my talent for goalkeeping was discovered, and I was given the opportunity to guard the goalposts. My early role models were Hans Tilkowski from my beloved club Borussia Dortmund and later the legendary Sepp Maier from FC Bayern Munich.


In 1966, at nine years of age, my sister Corinna was born. I was pleased to acknowledge her presence, but due to our age difference, our interactions were somewhat limited. However, that naturally changed over time, and today she is among my closest confidants.




My passion for football profoundly shaped my youth. Not only did I train with the club, but I also played daily on the fenced clay court outside my home and, naturally, at school, where I was the steadfast goalkeeper for the school team from the outset. Football wasn't just a sport to me; it became my life, and my dedication to training continuously enhanced my skills. Moreover, I innovated my own goalkeeper gloves for better grip and personally repaired my leather ball. I meticulously cleaned the ball after each use and treated it with leather grease to prevent it from becoming heavy or waterlogged. From an early age, I exhibited a propensity for development and improvement, both personally and in terms of football gear.


At 12, I joined Polizei SV, which led to memorable football excursions to tournaments in West Germany. However, the need for glasses soon posed an inconvenience, and it wasn't until nearly a decade later that I transitioned to contact lenses. When several teammates moved to the superior Blau-Weiss 90, I followed suit and found myself playing in one of Berlin's finest B youth teams—a team that produced Bundesliga and national players. Yet, a year before finishing high school, an abrupt halt came to my burgeoning career due to a required knee surgery. Following an initial minor operation, I sought to address a bone inflammation. The hospital appointment was scheduled for the day after the 1974 World Cup final.


Since "we," Germany, became world champions, the football-loving neighborhood gathered on the clay court after the final, and we reenacted the successful final. The excitement was boundless, leading to a few minor injuries that went largely unnoticed. However, the next day brought a harsh reality check at the hospital when I was informed that surgery could not proceed due to the minor abrasion I had sustained in the "final." Nonetheless, we were world champions, and a delay of a few days seemed insignificant. I felt like I could embrace the whole world! A week later, my surgery fortunately proceeded without issue. Yet, one incident during my recovery left a lasting impression: the removal of the tube that drained wound secretions post-operation. A few days after the surgery, when the nurse attempted to remove it, each tug sent me through the roof in agony, leading me to suspect that the tube was stitched to my skin. The nurse insisted this was impossible and yanked harder. Had I not been overwhelmed by pain, I might have lashed out at him. The tube didn't budge, and it took some time for me to calm down from the ordeal. When the doctor created an opening in the cast to investigate, it turned out that the tube was indeed sewn into my skin. The nurse's terse comment "can happen" did little to restore my shaken confidence in the medical team.


Many more events were to follow, but I'll delve into those later. I spent a month in the hospital during the sweltering midsummer, encased in a full leg cast, merely hoping to regain my fitness by the time school resumed—my final year. Indeed, I recovered, albeit initially requiring support during lessons. With sports as one of my examination subjects, I had to get back in shape swiftly. Consequently, I temporarily set aside football to focus on my Abitur (high school exams). My diligent training and successful rehabilitation were evident. Academically, I was an average student; certain subjects resonated with me more than others. However, throughout my life, lectures, presentations, and exams have been my Achilles' heel due to my nervousness often disrupting my plans. This was also true for the Abitur. Following the written and oral exams, I was hanging by a thread with just a few points. I needed to score at least 13 points (out of 15) in the sports exam to barely scrape through. The momentous day for which I had mentally prepared for years finally arrived. Although I had trained rigorously and was physically fit once more, certainty eluded me. Yet, on that pivotal day, my mind prevailed over my body, and I achieved a flawless grade 1 - 14 points. With that, I secured my Abitur and became the happiest person on earth!


Peace movement

The gravity of life's responsibilities began to take hold as I moved out of my parents' house and started managing my own household. At 19, I embarked on a journey as a mathematical-technical assistant at Schering, now a part of the BAYER Group, and reignited my passion for football. Initially, I played in a leisure team before joining TuS Makkabi. Why join a Jewish club when I am not Jewish? The answer is simple: the club was in search of a skilled goalkeeper and decided to set aside its usual principles for recruitment. This openness wasn't limited to the goalkeeper position; we assembled an outstanding team and earned promotion to the regional league in our first year. 


A subsequent trip to Israel for an exhibition match deepened my understanding of Judaism and the Holocaust's history. While we had extensively covered this topic in school, hearing from concentration camp survivors added a profound dimension to my knowledge. These discussions with my parents helped me realize that in war, there are no victors, only victims. Despite not being directly affected by World War II, conversations with my parents and other witnesses in Germany—and now in Israel—led me to a firm resolution: I am committed to doing everything within my power to prevent war. I aspire to contribute to a peaceful world where individuals, irrespective of their ethnicity, religion, or gender, can coexist harmoniously and resolve conflicts without resorting to violence.


Initially, the outcome was unexpected: my Indian friends, my girlfriend at that time, and I inaugurated the "International Specialty Snack Bar" in Berlin-Britz. We were among the pioneers in Berlin to serve Indian fast food delicacies. Döner kebab had also been introduced in Berlin for some time by our Turkish-origin compatriots: minced veal on a skewer, accompanied by salad and a splash of lemon juice in a quarter of flatbread. This traditional Turkish preparation was also available in Berlin during the initial years. The delectable kebab swiftly emerged as a rival to the well-entrenched Berlin currywurst. Consequently, it was a logical step for us to include kebab in our snack bar's menu. Initially, we prepared it ourselves, and frankly, it resembled meatballs more than kebabs. However, we were creative: freshly back from a trip to Greece, where my girlfriend and I had relished gyros with tzatziki sauce, we decided to add tzatziki sauce to our kebab. This innovation was well-received by our patrons. Eventually, we started sourcing our kebabs from a supplier who noticed during his daily rounds that customers were fond of ordering our sauced kebab. He relayed this observation to other eateries and snack bars he supplied, which quickly began concocting their own sauces and adding them to their kebabs. The rest is history: nowadays, every kebab shop offers an array of sauces: herb, garlic, spicy, etc., and the traditional doner kebab with just lemon juice is seldom requested. Unfortunately, we had to shut down our "International Specialty Snack Bar" shortly thereafter due to the opening of a fun pool on the premises, but the legacy of the sauced doner kebab we pioneered endures.


The year is 1982. For three years, I have been employed as a programmer at the Technical University, and I find myself empathizing with the nascent peace movement and the Berlin squatters' movement. Now, in collaboration with Andi—a former colleague from Schering—and other friends active in the peace movement, we are establishing a communal living space. Our efforts culminate not only in the construction of a spacious attic in Berlin-Friedenau, which would be my home for the next 16 years, but also in long nights of discussion about the world's pressing issues. We unanimously concur that these multifaceted problems must be addressed strictly through nonviolent means, akin to Gandhi's approach. Nonviolent resistance, civil disobedience, tax boycotts, and sit-ins were not merely theoretical concepts but were actively practiced in Germany during that period. 'Where injustice becomes law, resistance becomes duty!' The anti-nuclear movement swelled; Gorleben and Wendland emerged as symbols, and we, as peace activists, became fashionable among certain segments of the populace. Concurrently, I challenged societal norms and experimented with various aspects of life such as diet, attire, and living arrangements. In essence, I was conducting my own 'experiments with truth,' unbeknownst to me at the time that Gandhi had penned an autobiography with that very title. Until then, my knowledge of Gandhi was limited to what was briefly covered during school lessons on Indian independence.




My colleague and friend from India, Ravinder, along with his wife Nirmala, had previously participated in the "International Specialty Snack Bar" event. Their involvement brought me closer to the Indian culture and philosophy, which captivated me as much as Nirmala's delicious Indian meals. My interest in India grew, partly because I had already engaged with Gandhi's work through the peace movement. Since I've been bitten by the travel bug since my youth, I seized the opportunity to join Ravinder and his family on their next trip home in January 1983. Those following 10 weeks profoundly influenced my life. At first sight, India appeared to be a different planet. After arriving in New Delhi, we took a taxi to the home of Ravinder's friends to spend our first night. That taxi ride was an ordeal I still vividly recall: I sat in what was, thankfully, a well-enclosed metal box while life teemed around me on the streets—dust, elephants, cars, camels, motorcycles, cows, bicycles, and people everywhere. I had never witnessed anything like it. Initially, I questioned my presence there and felt immensely grateful to be under the care of my friend and his family. Their explanations greatly eased my initiation into this new world. In the first week, I was fortunate to attend a traditional wedding—the marriage of Ravinder's brother Surinder. It was an extraordinary experience and primarily an assault on the senses: the band played at an ear-splitting volume, the food smelled and tasted extraordinary, and the vibrant saris seemed to symbolize a zest for life. The wedding party comprised several hundred cheerful attendees who were all very welcoming towards me. From the first minute, I absorbed this new way of life like a sponge.


Before this experience, I was unaware of many things. For instance, eating with one's fingers is a common practice, even among "modern" families. This habit eventually became second nature to me, and I began to question the necessity of utensils like knives and forks for consuming food—they seemed utterly redundant! Eating with your fingers allows for better portion control and temperature sensation. Additionally, sitting on the floor while dining, a tradition in India, is advantageous. It prevents blood from rushing from the head to the legs, which can cause fatigue; instead, it stays more or less level. If you sit on your heels in Vajrasana for a few minutes post-meal, it even optimizes digestion.


My initial encounter with India plunged me into a vastly different culture—its daily life, customs, thought processes, and religions. India has much to offer, particularly to those from distinct cultures. It upends values and significantly broadens one's perspective. It fosters tolerance in interacting with others, encouraging an unbiased approach to new experiences from which one can learn. And indeed, I learned a great deal! My time in India was an ongoing educational journey and the finest university I could have attended. The decision to take this time and adapt my life accordingly brings me immense satisfaction today. I am profoundly thankful for having experienced the exceptional Indian hospitality and for the lessons learned from its people.


This inaugural trip to India didn't just leave an indelible mark on my life; it transformed it profoundly—because I changed. After spending a week in the secure confines of his family home in Punjab, Ravinder provided me with contacts across the country—friends, acquaintances, and relatives whom I visited during my subsequent eight-week journey. I journeyed from Punjab in northern India, driving south along the west coast to Kanya Kumari, India's southernmost point, then northward along the east coast to Calcutta. After spending a week in Nepal, I returned to Punjab. During most of my travels, I resided with incredible individuals who engaged me in profound conversations about life in India and Germany, as well as discussions on God and the world. The generosity and openness with which they shared their lives afforded me a unique opportunity to view life from a different angle. Typically, three or four generations cohabited under one roof, allowing me to glean insights into pre-independence India through numerous discussions with the elderly, while the younger generation showed more interest in a Western, consumer-driven lifestyle. Although this diversity intrigued me, as a 'peace-loving critic of civilization,' I found myself more drawn to contemporary Indian history, especially the independence movement.




In January 1983, I arrived in Bombay, now known as Mumbai, and stayed with an industrialist and his family. I was immediately struck by his modest lifestyle and demeanor, which contrasted sharply with my preconceived notions of a prominent businessman. This was my first personal interaction with an entrepreneur of such stature. Our conversations often revolved around life in India, and he frequently mentioned Gandhi. He recommended a visit to the Gandhi Museum located in Gamdevi, southern Bombay, where Gandhi resided during his initial visits to the city. Additionally, South Bombay was replete with historical sites and diverse architecture that captivated my attention. On a city walk, I encountered a bustling square outside a cinema where a large crowd had gathered. Observing from afar, I noticed the animated exit of moviegoers from a just-concluded show and the eager entrance of an impatient crowd waiting to see the next screening. The film being shown was 'Gandhi', a biographical movie about Mahatma Gandhi, the 'Father of the Nation'. This film had just premiered in India and would later win seven Oscars. My interest in Gandhi's life and the unique atmosphere of an Indian cinema prompted me to see the movie. Due to its widespread appeal, tickets were sold out for the upcoming days, which only heightened my desire to watch it. I secured a ticket for a showing three days later and resumed my exploration of Bombay.


A short time later, I arrived at Mani Bhavan, the Gandhi Museum in Bombay, which had been recommended to me by my host. Unfortunately, it was Monday, when many museums are closed. The old, well-maintained building is situated on a beautiful and, by Indian standards, quiet side street lined with old Laburnum trees, known locally as "Goldrain," which inspired the street's name. It's an area to which I would gladly return. From the outset, Bombay captivated me with its contrasts: the bustling, colorful markets; the grand, historic colonial-era edifices; the modern skyscrapers owned by the ultra-wealthy; and the slums, where I witnessed indescribable suffering. Remarkably, I observed more joy and laughter among the inhabitants of the poorer districts and slums than among those in the skyscraper-lined avenues of the Indian elite. In Bombay, one can easily lose oneself while exploring the myriad alleys and side streets with open eyes and ears. After all, the city offers a sensory experience unlike any found in the Occident: cacophonous noise echoing through streets and buildings on one hand, and on the other, heart-stirring music from sitars and veenas. There were odors so foul they nearly induced vomiting, yet also the sweet fragrances of wax flowers and frangipani. The sight of abject poverty in the slums contrasted sharply with the sublime architecture of the Taj Mahal and other aesthetically pleasing examples of Indian design. These stark dichotomies seized my attention and profoundly moved me.


The day had arrived for my first glimpse inside an Indian cinema. Regal Cinema, located in the Colaba district of southern Bombay, stands as a grand and spacious theatre with a vast seating capacity. Despite possessing a ticket, I found myself having to squeeze in, a practice I've grown accustomed to in this bustling city: on trains, buses, in stores, and markets - it's the same everywhere. The cinema was no exception; before the film started, the atmosphere buzzed with an energy typically reserved for football stadiums. Then, abruptly, silence fell over the crowd! Everyone rose to their feet, belting out the Indian national anthem with fervor. My knowledge of Gandhi's life was limited, so I observed the film 'Gandhi' with keen interest. I was taken aback by the intense portrayal of violence in a movie centered around the 'Prophet of Nonviolence.' It wasn't until later, through in-depth research into the Indian independence movement, that I realized the harsh reality was even more severe than depicted in Richard Attenborough's epic film. Throughout the screening, my attention was repeatedly drawn away by the audience's collective emotional outbursts: raucous cheers during fight scenes and audible weeping during tender moments. The atmosphere was truly unparalleled! This resonated with me, enhancing the film's impact and stirring deeper emotions. Gandhi's portrayal was compelling, igniting a desire within me to learn more about his life.


On the following day, I revisited the Gandhi Museum. Initially, I was struck by the building's authenticity: the room where Gandhi stayed has been meticulously preserved as though he had just stepped out. Adjacent to the prominent spinning wheel lay Gandhi's mattress, where he would sit with crossed legs throughout the day, sorting through correspondence at a modest, nearly flat desk. The simplicity yet functionality of it all was apparent. Up until that point, my engagement in the peace movement had acquainted me with Gandhi's political persona. However, this visit granted me a glimpse into his personal space and daily routines. The film and various exhibits at the Gandhi Museum profoundly enlightened me about the diminutive man behind the iconic round spectacles. Compelled, I purchased Gandhi's autobiography from the museum store, ascended to the rooftop terrace, and delved into reading - becoming so engrossed that I could not tear myself away. Gandhi's perspectives, articulated in plain yet profound language, resonated with me, coherently echoing thoughts I had only partially formed. He touched upon nearly every facet of life and depicted an ideal society towards which I had already begun to contribute back in Berlin.


Most of all, I was captivated by his personal 'experiments with truth'—a concept from his autobiography—which I had already begun to explore in my own manner. My experiments included nutritional adjustments, regular fasting, and a preference for surrounding myself with items I had crafted or repaired myself. Even then, human rights, reduced consumption, environmental conservation, and recycling were integral parts of my life. Gandhi's addition to my life was significant; he not only wrote compellingly about an ideal society but also embodied it in his actions, demonstrating that one can vehemently oppose injustices and strive for a better community. Thus, encountering Gandhi didn't alter my life's direction but rather intensified an existing inclination—and significantly so! Just before the Gandhi Museum closed, I descended from the rooftop terrace and encountered Dr. Usha Mehta, the museum's president at the time. I shared with her the details of my visit and conveyed my fresh enthusiasm for Gandhi. She provided me with contacts for Gandhi-related institutions along my forthcoming journey's route, and we parted ways. Leaving the museum, I felt as though my life had taken a quantum leap!


During my further journey, I delved deeply into the life and work of Gandhi, visiting ashrams, museums, and social and educational institutions recommended by Ushabehn (Sister Usha). I engaged in enlightening discussions with Gandhi's social workers, colleagues, and relatives. The concept of peace, as established in the Vedas thousands of years ago, resonated profoundly with me: achieving inner peace first, followed by harmony with one's immediate surroundings, and ultimately with the entire cosmos. This aligned with contemporary Western philosophies advocating "Think globally, act locally," "Small is beautiful," "High thinking, simple living," and "Live simply so that others may simply live." However, it transcended these ideas. Everything I learned during those days was logical and compelling, inspiring me to lead a life of simplicity dedicated to societal service. There was little in Gandhi's philosophy that I found incomprehensible or unacceptable for my own life. Principles such as 'Satya' (truthful living), 'Ahimsa' (non-violence in thought and deed), 'Sarvodaya' (the upliftment of all), 'Satyagraha' (steadfastness in truth), and 'Swadeshi' (using only local products) were particularly impactful.


Gandhi crafted an encompassing approach that, in his era, provided strategies and directives for addressing issues that, upon closer examination, persist today. Society still grapples with significant injustice and various forms of violence; we stand on the brink of nuclear and ecological disaster; the might of weapons of mass destruction is unprecedented; and numerous species of flora and fauna have been irreversibly destroyed. It requires little imagination to apply Gandhi's philosophies and actions to contemporary times and to acknowledge the pertinence of his worldviews that he both demonstrated and advocated. For me, it was immediately evident that an astute application of Gandhi's principles to current times, in all its complexity, is imperative for resolving the pressing, existential challenges we face and for striving towards an ideal society.


During my inaugural journey to India, I explored projects that embodied Gandhi's ecological ethos. These projects engaged in sustainable farming, governed by consensus, and were self-sufficient in producing their own clothing and other essentials for living. I found myself captivated by this lifestyle and the individuals who embodied and propagated these principles. Moreover, I was profoundly influenced by the works of Gandhi's biographer, Vithalbhai K. Jhaveri. His meticulous presentation of Gandhi's life demanded significant time investment: the photo exhibition in Delhi alone required half a day, the documentary spanned over 5 hours, and the pictorial biography comprised 8 volumes, each exceeding 500 pages. Jhaveri's multimedia approach was not only comprehensive but also distinctively unique, securing my admiration and later serving as a perennial source of inspiration and a model for my public relations endeavors.


The knowledge and experiences I recently acquired have filled me with enthusiasm and led to the realization that the prevalent Western perception of Gandhi is incomplete and requires expansion. I am persuaded that Gandhi's life and teachings could significantly benefit many of my compatriots in Germany in diverse ways, provided they had the chance to engage with his legacy thoroughly. I felt compelled to undertake this mission as my responsibility. My desire was also to impart my fervor for Gandhi's philosophies to others. Yet, the question remained: how can this be most effectively accomplished? My initial idea was to translate the concise volumes issued by Navajivan Publishing House in Ahmedabad, which explore various facets of Gandhi's ideology, into German. However, this approach would have only reached a limited audience - those inclined to read books. In my view, Gandhi's insights hold relevance for individuals of all ages and backgrounds, should they choose to delve into his teachings earnestly. To me, an exhibition appeared as a superior avenue to engage a wider demographic. Such an exhibit could showcase photographs, diagrams, charts, textual narratives, newspaper clippings, caricatures, and also include film screenings and lectures as part of its ancillary activities. Surely, there would be something of interest for everyone!


After returning at the end of March 1983, I immediately began working on the project. Initially, I sought a partner due to my lack of experience in exhibition construction, organization, and public engagement. My motivation was fueled by a strong desire to share with my fellow citizens the experiences I had in India through an exhibition. During a peace week event, I encountered three students from the FU Berlin (Free University of Berlin) who shared an interest in Gandhi and were eager to participate in the project. Over the following months, Samantha, Mushtaq, Christian, and I dedicated ourselves to creating display boards, acquiring photos and other materials for the exhibition, organizing a comprehensive schedule of events, and conducting public relations efforts. I self-financed the entire endeavor to avoid the energy and time consumption of fundraising. With my university employment, I believed that if the exhibition were successful, donations would offset the costs. This belief was partially validated as we engaged intensively for about 10 months in developing and organizing Germany's first extensive exhibition on the life and work of Mahatma Gandhi.



The inaugural exhibition of Gandhi's life and work in Germany was aptly opened on January 30, 1984, marking the 36th anniversary of Gandhi's demise, within the confines of the UFA factory premises. At that time, this area was still under occupation and previously served as Universum Film AG's duplication facility and film archive before the Second World War. The UFA squatters, with their innovative ideas for an alternative lifestyle and cultural business, effectively brought some of Gandhi's principles to life. The venue could not have been more perfect! Included within the site was a quaint cinema where the exhibition commenced. In anticipation of the event, a noteworthy incident occurred: the Indian consul made a grand entrance in his large black limousine an hour before the event commenced, stirring considerable excitement. The former UFA factory, now a renowned international cultural center and a staple in Berlin's cultural scene, comprised several workshops, a café, a bakery, and spaces for sports and theater. These facilities were once regarded by the upscale neighborhood as shabby.


The presence of an official Indian representative inherently signified an elevation in status for the unlawfully occupied territory. The consul, Mr. Chakravarty, attended the exhibition and participated in a trial run of the forthcoming event. Given that the seating in the UFA-Fabrik cinema was antiquated, much like the surrounding area, the chair beneath the consul gave way and collapsed. In his introductory remarks, Juppy, the charismatic mascot of the UFA factory, alluded to this mishap by saying, "During the rehearsal, the consul's chair collapsed beneath him. A replacement was provided immediately," which elicited considerable amusement from those present - consul included. To conclude, Juppy remarked, "Nichts wie hin, du, zu Gandhi," a phrase that regrettably lacks a precise English equivalent. Owing to our effective public relations efforts, approximately 10,000 individuals attended the 'Berlin Gandhi Month' at the outset of 1984, leading us to prolong the event by an additional month. Concurrently with the exhibition, there were presentations by renowned Gandhi scholars and activists, alongside two films: Attenborough's GANDHI and Vithalbhai Jhaveri's five-hour documentary MAHATMA. The inaugural exhibition at the UFA factory premises was met with success.


We successfully reached the diverse audience we had aimed for, encompassing all genders and religions, ages, and social backgrounds. Among our visitors were individuals from the former GDR, which we considered a particular honor, knowing the challenges they faced crossing the inner German border from east to west. One such visitor was Indologist Dr. Roland Beer, who operated a modest private club dedicated to Indian culture in East Berlin—or Berlin (East), as officially termed in GDR jargon. Roland was a diminutive, soft-spoken individual with whom I formed an immediate bond, partly due to our mutual passion for India, leading to a lasting friendship.


The Gandhi Information Center had informally come into existence, initially as a private endeavor. It wasn't until 1991 that it was formalized into a non-profit organization. For our inaugural exhibition, we self-published a modest catalog. Anticipating subsequent exhibitions, we later compiled an extensive volume exceeding 300 pages titled "My Life is My Message - The Life and Work of M.K. Gandhi," released by Graswurzelrevolution Publishing House. This book included a chronology of Gandhi's life, photographs, caricatures, quotations, newspaper clippings, and accounts from contemporaries. It served not only as an exhibition guide but also appealed to those interested in Gandhi's life and works. A key role of the Gandhi Information Center in the pre-internet age was to connect researchers, students studying Gandhi's legacy, activists, and other enthusiasts. Despite our modest size and resources, we quickly established ourselves as a hub for networking, with our information and materials sought after globally.


We maintained contact with individuals and organizations worldwide who were involved with Gandhi's work, referenced him, or had an interest in his philosophy. Our interactions with Roland Beer also opened doors to other Gandhi enthusiasts in the former GDR. Herbert Fischer, the ex-ambassador of the GDR to India, was a remarkable figure with an extraordinary life narrative. In his early years, Fischer resonated with the reform movement that advocated for a wholesome, liberal lifestyle in sync with nature. He harbored a deep revulsion for the burgeoning German National Socialism while being drawn to Gandhi's teachings, which he discovered through German media and literature. At the dawn of the 20th century, newspapers critiqued and belittled Gandhi, labeling him as the 'half-naked fakir'—a term infamously coined by Winston Churchill. However, perceptions shifted over time, especially with the ascent of the National Socialists, as both Gandhi and Hitler viewed England as an adversary and challenged its dominance, albeit through vastly different strategies. In the early 1930s, Herbert Fischer was captivated by the prospect of meeting Mahatma Gandhi in person. After receiving an affirmative response from Gandhi's secretary to his written request, Fischer embarked on his journey to India at 19 in 1933. This three-year odyssey began with minimal financial resources and led him through France and Spain, where he worked and was gifted a bicycle. He then pedaled to Turkey, where he received a boat ticket to India. Upon arrival, he immediately boarded a train to Faizpur to attend the ongoing Indian National Congress.


Due to his imposing stature, Gandhi was able to recognize him from a distance and welcomed him with the words, "So, you have arrived. You can manage the book stall during the Congress." In subsequent years, Herbert Fischer resided in Maganwadi, Wardha, which was in close proximity to Gandhi's Sevagram Ashram. He had weekly meetings with Gandhi, who dedicated an hour for Fischer to deepen his understanding of life in Germany. Since Fischer also had numerous inquiries for Gandhi, each session commenced with Gandhi's invitation to "shoot." The two shared a profoundly warm relationship, which did not go unnoticed by some ashram members who viewed it with envy. Nearly everyone aspired to be near Gandhi and gain his counsel, as his guidance and attention were highly valued. His English associate Mirabehn had an especially intimate emotional bond with Gandhi. This was vividly illustrated in an anecdote Herbert Fischer shared with me: As the honored Sunday guest, he was privileged to sit beside Gandhi during lunch. All ashram residents and visitors were seated in a line on the floor while several ashramites assigned to kitchen duties served food onto the plates. When Mirabehn served Gandhi his meal, she inadvertently turned her back towards Herbert Fischer's face, an act that was quite telling and symbolized her disdain for those she perceived as "rivals for Gandhi's affection."


Until Fischer's passing in 2006, I had numerous interactions with him, which greatly enriched my understanding of Gandhi as a person and the prevailing atmosphere in India during that era. Herbert Fischer's book, “Unterwegs zu Gandhi,” comes highly recommended for its vivid portrayal of his personal encounters with Gandhi.


I found joy in public relations and archival work, leading me to become the first person in Berlin's public service to engage in job sharing, splitting my full-time position. My supportive superior at the Institute for Theoretical Chemistry, who was sympathetic towards my extracurricular activities, permitted me to work in quarterly blocks—three months of full-time work followed by three months off. By concluding the last quarter with a break and starting the new year similarly, I could take six months off to delve deeper into life in India. Following the initial exhibition in Berlin, over 70 exhibitions ensued, and I continually sought improved visuals about Gandhi.




My second journey to India began in Bombay and led me to the southern regions, where I explored Gandhian projects alongside Christian Bartolf, the co-founder of the Gandhi Information Center. En route back north, we paused in Wardha to visit Gandhi's Satyagraha Ashram, commonly known as Sevagram Ashram, as well as Vinoba's women's ashram, Brahma Vidya Mandir. While Gandhi's ashram has been transformed into a museum, Vinoba Bhave's ashram in Paunar, situated 7 km from Gandhi's, remains a vibrant, active community. Initially established by Vinoba as a women's ashram in the 1960s, Brahma Vidya Mandir operates on consensus-based decision-making. This establishment proclaims itself a 'laboratory for an ideal society' and is indeed a noteworthy destination for those intrigued by its ethos. The roughly 30 women residing there lead largely self-sufficient lives, dedicated to spiritual advancement, having forsaken their families, careers, and possessions. My subsequent visits to the Ashram allowed me to cherish interactions with its inhabitants, whose life experiences and wisdom greatly enriched me. However, the ashram also housed men like Vinoba's secretary or Gautam Bajaj of the Bajaj family, who had generously provided the land for Gandhi and Vinoba's communities.


The bookstore was overseen by S.V. Govindan, a close associate of Vinoba, with whom I swiftly engaged in conversation. Since the mid-1940s, Govindanji—as he permitted me to address him respectfully—had resided in Gandhi's Sevagram Ashram. Later, he joined Vinoba on his nationwide Bhoodan Movement marches through India's villages and lands. It was in 1959 at Brahma Vidya Mandir, the 'temple of learning', where he encountered Vinoba and other collaborators.

Govindanji's personal encounters with Gandhi and Vinoba were not only profound but his yogic prowess and deep understanding of Indian scriptures left me astonished. He could recite the Vedas, particularly Ayurveda, impressing Vinoba with his mastery of massage techniques. Fluent in English, Govindanji possessed skills and insights that I believed would garner significant interest in Western circles.

Until that point, Govindanji had never left India; however, he shared with me an invitation to an international yoga conference in Italy, which he was poised to attend. Without much deliberation, I extended an invitation for him to visit Berlin post-conference. Our subsequent events in Berlin were extraordinary, delving into topics about Vinoba, Gandhi, Ayurveda, his Ashram experiences, and Yoga. As he relished sharing his knowledge, we were delighted to host Govindanji several times over the ensuing years.


Vinoba, his teacher, was regarded as a universal genius. He was fluent in numerous languages and well-versed in all fields of science. His publications became bestsellers in India and abroad. On November 8, 1982, when Vinoba suffered a heart attack, he acknowledged his impending death and declined any medication or further nourishment. He died one week later. Vinoba might have said that his soul had liberated itself from his aging body.

After Vinoba's passing, his brother Shivaji Bhave moved to the Ashram and, in some respects, succeeded him, acting more as an elder than a spiritual guide. Shivaji suggested that we visit Rajkot, home to several of Gandhi's relatives and associates, including his friend Prabhudas Gandhi and Kanu Gandhi, Gandhi's personal photographer. Both resided at the "School of the Nation" (Rashtriyashala), established by Gandhi. Thus, we journeyed westward to Gujarat, Gandhi's birthplace and childhood home.


Our first meeting was with Prabhudas Gandhi. His parents, Chhaganlal and Kashiba Gandhi, were pioneers of 'passive resistance' in South Africa, which evolved into 'active nonviolent resistance'. Chhaganlal, a distant cousin of Gandhi, later became the inaugural manager of Gandhi's Satyagraha Ashram near Ahmedabad. Born in 1901, Prabhudas was raised alongside Gandhi's sons at the Phoenix settlement. Throughout his life, he was expected to work closely with Gandhi. The Gandhi family believed he understood and embodied Gandhi's principles as closely as possible in his own life.

Indeed, Prabhudas bore a strong resemblance to Gandhi; Japanese television even used his silhouette to represent Gandhi in a documentary. At 85 years old, Prabhudas spoke fluent English despite never attending formal school. His educators included Gandhi in South Africa and later in India—Mirabehn, Vinoba, and Kaka Kalelkar, another of Gandhi's learned associates.

To us, Prabhudas was both an encyclopedia of Gandhi's philosophies, life, and works and a living testament to the values Gandhi championed: compassion, humility, helpfulness, and a simple life centered around God. Gandhi aspired to commune with God directly and establish a divine realm on Earth ('Ramraj'). Our encounter with Prabhudas Gandhi was enriching, and I sensed that our paths would cross again.


Then, we visited Kanu Gandhi, his neighbor. In his late 60s and remarkably fit, Kanu was the great-nephew of Gandhi. He had been living with Gandhi since 1936 at Sevagram Ashram in central India and served as his photographer. He was uniquely permitted to photograph Gandhi under three stipulations: no flash photography, no posing from Gandhi, and no financial support from Gandhi for this endeavor. Initially, Kanu had to sell his photographs of the Mahatma to newspapers. His work gained recognition, and some of his images became well-known beyond India. The young Kanu received a camera from industrialist G.D. Birla, and Gandhi provided him with a darkroom on the ashram premises. This led to a collection of over 1300 photographs of Gandhi, including many intimate ones. Kanu was married to Abha, who was one of Gandhi's two 'living walking sticks' and in whose arms Gandhi passed away. Like Kanu, Abha was among Gandhi's most intimate associates. It was an extraordinary moment when Kanu proudly displayed his photographs to me. All the 5 x 5 cm contact prints were pasted into albums, and both Kanu and Abha could narrate a tale for each image. It felt as though I was reliving the era of Gandhi and his entourage through their stories! Their eyes sparkled as they reminisced about what they referred to as 'the best time of our lives.' Gandhi once described their bond saying, “We are three bodies but one soul.” Both Kanu and Abha joined Gandhi at Sevagram Ashram during their youth, and Gandhi arranged their marriage. They managed Gandhi's luggage on his numerous journeys and also took care of Kasturba, Gandhi's wife. They served as his secretaries and principal aides. Following Gandhi's demise, they moved to Kanu's birthplace, Rajkot, and established the Kasturba Ashram nearby. There, they continued Gandhi's legacy of self-reliance, informal education, and the adoption of eco-friendly technologies. We planned to reconvene next year to continue our discussion. Regrettably, destiny may interfere with our plans. More on that later.


We departed from Rajkot to Delhi by train. My friend Christian journeyed back to Germany, while I boarded a bus to Kathmandu, Nepal. In Kathmandu, I was scheduled to meet with an Austrian film crew as a 'Gandhian advisor' for a television production exploring Mirabehn (Gandhi's English associate), the Chipko movement ('Embrace the Trees'), and Himalayan ecology. However, the bus ride evolved into an unforeseen grand adventure. The saga began at the Old Delhi bus station where the intercity bus, clearly past its prime, was excessively packed with Nepalis returning home from work in India. Chickens, furniture, and boxes filled with clothes and food were crammed onto the roof and into every available nook inside. Departing an hour behind schedule, we left at 5 p.m. Amidst bomb threats in Delhi that day, security at the exit roads was stringent. We encountered numerous checkpoints where uniformed officers scrutinized the bus, its occupants, and their belongings. The duration of inspections varied from one checkpoint to another, and it seemed that the two bus drivers had some sway over these proceedings. Although I had never personally dealt with corruption in India, I was aware of its existence and suspected it was at play here. Once we cleared the greater Delhi region and its array of inspections, our journey was abruptly interrupted again when some inadequately secured kitchenware and furniture broke free: our aged bus had suffered a flat tire. Darkness had fallen, and we found ourselves stranded 'in the middle of nowhere.' Nevertheless, the drivers managed to repair the breakdown with limited tools but ample skill and experience, allowing us to resume our travels."


Due to the significant time lost at controls and breakdowns, the drivers opted for a shortcut, entering Nepal through a smaller border crossing. Upon our arrival, we learned that bus inspections could only be conducted during daylight, necessitating an overnight wait until morning. Our subsequent actions, for better or worse, were constrained by circumstance. With no guest house or hotel nearby to offer a comfortable bed, we were compelled to use the bus as our lodging due to the chilly temperatures. The bus was fully occupied, with aisles and overhead compartments crammed with goods, leaving us no chance for a comfortable sleeping posture. Instead, we 'slept' in the same position we had taken hours earlier in Delhi. At dawn, the bus underwent a thorough inspection, allowing us to resume our journey on May 12th. That day remains vivid in my memory as it marked my 28th birthday, and the adventure was far from over...


The route traversed Nepal, characterized by numerous switchbacks, gorges, and mildly speaking, subpar road conditions. These conditions nearly sealed our fate: we encountered a broken bridge over a river. The drivers opted to ford the river by bus, which was the sole option to proceed with our journey. Although the river's water level was low, there was hope that the elevated bus with large tires would make it across - but it failed. The bus became marooned mid-river, immovable. The drivers exerted every effort, attempting to rock the bus back and forth, yet it only seemed to sink deeper into the riverbed's mud. Exiting the bus and wading to shore wasn't feasible due to the water level, especially not with luggage in tow. Thus, we were left to wait. At that time, there were no mobile phones, internet, or GPS available. The predominantly Nepalese passengers remained unruffled by the ordeal, perhaps accustomed to such incidents, unlike myself. Despite missing my scheduled meeting with a TV crew in Kathmandu, I reclined, unwound, and observed the peculiar predicament with a sense of amused interest - after all, it was my birthday! Eventually, as if by providence, a tractor appeared and offered assistance. After several futile attempts, it miraculously managed to extricate the bus from the river's clutches, allowing us to resume our travels.


After a significant delay, we arrived in Kathmandu where I joined the television crew. We celebrated my birthday, and they shared in the laughter as I recounted my adventurous trip. The following two weeks were thrilling, marking my first involvement in an extended TV production. *1  Austrian geologist and journalist Herbert Tichy, who had the distinction of being the first to ride a motorcycle from Europe to India in the mid-1930s (as a passenger) and later spent many years living in India, wove his narrative throughout the program. He provided a unique perspective on the Himalayan regions we explored, comparing their current state to his memories from 50 years prior. Tichy offered firsthand accounts of the now severe environmental degradation. In numerous locations, bare rock was exposed where dense forests once stood. The illegal deforestation that intensified during the rainy season led to soil erosion, resulting in avalanches and floods that devastated adjacent agriculture and woodlands. This destruction made reforestation impossible, permanently damaging the habitat of the mountain communities who already endure austere living conditions.


Mirabehn, originally Madeleine Slade, was born in England in 1892. As the daughter of a British admiral, she immersed herself in Beethoven's music from a young age, organizing concerts and avidly reading the French writer Romain Rolland's biography of Beethoven. Her visit to Rolland in Switzerland during the early 1920s was pivotal; he introduced her to his newly completed biography of Gandhi, which he gifted to Madeleine. Profoundly moved by Gandhi's life, she aspired to meet him. After corresponding with Gandhi, he invited her to his Satyagraha Ashram near Ahmedabad, on the condition that she acquaint herself with Indian customs such as sleeping and sitting on the floor and eating with her hands. Arriving in India at the end of 1925, Madeleine was christened Mirabehn ("Sister Mira") by Gandhi himself and became an integral part of his inner circle, residing in his ashrams whenever possible. Following Gandhi's demise, Mirabehn dedicated her life to environmental conservation, focusing particularly on preserving the Himalayan trees. Despite her contributions to the Indian independence movement, her status as a foreigner precluded official recognition as an 'independence fighter' and the accompanying state pension she needed. In defiance, Mirabehn departed from India in 1959, initially returning to England. The following year, she relocated to the Austrian Vienna Woods near Beethoven's resting place, where she passed away in 1982. The Chipko movement, which also champions tree conservation, was one of her legacies. Among its leaders was journalist Sunderlal Bahuguna, a close friend of Mirabehn. In a solemn ceremony near Rishikesh on the Ganges, Mirabehn's ashes—brought from Austria by a TV team—were entrusted to Bahuguna's spiritual mentor, Swami Chidananda Saraswati of the Hindu Divine Life Society. Herbert Tichy, another close confidant of Mirabehn's, was also present at the ceremony.


After recording for television, I had the opportunity to visit Sunderlal Bahuguna and join him on a trek through the villages at the foothills of the Himalayas. Our goal was to engage with the local villagers about adopting eco-friendly lifestyles and tree conservation. Our group included roughly 10 members. In true Indian pilgrimage fashion, we carried neither money nor provisions. Upon arriving at a village, we would approach the first house and request "Do roti do" - two flatbreads, please. This plea was seldom refused, allowing us to establish rapport with the mountain communities. Nevertheless, many villagers were resistant to altering their traditional, albeit not always eco-conscious, ways of living. For instance, despite the Indian government's endorsement of smoke-directing cookstoves, few adopted them. The mountain folk argued that the smoke deterred insects - a point that's hard to contest. However, it's equally indisputable that numerous individuals suffer from respiratory illnesses and succumb prematurely due to these conditions. Sunderlal Bahuguna later graced us with several visits at the Gandhi Information Center in Berlin, where he delivered talks on the Chipko movement and Himalayan ecology.


Shortly before my return journey in New Delhi, I had yet another fascinating encounter. I made it a point to visit the National Gandhi Museum at Rajghat during each visit. At the museum's entrance, there was a book stall displaying the latest publications on Gandhi. Upon my arrival, I noticed a Western woman perusing the books with some hesitation. Eager to share my passion for Gandhi, I inquired if she had read his autobiography. She simply affirmed with a "yes," and I proceeded to the well-stocked library. There, the librarian greeted me with news that I had just missed Dr. Bianca Schorr, the translator of Gandhi's autobiography into German. He described her, and it turned out she was the very woman to whom I had just recommended Gandhi’s autobiography! I swiftly retraced my steps and managed to catch up with her on the street. We agreed to meet at her hotel the following day, where we got to know each other better.


However, it was only later that I realized all scientists in the GDR, who had the privilege of traveling abroad, were in some way connected with State Security. Germans, as well as employees and their relatives, were often regarded with suspicion. This shed light on Dr. Schorr's somewhat reserved and formal demeanor during our meeting, as her colleague was also in attendance. In subsequent encounters in Berlin, particularly post-reunification, I came to know a much more jovial and spirited Bianca Schorr.



* 1 : The title of the production was "Embracing trees - Mirabehn and the destruction of forests in the Himalayas" -



Throughout my travels in India, I had primarily used public transport. However, this time, I was eager to explore the country on a bicycle. During my 1986 visit, my friend Jutta and I embarked on a journey from Ahmedabad to Rajkot in Gujarat. We avoided the bustling main roads, opting instead for tranquil side roads. This route led us through serene villages where we encountered the traditional essence of India. The locals welcomed us with their customary 'Ram, Ram' greetings. We received warm and kind interactions everywhere we went, though there was a hint of bewilderment regarding why we, affluent Westerners, chose to cycle through India's heat instead of traveling in an air-conditioned limousine. Our genuine interest in Indian villages and particularly in Gandhi's philosophies was well-received in his homeland. Some were astonished to learn that Gandhi's legacy was recognized beyond India's borders. Our sturdy Hero bicycles, affectionately dubbed 'Hero-Mercedes,' transported us reliably from one village to another. After a week's journey, we arrived in Rajkot, where I eagerly anticipated reuniting with Kanu and Prabhudas Gandhi and their families.


Although joy was present, it was overshadowed by the passing of Kanu Gandhi due to a heart attack the previous week. Jutta returned to Germany, and I participated in the 12-day mourning gatherings at Abha and Kanu Gandhi's home. Unlike my experiences in the Western world, the mourning concluded after 12 days, and life resumed its usual pace. Abha Gandhi shared more tales from her fascinating life, many of which are compiled in a Hindi book. 'Our Days With Bapu' is its English counterpart. In Rajkot, similar to Sevagram Ashram, Kanu maintained a photo lab because he was a professional photographer who captured the local populace post-Gandhi's demise. During Kanu's life, Abhabehn seldom visited his photo lab, making it a poignant moment when she and I stepped into the adjacent lab. Abhabehn (Sister Abha), as she was affectionately known, unlocked the door to reveal a room of 30 square meters brimming with thousands of photographs: strewn across the floor, lined on shelves, and tucked away in cabinets. Owing to Kanu's role in providing Gandhi's photographs to the world, it was predominantly images of the Mahatma that filled our view. Having sought high-quality Gandhi pictures for years, my eyes gleamed at the sight of such an array and caliber of photographs.

After some time, I inquired about Abhabehn's intentions for the photographs. She revealed that having a copy of each image in her apartment's album sufficed for her. She intended to discard the remaining thousands of prints amidst which we sat, as she needed to lease out the apartment—transformed into a laboratory—to generate income. Without hesitation, I offered to purchase most of the photographs from her. In the ensuing weeks, we convened daily to formulate captions, relying on her recollection. According to her, her husband had not documented the images. Despite her earnest efforts to recall the specific circumstances, including the time, location, and individuals depicted, the passage of decades had slightly dimmed her memory. Nonetheless, I was gratified to preserve the significant photographs taken by Gandhi's personal photographer and utilize them for our public endeavors in Germany.


Since my initial stay in Rajkot, I have consistently resided with Prabhudas Gandhi's family, located in close proximity to Abha Gandhi. Within this compact space, four generations coexist under a single roof - and now, myself included. My rapport with everyone was harmonious, providing me with extensive insights into Gujarat, India, and Gandhi's life. Most notably, I forged a deep and amicable bond with Prabhudasbhai, despite our 55-year age gap. He became my mentor, whose counsel I valued and heeded in all life's circumstances. As an esteemed advocate for Indian independence, Prabhudas possessed a passport permitting nationwide travel by first-class train. Despite being Gandhi's ardent disciple - or perhaps for that reason - he invariably traveled with an array of belongings, including his portable spinning wheel, bedding, and writing implements. Within his household, Prabhudasbhai was deemed a burdensome travel companion, and no one wished to join him on his journeys, which often involved visiting former allies and intriguing initiatives. For me, there was no greater delight than traversing the country by train with my friend and mentor, absorbing his wisdom along the way. Unquestionably, his humanity, sagacity, and life experiences rendered his company exceedingly comforting. A profound kinship between us sparked a shared perspective on the world - one marked by optimism and joy derived from our union. Together, we explored numerous captivating locales and ventures across the nation; however, it was our shared moments that we cherished most. His life stories, perspectives, and experiences with Gandhi captivated me, and he welcomed my keen interest and burgeoning comprehension of the era and its context.


Above all, he vividly recalled his time in South Africa, where Gandhi's experiments were not always understood by his peers. Nonetheless, even as a child, Prabhudasbhai possessed an inherent trust in Gandhi and frequently stood as the sole volunteer for his trials. These encompassed domains such as nutrition, attire, and naturopathy—a field in which Gandhi garnered substantial knowledge and expertise. Naturopathy, which entails the exclusive use of natural elements for healing and health maintenance, was Gandhi's forte. His "Guide to Health" later soared to bestseller status and was even mass-produced and distributed gratis by the Italian government in the 1980s. At the Phoenix settlement near Durban, Gandhi also educated his offspring and those of his cohabitants, thus Prabhudasbhai was nurtured and mentored as Gandhi's 'fifth son'. Prabhudasbhai shared with me that the Phoenix settlement lay in close proximity to John Dube, who championed the black cause, while Gandhi concentrated solely on Indian rights in South Africa. They regularly exchanged insights, ensuring Gandhi remained informed about the plight of blacks, despite being wholly engrossed with Indian affairs. Initially, he arrived in South Africa not as a civil rights advocate but as a young, timid, and green attorney—the first within the Indian community to gradually evolve into a spokesperson for Indian rights in South Africa.


Throughout the numerous journeys I've undertaken with Prabhudasbhai over the years, two stand out vividly in my recollection: During the mid-1980s, Gujarat was gripped by a severe drought that led many farmers to despair and suicide. The rural communities suffered greatly, particularly those residing in the Barda Mountains near Porbandar. Prabhudasbhai and I traveled there to ascertain the villagers' most pressing needs. Navigating the rugged terrain, devoid of paths or roads, necessitated travel by camel. We were provided with a camel, which we used to visit the widely dispersed homes of the villagers. Prabhudasbhai engaged in conversations with the locals, and I seized the opportunity to deepen my understanding of their lives. The isolated tribal community, quite unexpectedly, expressed an interest in spinning—a skill previously unknown to them. This was particularly surprising given that Gandhi, who championed spinning as a form of self-reliance, was born just a few kilometers away in Porbandar. Following our return to Rajkot, funds were raised, and essentials such as food, grain, spinning wheels, and cotton were distributed to the inhabitants of the Barda Mountains.


During another multi-day train journey, we traveled from Rajkot to Delhi. As we neared Agra, Prabhudasbhai mentioned that his last glimpse of the Taj Mahal was 60 years prior. Without hesitation, we packed our belongings and disembarked at Agra. We stored our luggage at the guest house within the train station and hired a rickshaw to the Taj Mahal. Until then, I had only seen the globally renowned edifice, which is synonymous with India—second only to Gandhi—through slideshows and picture books, and I didn't feel compelled to visit it. However, the chance to witness it alongside my mentor was extraordinary. Thus, we joined the queue, predominantly Indian with a sprinkling of foreign tourists, in eager anticipation. With measured steps, we drew closer to the grand mausoleum on the banks of the Jamuna River, erected by the Indian Mughal Shah Jahan in the 17th century as a sepulcher for his beloved wife Mumtaz Mahal. It was at that moment that I truly appreciated the splendor of this unparalleled structure! The symmetries and inlay work, the hues, and the expansive interior—which also contains Shah Jahan's tomb—left us in awe. We had no regrets about our impromptu departure from the train or our overnight stay at the modest train station guest house. The following day we resumed our travels, but the memory of the Taj Mahal will be etched in our minds forever!


We journeyed from Delhi to Wardha in central India, a place that can rightfully be termed the 'Gandhi center', owing to the over 200 initiatives in and around Wardha that originated from Gandhi's vision. Most significantly, it was the personal interactions that mattered to Prabhudasbhai. At the Sevagram Ashram, we encountered Gandhi's daughter-in-law, Nirmala, who was married to Gandhi's son Ramdas and led the ashram. Additionally, at Vinoba Bhave's nearby ashram, the long-time companions Shivaji and Prabhudasbhai reunited. Together, we visited Madalsabehn Bajaj's residence, the daughter of Jamnalal Bajaj, who was the treasurer of the Indian National Congress. Influenced by Gandhi and Vinoba's philosophies, she integrated their principles into her social work. As the spouse of Shriman Narayan, the former governor of Gujarat, her insights also influenced Indian educational policy. An education system that fosters enduring values and cultivates hands, hearts, and minds was championed by Gandhi and is advocated by Madalsabehn to be incorporated into politics.


Her house in Gopuri resembled both a museum and a temple, boasting an extensive photo collection and a vast library. However, the library was situated in the neighboring Mahila Ashram (girls' ashram), and she stored numerous films in a temple-like nook on her terrace. The sun bathed this area in direct light daily, raising my concerns about the potential damage to the celluloid films. Consequently, I recommended that Madalsabehn transfer the films to video promptly. After several reminders, she complied a few years later, which proved fortuitous. Despite her habit of returning the films to their spot on the terrace, when I revisited the film rolls years later, they had deteriorated into a sticky residue within their metal containers. In gratitude for my timely advice, I was gifted a copy of the transferred films. Time and again, I observed that while owners of original letters, documents, photos, or films cherish these items, they often lack the knowledge for proper preservation against the harsh Indian climate. With my technical expertise and a knack for archiving, I felt well-equipped to offer assistance.


Time and again, through conversations with eyewitnesses—some of which I recorded—I was shown original materials in varying states of preservation. It seemed to me that the Indian Gandhi museums did not exert much effort to identify these materials, preserve them, or make them accessible for scientific research and publication. A pivotal experience in Rajkot compelled me to focus on securing Gandhi's original materials: I learned from a photo studio that they possessed a photograph of Gandhi, so I decided to visit. By then, the founder's son had taken over the business. Upon inquiry, he informed me that his father had indeed photographed Gandhi and that he would search for it at home. He asked me to return in three days, which I did. Upon my return to the photo studio, the owner greeted me, eagerly clutching a large-format glass negative. However, as he was about to present it to me, it slipped from his fingers, shattered on the tiled floor, and fragmented into countless pieces. With no prints of this image existing, it was irretrievably lost. From that moment, my passion became to preserve as much original material as possible, guided by the principle of 'Search and Research.'


Since my initial journey to India, I have been deeply impressed by Vithalbhai Jhaveri's contributions to Gandhi's legacy and had aspired to meet him. While in Germany, I reached out to him but received no reply. A common acquaintance, Licykutty Bharucha, the then-director of Mani Bhavan in Bombay, consented to arrange a meeting. However, she cautioned me about his severe kidney ailment that necessitated weekly dialysis sessions, leaving him considerably enfeebled. Upon my arrival in Bombay, she conveyed the unfortunate news that Jhaveri had succumbed to his illness a week prior. The news brought me sorrow, yet I was determined to visit his family during my subsequent trip to India.




My tenure as a football player at the Jewish club TuS Makkabi was brief, spanning only two years, yet my fascination with Israel and Judaism persisted. Since 1979, I have made annual pilgrimages to the Holy Land, immersing myself in German history, the Holocaust, the plight of the Palestinians, and the intricacies of Israeli politics. This modest-sized nation offers a wealth of experiences for those who traverse the globe with open eyes and ears. My inaugural visit coincided with the aftermath of the peace accord between Egypt and Israel at Camp David, as well as the negotiations between Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat and Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin—a period marked by fresh starts and aspirations for peaceful cohabitation in this tumultuous region. The Israeli peace initiative Shalom Achshav (Peace Now) was influential, alongside a vigorous socialist opposition advocating for the acknowledgment of Palestinian territories. Abie Nathan, an ex-professional pilot hailing from Persia and raised in India, operated the renowned radio vessel Voice of Peace ("From somewhere in the Mediterranean"), marrying independent daily news with aspirations for an imminent and enduring peace. Avraham Lissod, a pioneer of the kibbutz movement, conveyed his vision for a tranquil Israel to me, as did Haifa's esteemed violinist Joseph Abileah. As Israel's first notable conscientious objector, Abileah—a Quaker and staunch pacifist—alongside his compatriot Yehudi Menuhin, established the Society for a Middle East Confederation in 1971 to champion a political alliance between Israel and its Arab neighbors. During my stays in Haifa, I lodged with Joseph Abileah who graciously served as a Servas host.


Servas International is a global non-governmental federation of national Servas groups. It's a network of hosts and travelers designed to foster world peace, mutual support, and understanding by offering opportunities for more personal interactions with individuals from diverse cultures. Founded by Danish students post-World War II, it carries Gandhi's quote as its guiding principle: 'With every true friendship, we build the foundation for world peace.' As a registered traveler and host with Servas, I encountered numerous fascinating individuals during my travels and at home, which expanded my worldview. A significant benefit of Servas is its non-monetary exchange system. Travelers can stay up to three days and are expected to engage in their host's daily life to gain a better understanding of the local culture and society. My experiences in Israel as a Servas traveler were particularly memorable, including meeting the remarkable Joseph Abileah who, unwittingly, led me to another pivotal experience. While living with my friend Nurit in Tel Aviv, who worked during the day, I planned to spend my birthday with Joseph in Haifa. We had prearranged our meeting effortlessly, and I took the morning bus to Haifa, about an hour's journey. Upon arrival at Joseph's modest apartment, I found no one home. In an era before cell phones, I was unable to contact him. Consequently, I spent the day wandering Haifa's streets and parks—my favorite city at the time—feeling concerned for Joseph, isolated, and unable to enjoy my birthday. That day taught me that even the most beautiful places hold little value without the company or connection to people we cherish. In the afternoon, I took the bus back to Tel Aviv. Over the phone, I learned that Joseph had an important, urgent appointment today that he couldn't postpone, but he was fine. I spent a pleasant birthday evening with Nurit and quickly put the experience behind me. However, it resurfaced repeatedly on various occasions, even in moments—particularly those—when I was surrounded by friends and feeling good!


In Israel, I encountered numerous peace activists from both sides who were committed to peace. However, I was astonished by the general population's lack of knowledge about each other. The media, which was loyal to the government, had effectively portrayed the opposing side as a monstrous enemy that needed to be vanquished. After many discussions with Palestinians and Israelis, my impression was that both parties desired to live peacefully with their families and yearned for an end to the ongoing violence. It became apparent that the absence of interactions between the two groups facilitated the maintenance of prejudices. With my burgeoning interest in Gandhi's life and work, I aimed to set a positive example and contribute to improving communication. To my surprise, in the mid-1980s, there were about 40,000 Jews of Indian origin in Israel, a country with a total population of 4 million at that time. I reached out to the Indian community and encountered several university and research institution scientists studying Gandhi's work. Within the Israeli-Palestinian peace movement, I had already met activists drawn to Gandhi's teachings, making it easier to propose the idea of a Gandhi exhibition.


In Haifa, I had the pleasure of meeting Hermann Kallenbach's niece, who expressed strong support for our exhibition project. Kallenbach, a German-Jewish architect who found success in South Africa, empathized with Gandhi's philosophy and generously donated land for the Tolstoy farm near Johannesburg. As one of Gandhi's closest allies and confidants in South Africa, Kallenbach never married nor had children; however, he held profound affection for his niece Isa, a resident of Haifa. Isa cherished her visits to him in South Africa during the 1930s, where she gained considerable insight into Gandhi's life. Following Kallenbach's death, he was laid to rest in Haifa, and Isa inherited his extensive archive. In 1986, I met Isa for the first time and was granted access to her valuable collection. I assisted her in organizing the materials and duplicating the photo archive. Controversy arose among Gandhi's followers when she decided to auction parts of the archive, specifically the Gandhi-Kallenbach correspondence, in England. Unbeknownst to many, the auction's proceeds largely contributed to establishing Tel Aviv's first vegetarian restaurant. I supported her son Eli in launching the restaurant; however, despite our efforts, it closed after a year due to the premature timing for such an establishment in Israel. If introduced today, it would likely be exceedingly profitable!


Returning to the exhibition, it marked the first non-artistic display in the region that saw collaboration between Israelis and Palestinians. Over three months, we assembled a compelling trilingual photo exhibition in Hebrew, Arabic, and English, showcasing the life and work of Mahatma Gandhi. The Indian community was actively involved, alongside the Israeli branch of the International Fellowship of Reconciliation (IFOR) and the Palestinian Center for the Study of Nonviolence (PCSN). A preliminary meeting for the exhibition took place in Ramallah, marking the first instance of IFOR members visiting territories occupied by Israel. The atmosphere was tense during this meeting because our vehicles were distinctly marked as 'Israeli' with yellow number plates, in contrast to the green plates on Palestinian cars. Nevertheless, it was presumably understood that we were on a peace mission, which resulted in no untoward incidents. Dr. Mubarak Awad, head of PCSN, also played a role in organizing the first Intifada—an uprising intended to be nonviolent initially. Numerous copies of Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan's autobiography were printed and disseminated among Palestinians to persuade them of nonviolence's efficacy. Khan was a Muslim Pashtun leader from the borderlands between Afghanistan and India (later Pakistan), who ardently supported Gandhi and independently established a nonviolent army comprising 100,000 soldiers. His actions make him an exemplary figure for nonviolent resistance in recent Islamic history.


Up until that point, the exhibitions I had organized in Europe were categorized under "culture" or "history," and they were peaceful events. However, on the eve of the exhibition's opening in Israel, I was taken aback by a question about whether I had notified the Israeli army of the event. It had never occurred to me to do so since it was an event promoting peace. During the opening, I understood why the question was pertinent. We promptly implemented security measures. Speakers from all factions involved discussed Gandhi's significance and the urgency of pacifying this crisis-stricken and war-torn region. The diverse audience of approximately 250 people listened intently until the representative from the Israeli branch of IFOR requested a minute of silence for the Palestinian victims of Israeli military policy. This request was too provocative for some Israeli attendees, who vocally protested and became highly emotional. Thankfully, the presence of soldiers prevented any violence from erupting. Although some attendees left the room cursing, order was soon restored, and the event proceeded without further disruption.

Over the next month, many visitors came to Tantur's Ecumenical Center to view the exhibition or participate in film and lecture events. While it's challenging to quantify an exhibition's impact, I am confident that both visitors and participants gained something valuable from this extraordinary event. Regrettably, societal change did not follow; with the onset of the first intifada in December 1987, nonviolent intentions were quickly overshadowed by violence just three days into the uprising.

In conclusion, organizing Israel's first Gandhi exhibition and its extensive program was an immensely enriching experience for me. Indeed, the journey itself is the destination!


After returning from Israel to Berlin, we began preparations for the group trip planned by the Society for International Encounters and executed by Benjamin Pütter and myself. Benjamin, a seasoned expert on India and Gandhi, was perfectly suited for this role due to his dedication to social causes, particularly within IFOR. Together, we developed a comprehensive 6-week group itinerary that I had meticulously organized in India beforehand. The trip included a variety of engagements with eyewitnesses and social activists, visits to Gandhian projects, a 10-day work camp, and a week-long bicycle journey through Saurashtra's rural landscapes in western Gujarat. In Berlin, we held two preparatory meetings for the twelve young participants, aged 17 to 25, equipping them with essential knowledge for their inaugural journey to India. The primary goal was to impress upon them the importance of being mentally and physically prepared for India, as the 6-week excursion would be an intensive experience for their bodies, minds, and spirits. Upon arrival in Bombay, the group settled on the periphery of a slum. For many, this was the initial hurdle, given the noise, abundance of mosquitoes, and sleeping arrangements on thin mats.


To acclimate to this unfamiliar country, we visited Bombay in the subsequent days. It was there that some of our group members had the chance to attend the wedding of Keshub Mahindra's youngest daughter, the director of the premier automobile company, Mahindra & Mahindra. My acquaintance with the industrialist stemmed from prior visits to Bombay, where I had stayed with his brother-in-law, a Servas host. The wedding was a grand social affair in Bombay, on an almost inconceivable scale: friends, business associates, and relatives were flown in globally on chartered planes. For one week, there were receptions in the specially rented football stadium in South Bombay, drawing thousands of elegantly dressed individuals who paid homage to the bridal couple and offered their gifts.

The event was also a gastronomic delight, as each evening culminated with exquisite cuisine and beverages. The actual nuptials occurred within the intimate setting of about 300 invitees at the Mahindras' residence, which I, along with four of our group's participants, had the privilege to attend. This was preceded by shopping sprees for saris and cosmetics since our girls aimed to match the regal Ranis (princesses) and ladies of Indian society in elegance. However, we all leaned more towards Gandhi's principles than those of affluence and fame; thus, we opted for simplicity.

It was an indelible experience for all attendees and offered a stark contrast to what we predominantly encountered on our journey. Interestingly, the immense investment in this wedding did not secure marital bliss: when I inquired about the couple's well-being from the bride's father a year later, he disclosed that they had just divorced...


Our group journey proceeded to Vedchhi in South Gujarat, where Narayan Desai, the son of Gandhi's secretary Mahadev Desai, hosted us. Narayan managed the Institute for Total Revolution there. We explored alternative technologies, including solar-powered devices, Gober Gas (methane from cow dung), as well as spinning, weaving, and various recycling operations. A standout experience was our 'cultural evenings' with Narayan, an exceptional singer and songwriter. Having practiced several songs during preparatory meetings, we took turns performing them with Narayan. In Ahmedabad, we toured the Gujarat Vidyapith University established by Gandhi and his Satyagraha Ashram along the Sabarmati River banks, now a museum with a comprehensive archive. Our evening visit to Vishala village restaurant offered a preview of the weeks ahead in Saurashtra's rural regions. The restaurant served authentic Gujarati cuisine and showcased a vast collection of traditional village utensils. We enjoyed performances by Gujarati musicians, whose art was quite unfamiliar yet thoroughly enjoyable to us. The following day, we traveled to Rajkot, Saurashtra's capital, for a two-week stay at the nearby Kasturba Ashram. Warmly received by Abhabehn, Prabhudasbhai, and their families, we found solace in the rural serenity and reflected on our experiences thus far.


The drought had persisted for four years, leaving the skeletons of cows and other animals strewn beside the road. We knew that our presence imposed an additional strain on our hosts due to the prevailing water scarcity. Consequently, we had prearranged to alleviate the situation by contributing to the construction of a water reservoir during a 10-day work camp. Despite the ongoing drought, the Indian government allocated substantial funds for 'Relief Work,' managed by a local politician. We didn't receive any payment for our labor; however, I was dismayed to discover upon my return the following year that the reservoir we had built lay abandoned and unused. Meanwhile, the politician had erected a sizeable new residence. Such behavior was not rare in India, and it barely raised any eyebrows. On the contrary, it inspired many young individuals who aspired to become local politicians or police officers—professions notorious for opportunities to exploit corruption and mismanagement. There were plenty of examples to follow.


The physical activity served as a complementary experience for our group and provided excellent preparation for the subsequent seven-day bicycle tour from Porbandar to Diu. What made the tour special was that Prabhudasbhai, along with his grandson Yogeshbhai—who played a pivotal role in organizing the trip—accompanied us. They did not join us on bikes but followed in the support vehicle. This was a tremendous boon for the participants, as it allowed them to draw upon Prabhudasbhai's vast knowledge. In the 1970s, he served as the director of Kirti Mandir, Gandhi's birthplace in Porbandar, for a decade. During his tenure, he compiled a family tree featuring over 1,500 relatives. Remarkably, this was the first published family tree in India to include women! The book, titled 'Ootabapa no vadlo' in Gujarati, was later translated into English by me and I uploaded the family tree to the GandhiServe website. Prabhudasbhai guided us through Gandhi's birthplace, and we listened attentively to the stories he shared.


Our group was joined by a German television crew for several days. Due to legal constraints, the footage could not be broadcast in Germany; however, it remains a cherished memory for us.


During our bicycle tour along the coastal road's villages, we encountered many delightful moments, particularly during breaks. Initially, children would rush towards us, followed by men. Women, although reticent, displayed a keen interest in our group, which was predominantly female, earning us the nickname "extraterrestrials." Despite Gujarat's wealth, the local fare was modest. We learned to savor raw or fried chili peppers with crispy rolled bread and jalebi—a sugary fried cereal ring—accompanied by sweet tea. Adapting to this indulgent diet required time, but it provided us with essential calories and minerals. Our cycling expeditions spanned from dawn to midday, draining energy significantly due to the warm daytime temperatures, even in winter. Our accommodations were schools, and our itinerary included visits to Hindu temples and Gandhian initiatives. The latter are abundant in Gujarat, where we found a warm reception. The bicycles provided for our journey were sturdy with reliable tires, resulting in minimal breakdowns that local repair shops swiftly addressed. At each stop, Prabhudasbhai and Yogeshbhai facilitated our engagement with the locals and enriched our experience with invaluable insights.


On the island of Diu, it was time to bid farewell to two faithful travel companions, marking the conclusion of the 6-week group tour. We spent a few days resting on the beach, contemplating our experiences. There was unanimous agreement that this journey would leave an enduring impression. For some, it would also influence their future life paths. Take, for instance, the then 18-year-old Gregor, who initially harbored critical views of Gandhi and consistently sported a button that read "No Heroes." Throughout the trip, he evolved into an ardent admirer of Gandhi and delved into Gandhi's educational principles upon his return to Hanover. Today, Prof. Dr. Dr. Gregor Lang-Wojtasik is recognized as one of Germany's foremost Gandhi scholars, and that initial journey to India was just the first of many subsequent visits. Approximately 30 years after that group tour, one of the participants recounted to me how profoundly the trip had influenced her and its lasting impact on her life.


In Bombay, I devised a plan to visit the descendants of Vithalbhai Jhaveri, the biographer of Gandhi. Accompanied by the director of the Gandhi Museum, affectionately known as Kuttybehn, we traveled to the Jhaveri residence, situated roughly 30 meters from Worli district's beachfront. Jhaveri's son recounted that following his father's demise, they cleared his room. The primary object of our interest, his photographic collection, was believed to still be housed in a sizable wooden chest on the terrace. He granted us permission to inspect the chest. To our astonishment, it contained an unparalleled trove of photographs depicting Mahatma Gandhi and the Indian freedom struggle! This revelation also surprised Jhaveri's son, who had never engaged with his father's 'hobby.' Given that some photographs had begun to adhere face-to-face, it was imperative to remove the chest from the terrace and meticulously organize, preserve, replicate, and integrate the images into the archives. Heeding our counsel, Jhaveri's son penned letters to various Indian Gandhi societies and the National Archives in New Delhi. However, he met with rejection from the Gandhi societies due to purported constraints of space, funds, or manpower for the requisite tasks. In my view, these refusals were mere pretexts that underscored the deplorable state of these organizations.


Gandhi was an adept fundraiser, and by the time of his passing, he had amassed a substantial sum intended to support future endeavors in his honor. This collection of funds was designated as the Gandhi Memorial Fund (GMF) by the Indian government and was managed by the Gandhi Memorial Trust (GMT) based in Delhi. Beyond overseeing seven official Gandhi museums, the Trust also ran approximately 2000 spinning and weaving centers across rural locales, primarily to furnish women in villages and small towns with supplementary income. The GMT, a non-profit entity, was funded during the 1950s and 1960s through contributions and the GMF's accrued interest. This financial model was sustainable until 1969 when Gandhi's centennial was commemorated globally. Subsequently, there was a lull in attention towards Gandhi as the nation grappled with an emergency situation for two years in the mid-1970s. Following Indira Gandhi's assassination in 1984, her son Rajiv embarked on a radical modernization of the country. During this era, Gandhi's philosophies were deemed outdated and irrelevant to contemporary circumstances, relegated to a chapter of Indian history. Consequently, the GMT saw a significant decline in donations, and with inflation on the rise, the purchasing power of interest rates plummeted. The organizations dedicated to Gandhi struggled to adapt and renew themselves.


Primarily, it was essential for them to revise their economic ideology, particularly since Gandhi consistently championed autonomy, self-reliance, and self-sufficiency. The reliance on government subsidies, which escalated significantly under Prime Minister Narasimha Rao in 2004, resulted in lethargy and a failure to modernize institutions to keep pace with contemporary times. Forsaking non-profit status and cultivating independent revenue streams would have not only bolstered the bank balances but also enhanced the management team's self-esteem. This opportunity was overlooked, leading to the appointment of inept personnel to pivotal roles until their demise. Their commendable contributions to the independence movement do not necessarily qualify them as adept archivists or museum directors. It is only gradually that media savvy and public relations acumen are being embraced by the new generation within Indian Gandhi organizations. My constructive, specific proposals to increase the allure of the Satyagraha Ashram in Ahmedabad and the Bombay Gandhi Museum Mani Bhavan, as well as to collaborate with Western museums, were received with appreciation... yet shelved.


Therefore, it was unsurprising that the Gandhi-related organizations contacted were reluctant to undertake the significant endeavor of processing Jhaveri's unique photo collection. Only the National Archives consented to store the collection. Following thorough research, Jhaveri's son, the collection's owner, decided against the National Archives due to the challenging access conditions, which are typically restricted to specialists. This arrangement did not align with our interests; consequently, we resolved to transport the approximately 9,500 photographs to Berlin. There, at my university institute, I had access to a superbly equipped photo lab featuring a Leica repro camera. The collection was meticulously cataloged and registered with the Indian state authority, receiving approval for export in 1989 with plans for eventual repatriation. An extensive amount of work lay ahead of me, yet I eagerly anticipated it!


I have consistently encountered a humorous situation during my travels across the country by bus or train. Upon reaching a station, I often found myself approached by teenagers and young adults eagerly requesting autographs, exclaiming 'Jackie' in excitement. They confused me with Jackie Shroff, a renowned actor in Indian cinema at that time. My resemblance to him was striking enough to cause these mix-ups frequently. Although I clarified that I was not Jackie Shroff I gave autographs in my own name especially when visiting schools and other institutions in India. This recurring confusion piqued my curiosity about our similarities. In 1985, at the inauguration of our Gandhi exhibition in Stuttgart, I had the opportunity to meet the mayor of Bombay, who extended an invitation to his residence.


Following our group excursion, I returned to Bombay and was delighted to accept an invitation. We enjoyed breakfast at his home, discussing the film industry among other topics. Noticing my resemblance to Jackie, he facilitated a visit for me to Filmcity the subsequent day, a frequent filming location for Jackie. There, I observed the filming of various movies and encountered renowned actors such as Amitabh Bachchan, Anil Kapoor, and Chunky Pandey up close. Unfortunately, Jackie was not present that day. Later, the mayor provided me with the contact information for Jackie's management, leading to an arrangement to meet at the Juhu sets the following day. The lengthy intervals between shoots afforded us plenty of time for conversation. Similar to my interviews with Gandhian witnesses, I conducted an interview with Jackie, this time focusing on the unique aspects of the Indian film industry. We connected well, particularly since he expressed interest in European life and my Gandhian pursuits. Over the ensuing years, we continued to meet and exchange ideas on set. Following the Berlin Wall's collapse, I gifted him a fragment of the wall on his birthday, which he found profoundly touching. Over time, our resemblance seemed to diminish as he remained remarkably fit and attractive, unlike myself. However, in 2018, while riding a taxi through Mumbai, the driver mistook me for Jackie, leaving me utterly astonished.



Over time, I became an expert in Gandhi photography, having visited numerous photographers and collectors to view their collections. I had the privilege of bringing the two most comprehensive collections, those belonging to Kanu Gandhi and Vithalbhai Jhaveri, to Berlin and worked with them daily. I became intimately familiar with each photograph and its caption, understanding when and where it was taken, as well as identifying the photographer. Jhaveri's collection comprised images from about 350 different photographers from both India and overseas. Remarkably, Jhaveri amassed this collection without ever leaving Bombay, relying solely on correspondence. After his passing, his collection was transferred to his family home in Bhavnagar. The Jhaveri family granted me several weeks at their estate to peruse his correspondence. I meticulously read the letters exchanged with photographers and recorded their addresses. Jhaveri utilized these photographs for his extensive permanent photo exhibitions in Bhavnagar and Delhi, as well as smaller ones in Bombay and Poona. He also used them for his monumental film 'MAHATMA' and for D.G. Tendulkar's eight-volume biography of Gandhi, for which he selected over 1,200 photos. Jhaveri's methodical approach and dedication to collecting Gandhi's photographs over decades greatly impressed me and motivated me to carry on his legacy.


Initially, Jhaveri participated in the independence struggle, collaborating with the later socialist leader Dr. Lohia and Dr. Usha Mehta to operate an underground radio during the 'Quit India' movement in 1942. When their clandestine radio station was discovered, they were all sentenced to several years of imprisonment. Released in 1944, Jhaveri commenced the collection of Gandhi's photographs, having been tasked with selecting images for a commemorative volume celebrating Gandhi's 75th birthday, titled 'Gandhiji'. He persisted in amassing these pictures and corresponded with international photographers like Margaret Bourke-White and Henri Cartier-Bresson. Concurrently, Gandhi's youngest son, Devadas, embarked on assembling his father's photographs to create a comprehensive visual record of his life. Following Gandhi's demise, Devadas was invited to serve as the editor-in-chief of the Hindustan Times, a newspaper established by his father in 1924, an offer he accepted with enthusiasm.


Vithalbhai Jhaveri, who was deeply involved with D.G. Tendulkar in the creation of Gandhi's biography, received the collection of photos accumulated until that point. The two jointly edited the biography, and the publication and distribution of the eight volumes spanned several years. Following this, Jhaveri aspired to produce an extensive documentary film and a photo exhibition to commemorate Gandhi's centenary. These were to be displayed in the "My Life is my Message" pavilion, located near the Gandhi memorial at Rajghat, adjacent to the Jamuna River. His endeavors were met with great success, earning him the esteemed 'Padma Bhushan' award from the Indian President in 1969. Subsequently, his entire photo collection came into my possession in Berlin. Conscious of this responsibility, I meticulously organized and preserved the photographs. Reproduction negatives were made, and both images and negatives were stored in archival parchment bags within numerous folders. This meticulous process spanned approximately five years, culminating in the return of the collection for Gandhi's 125th birth anniversary in 1994. Later on, all materials were digitized and subjected to digital restoration.


My knowledge of Gandhi, particularly his photographs, was later sought after and utilized by numerous media productions, including film, TV, theater, opera, musicals, newspapers, and magazines. Given that India is not particularly renowned for its historical record-keeping and event documentation, there were several inconsistencies in the captions accompanying Gandhi's photographs. One image is particularly telling: even during my initial visit to India, I repeatedly noticed this photograph in various Gandhi museums. It depicts Gandhi chasing his grandson, Kahandas (also known as Kanaa or Kanu), on the beach, wielding his bamboo walking stick ('lathi') as if to strike him. The captions consistently read "The leader being led," suggesting that it is the stick that the boy is pulling. However, I harbored doubts about this interpretation since the stick appeared excessively long. I hoped to one day meet Gandhi's grandson to learn the true story behind this photograph. Remarkably, that day did come! During one of my many visits with Prabhudasbhai, he mentioned that Gandhi's grandson Kanaa was traveling through India and would visit the following day. At that time, Kanaa resided in the USA with his wife and was a distinguished scientist at NASA. Upon our acquaintance, I seized the opportunity to inquire about my longstanding questions regarding the photo. To my delight, he was both happy and amused to provide answers: he had spent his childhood at the Satyagraha Ashram in Sevagram and occasionally joined his renowned grandfather on trips with his parents. In 1937, Gandhi and his physician, Dr. Sushila Nayar, were strolling along Juhu Beach in Bombay. Kanaa, who deeply admired and sought to imitate his grandfather, had his own walking stick. However, he couldn't keep up with Gandhi's pace and frequently lagged behind. To encourage Kanaa to move faster, Gandhi would occasionally nudge him forward with his stick. A photograph captured the moment when both walking sticks aligned at the same angle, creating the illusion of a single stick. The interpretations of this image varied widely, with captions such as 'The leader is led by a child' and 'Gandhi urged the child to run faster.' I shared this anecdote with a journalist friend in Bombay, and it was soon after published in the Indian Express newspaper.


My visits to India were confined to the winter months, allowing me to frequently participate in the English Gandhi Foundation's Gandhi Summer School during the summer. This institution was established concurrently with the Gandhi Information Center in Berlin, following the worldwide acclaim of Richard Attenborough's film GANDHI. The esteemed actor and director provided the impetus for founding the Gandhi Foundation and was appointed its lifelong president. The Gandhi Summer School was held annually in the first week of August at either an abbey or a historic school amidst the picturesque Oxfordshire in the UK. It gathered 30-40 individuals of diverse ages and backgrounds to cohabit for a week in an ashram-like setting. Together, we engaged in cooking, housekeeping, and gardening. Each morning featured lectures and discussions with notable attendees such as Marjorie Sykes, Satish Kumar, A.B. Bhardwaj, and S.V. Govindan. For me, attending the Gandhi Summer School presented an unparalleled chance to interact with fellow Gandhi enthusiasts outside India, particularly given my cordial relationship with Surur Hoda, the Secretary of the Gandhi Foundation, and his family.


The year 1989 was predominantly shaped by events in Germany, particularly Berlin. History unfolded, and I was at its epicenter: standing atop the Berlin Wall near the Brandenburg Gate, I met the gaze of the powerless GDR (German Democratic Republic; East Germany) border guards. Shortly thereafter, the wall crumbled, and the GDR disintegrated. Crowds surged westward 'just for a peek,' then contentedly returned to their coal-stove-warmed apartments. The primary aspiration for most GDR citizens was freedom of travel—not necessarily unification with the FRG (Federal Republic of Germany; West Germany). I believe that even the Monday demonstrators in Jena and Leipzig and the artists at Alexanderplatz did not envision that outcome. A reformation of socialism? Certainly! But an absorption by the West? Unlikely! The GDR's fragility precluded its survival, and systemic reforms would have demanded immense effort. Capitalism's door was nudged open, and swiftly, the former GDR found itself inundated with insurance salespeople, cigarettes, alcohol, and previously unimaginable necessities. Concurrently, elements that had lent stability to life in the GDR were dismantled: essentials like food, housing, and childcare grew costlier, while unemployment rose. Having been raised in the West, I empathize with the ex-GDR inhabitants' grievances regarding reunification's execution. Had my foundation been so abruptly removed—even a worn one—I'd have been incensed too! This sentiment regarding the reunification's manner endures among some to this day.


During the "Wendezeit," I expanded my contacts with Indology scholars at Humboldt University in Berlin, striving to extend our dedication to spreading Gandhi's teachings to the country's east, then known as the "former GDR". Prior to reunification, we facilitated gatherings with staff from the Academy of Sciences and Humboldt University across both West and East Berlin. A collaborative effort led to the presentation of our Gandhi exhibition at Humboldt University, and subsequently, the Gandhi Information Center (East) was established. My interactions with potential informal collaborators (IMs) of the GDR's State Security never troubled me, as I understood that the GDR's scientific elite could only continue their work, which sometimes included trips to India, by cooperating with the Stasi. Although this issue was always an underlying presence, it never swayed my conduct towards my GDR colleagues; I engaged with individuals, not with conscious agents of Stasi IMs. Moreover, I could not judge how I might have behaved in their situation. Years after reunification, I requested my Stasi files and discovered that a meeting with Herbert Fischer in 1986 and my travels to India and interest in Gandhi were reported to the Stasi by "Konrad," an IM. Further inquiry revealed that "Konrad" was none other than my dear friend Roland Beer. Initially, I was taken aback and wished to confront Roland if he had been alive. However, I came to understand that his privileged life in the GDR was a result of his association with the Stasi. His reports about me were innocuous and caused no harm. Therefore, I harbor no resentment towards Roland Beer, who sadly departed too soon; instead, I comprehend his opportunistic actions, knowing well his profound love for India which likely motivated them.


A series of intriguing events unfolded, culminating in the reunification of East and West Germany. Subsequently, both regions amalgamated into a single entity, leading to the creation of the Gandhi-Informations-Zentrum e.V. in 1990. For the initial three years, I held the position of chairman of the board, after which I dedicated myself exclusively to the archival work concerning Gandhi.


In the winter of 1989, I returned to Israel for a few weeks, marking my final visit for 26 years. It proved to be a riveting experience: I resided alternately with my friend Nurit in Tel Aviv and with Lina, a Christian-Palestinian friend, along with her family in East Jerusalem. Her father, a distinguished doctor who had previously served as the mayor of East Jerusalem, Minister of Health in Jordan, and an advisor to King Hussein, was well-known. Celebrating Christmas 1989 with this family was an extraordinary occasion. On December 22nd, we attended a lecture by South African Archbishop Desmond Tutu. He delivered an impassioned speech in support of the Palestinians at Shepherd's Field, an alleged site of Jesus's birth near Bethlehem. Ultimately, I was inspired by the idea that better understanding between different groups can lead to peaceful coexistence. Therefore, I asked Lina and her family if Nurit could join them for Christmas dinner. Nurit and Lina were acquainted through their collaboration on the Gandhi exhibition. However, it was not customary for Nurit, being Jewish, to celebrate Christmas with a Christian-Palestinian family in East Jerusalem, especially during Hanukkah. Similarly, it was a significant gesture for Lina's family to welcome an Israeli woman into their home for the Christmas feast. Both parties agreed to this social experiment. As an observer, I noticed some initial tension and uncertainty in their interactions. But after spending two days together at Lina's home, I can confidently declare the experiment a success. I firmly believe that if more individuals in this region reached out to each other, peaceful coexistence would be achievable.




My time in India this year was dedicated to archival work. I spent several weeks in Rajkot aiming to finalize the captions with Abhabehn. However, that plan changed upon my arrival when she joyfully revealed that she had discovered a small book with handwritten notes by her husband in a concealed corner of their home. This book included, among other details, the captions for all his photographs of Gandhi. It was indeed a delightful find, providing us with a reliable and authentic source for the images! Upon comparing these captions with those Abhabehn and I had previously devised, we noticed significant discrepancies due to her fading memory. Consequently, we were even more grateful for this serendipitous discovery.


Kanu, who also owned 8mm and 16mm film cameras, captured brief 8mm clips of Gandhi at the Satyagraha Ashram in Sevagram and in Wardha. Additionally, he recorded raw footage of Gandhi's peace march in Noakhali during 1946/47 on a longer 16mm film. Since Abhabehn lacked a film projector, she invited Bachhubhai, a friend who owned a photo studio in Rajkot, to bring his projector to her house. This allowed us to view the extended film together.


Bachhubhai arrived with an old, hefty, and robust projector manufactured in Russia, into which he loaded the sole existing copy of an original film. As we began viewing, the projector abruptly halted; the sprockets meant to advance the film at its perforations encountered emptiness. Over time, the film had deteriorated and dehydrated, causing it to lose its smooth contour and become wrinkled. The intense heat of the bulb scorched the film when it ceased moving, necessitating an immediate shutdown of the projector. We manually advanced the film slightly, restarted the projector, and resumed our viewing. However, this was short-lived as once again, the sprockets found nothing to grasp, and the celluloid was singed at that spot. Given its uniqueness, we curtailed our movie night and pondered over potential restoration methods for the film. Considering India's status as home to the world's largest film industry, we contemplated seeking assistance from either the Film and Television Institute of India in Poona or the Films Division of India in Bombay. Both institutions, however, declined Abhabehn's request due to concerns over potential public outcry and being held accountable for the film's poor condition. It was her desire for me to transport the film to Germany for restoration.


Her wish was my command. She provided me with a statement that I might have needed to present at customs, and I packed the film canister, unsure of what to expect. Upon arriving in Berlin, I reached out to three film laboratories, only to be informed that the dehydration process had advanced too far, rendering the film irreparable and impossible to transfer to video. This news pained me deeply, as the film was an important document that could not be salvaged. Consequently, I approached the Federal Archives in Koblenz, known for their technical superiority over all other German laboratories. Weeks later, I received a disheartening call from the head of the Federal Archives confirming that the film was beyond rescue and returning it to me. Then, in one of those inexplicable moments that I've encountered multiple times during my work on Gandhi, a glimmer of hope appeared. While perusing newspapers on a fine Sunday morning in Berlin, I stumbled upon an article about the imminent opening of the new Getty Film Laboratory at the British Film Institute in London, boasting state-of-the-art technical facilities. Seizing the opportunity, I contacted them, explained the film's significance, and they consented to attempt its transfer to video following necessary conservation treatment. Time passed without word from the BFI, and I nearly lost hope of ever viewing the complete film. However, after ten months, a BFI representative contacted me with surprising news: the film had been successfully transferred to S-VHS following an intricate and costly preservation process. My joy was immense, yet it was tempered by thoughts of a potentially hefty bill. In light of the film's unique nature and history, the BFI generously waived any fees on the condition that a copy of the film be added to their archive—a proposal I readily accepted after consulting with Abhabehn.




During my subsequent visit to Ahmedabad, the film was publicly screened for the first time in the presence of Abhabehn and Prabhudasbhai on January 30, 1991, as a component of a memorial ceremony at the Satyagraha Ashram. For this event, I had assembled a photographic exhibition at the Ashram titled "Our Days With Bapu," which included images by Kanu Gandhi and featured narratives from Abha and Kanu Gandhi. Aware of the numerous yet-to-be-discovered treasures in India, such as photographs, documents, films, etc., I persistently recommended that the technologically and staff-wise nascent Gandhi museums collaborate with Western museums that maintained high standards and exhibited a readiness to partner. India possessed the original materials, while the West had the technical resources and skilled personnel necessary for their preservation and restoration. Several museums in Germany had expressed interest in such collaboration; however, there was apprehension among the Indians who feared misappropriation of their artifacts. Concurrently, these artifacts were deteriorating rapidly, exemplified by an old issue of Indian Opinion that I examined at the Gandhi Ashram in Ahmedabad. Although it was a personal tragedy for me, it also galvanized my resolve to independently pursue 'search and research' for previously unknown or significant materials related to Gandhi, to aid in their preservation, and to make them available for international publication and scholarly research.


The press, and subsequently television, became cognizant of my presence and began to controversially report on my often critical perspectives regarding Gandhi's reputation and comprehension in India. My intent, however, was not to resurrect Gandhi's image in India but to amass appropriate materials for our public relations endeavors in the West. This would provide individuals there with the means to thoroughly examine Gandhi's life and work. The Gandhi Information Center in Berlin rapidly amassed the most comprehensive audio-visual archive on Gandhi outside India. We utilized this vast collection of photos, films, audio recordings, and documents, along with an extensive library, for our projects. Additionally, we offered access to other organizations and private entities for their research on Gandhi. Given the challenges of acquiring suitable materials from India at that time, our services garnered increasing appreciation - now within India as well!


The year 1991 was defined by the onset of the first Gulf War. During the 'Desert Storm' operation, the USA deployed embedded journalists to broadcast live from the battlefield directly into homes worldwide for the first time. I found myself in Prabhudasbhai's living room, witnessing the harrowing scenes of conflict in Kuwait alongside his family spanning four generations. The unfiltered and continuous coverage from the war zone was unprecedented, leaving children and adolescents particularly struggling to comprehend the brutality they were exposed to. Accustomed to less graphic content, even in films, they were unprepared for the relentless display of savage violence, injuries, and fatalities. Prabhudasbhai's family, primarily educators and social workers, swiftly addressed the challenge posed by such media exposure. Their resolution was clear: confront violence with nonviolence. They immersed the younger members in an in-depth exploration of Gandhi's life and principles, drawing inspiration from his formative years spent in Rajkot. This led to the conception of a painting contest for all Rajkot schools named “Mahatma Gandhi - As I See Him,” engaging students, educators, artists, and parents alike. In anticipation of this event, Gandhi's legacy was revisited more intensively than ever; artists deliberated on how to best encapsulate Gandhi and his philosophy through art, while children sparked discussions about Gandhi with their parents at home.


The painting emerged as an ideal medium, transcending language barriers and universally comprehensible across borders and cultures. The jury comprised a local artist, several teachers, and Abhabehn, who, second only to Prabhudasbhai, was most qualified to judge the pictures' authenticity. This inaugural event garnered positive media attention regionally and nationally. The finest artworks were exceptionally impressive, raising the question of their potential post-competition use. However, the priority was the award ceremony, where I delivered a well-rehearsed speech in Gujarati. Notably, the young artist who clinched the first prize was the offspring of an arms and ammunition maker!


I took the photographs to Germany and conferred with my colleagues at the Gandhi Information Center, as well as my friends and educators, on how they could be optimally utilized. Subsequently, the images were displayed in schools where teachers integrated Gandhi's teachings into a broad array of subjects. This culminated in German students writing to the young Indian artists, engaging with their artwork, Gandhi's philosophies, and diverse cultures. Thus, the youth project "The Gandhi Bridge of Understanding" was initiated! In subsequent years, painting contests titled "Mahatma Gandhi - As I See Him" were held across various regions of India. The artworks were then dispatched to interested schools worldwide, showcased, and became topics of classroom discussion. This led to a multitude of pen friendships. At that time, emails were non-existent, and connecting with peers from an entirely different culture was exceptionally unique. Twenty-eight years after the inaugural painting competition, I received an email from one of the victors who had since relocated to the USA and settled there. She fondly recollected this event which, she believed, had significantly broadened her cultural perspectives and understanding of Gandhi.


At 34 years old, I was honored with an award for my life's work by the Writers' Association of Gujarat. It felt as though my life was just beginning. The presence of Prabhudasbhai and his family, Abhabehn, Purushottam Gandhi, and other notable contemporaries at the ceremony lent a special significance to the award for me.




The year 1992 posed a unique challenge for me. In the fall, just before my next planned trip to India, I was diagnosed with a tumor, which was promptly removed. No further therapy was required, yet the issue demanded my attention. I approached the cancer diagnosis from various angles and soon came to see the illness as an enriching aspect of my life, embodying the principle of 'illness as opportunity.' Over the next few years, I visited the then marvelous Sonnenberg Clinic in Bad Sooden-Allendorf four times, where I explored diverse therapies such as dance therapy, Rolfing, and psycho-oncology. During my hospital stay, I underwent two surgeries and received a plethora of medications. I declined preventative chemotherapy; however, post-discharge, I felt compelled to detoxify my body. This detoxification occurred partly at the Sonnenberg Clinic but was pursued more vigorously in India. Seeking advice from my Indian friends, I was directed to the Institute of Naturopathy and Yogic Sciences (INYS) near Bangalore. In early 1993, I visited INYS—now known as Jindal Naturecure Institute—for an intensive detox regimen. Initially, I had planned for a 14-day stay at this wellness clinic.

After three days at the facility, my enthusiasm grew so much that I decided to extend my stay to 42 days, the maximum allowed duration! My daily routine was packed with activities: brisk walks, yoga, water therapies, massages, physiotherapy, fitness training, meditation, and internal cleansing exercises known as kriyas. Additionally, I followed a diet customized to my needs, which included a 10-day fast sustained by coconut water. All these were conducted under stringent medical oversight and adhered strictly to naturopathic and yogic principles. In those 42 days, I shed 14 kilograms and felt rejuvenated on discharge day. My skin became softer; I felt lighter, happier, and overall better. Undoubtedly, the enhanced physical state had a positive effect on my mental well-being. It was an extraordinary experience that I've cherished and continued to undertake every two years.


Later in 1993, my girlfriend Susanne—who would later become my wife—and I accepted an invitation from a Berlin friend who had been living in Thailand for many years. This trip was particularly special for me and would profoundly influence the subsequent path of my life. But that's a story for another time.


Firstly, our itinerary included a joint stay in India, where we were hosted by Madalsa Narayan in Gopuri, central India. Upon informing Madalsabehn of our plans for an extended visit to India, her enthusiasm led her to spontaneously propose hosting an engagement ceremony for us. After some initial hesitation and consideration, we consented. By the following day, Madalsabehn had arranged decorations and delectable cuisine. She also extended invitations to a few friends, culminating in an intimate engagement celebration that was unexpected yet thoroughly enjoyable. Another destination on our journey was Rajkot, which had become a regular stop for me during all my visits to India. We stayed once more with Prabhudasbhai's family, providing Susanne with an authentic experience of Indian family life.




A few months later, we returned to India, primarily to attend the annual Sarvodaya conference, this time held in Savarkundla in the southern region of Saurashtra. Over 3,000 Gandhian social workers gathered to share experiences and acquaint themselves with one another. Numerous associates and relatives of Gandhi were present, along with many social workers I had met on previous visits. Despite the large turnout, the event felt like a family reunion, particularly since Prabhudasbhai's family members were involved in organizing the conference. Upon our arrival, we were introduced to the mayor of Savarkundla, who was informed of our engagement at Madalsabehn's house the previous year. To our great surprise, he immediately offered to arrange a Gandhian wedding ceremony during the conference. Although we had contemplated marriage, we had not yet considered the timing or circumstances. We needed time to deliberate! After weighing the pros and cons, we decided to accept this extraordinary offer and take this significant step. We recognized that an Indian wedding would not be legally valid for us and that a civil ceremony in Germany would be necessary. However, the opportunity to say "yes" in a ceremony traditional to Gandhi's Ashram, witnessed by numerous contemporaries and Gandhian social workers, held as much significance for us—if not more—than the subsequent civil wedding in Berlin.

Securing a date for our civil wedding in Germany was straightforward since we both shared the same birthday, May 12th. However, the priority was to first conduct the Indian wedding following Gandhian traditions. Remarkably, within the brief four-day span of the conference, our wedding attire was custom-made, and all essential items for a Hindu-Gandhian wedding were acquired. The preparations were complete in just two days.


On the conference's third morning, with around 3000 attendees seated, a Hindu priest initiated the ceremony. This included the customary seven circuits around the fire, recitations from Sanskrit scriptures, various rituals, and the exchange of sweets between us. Following the Hindu rites, we embraced the Gandhian segment, reminiscent of many weddings at Sevagram Ashram: we read a chapter from the Bhagavad Gita, offered blessings to a cow, and spun yarn before entertaining our guests—perhaps not all 3000 but certainly those in proximity.


Post-ceremony, several of Gandhi's associates extended their congratulations. We exchanged pleasantries and received modest gifts from some venerable veterans we had last seen here. The experience was enchanting, aptly described as a 'dream wedding.' To this day, I am often reminisced about this Gandhian wedding.


Regrettably, despite the auspicious start and good wishes from many esteemed individuals in Savarkundla, the marriage—officially solemnized in Berlin on May 12, 1994—was short-lived. The goodwill of Savarkundla's luminaries did not ensure a lasting union. Nevertheless, I cherish the memories from Savarkundla.


After over five years, I successfully transferred Vithalbhai Jhaveri's extensive collection of loose photographs into a meticulously organized archive, weighing approximately 300 kilograms. This archive was dispatched to India via airplane in September 1994 through a forwarding agency. This shipment occurred one week before my own departure, with the expectation—or rather, the agreement—that our forwarding company's Indian counterpart would have already delivered the photographs to their owner by the time of my arrival. This was the plan I had devised in Germany; however, the reality I encountered in India was quite different: upon my arrival, the partner shipping company informed me that customs would release the goods only upon payment of a substantial fee. This distressing news was corroborated during a visit to the relevant office at Bombay's airport. I was appalled, as these photographs originated from India and were not typically subject to customs duties. Moreover, Bombay was enduring the final days of the monsoon in mid-September, with humidity levels nearing 100%, and the packages were stored in a semi-open warehouse at the airport! Consequently, it became a desperate race against time to rescue the photographs from customs without damage. I feared that my extensive overnight work on the computer and repro camera was in jeopardy, particularly since the customs official remained unyielding despite repeated inquiries. Although he lacked any legal justification for his demands, such behavior was not unfamiliar to me; after all, India is notorious for its corrupt officials. Nonetheless, I refused to engage in such malpractices; these were Gandhi's photographs, representing a man who dedicated his life to truth, integrity, and justice!


Learning from Gandhi also entails judiciously utilizing media for one's own ends, which I did by heading directly to the Gandhi Museum from the airport's customs office. There, still greatly perturbed, I recounted the incident to my 'Gandhian mother', Dr. Usha Mehta. A journalist from The Times of India happened to be at the museum. His interest piqued by the story, I divulged additional details and context. The ensuing day, the Sunday Times, a national English-language newspaper, ran an extensive front-page article on the incident, igniting public indignation over the customs officials' behavior. The then Finance Minister, Manmohan Singh, who was earnestly striving to rehabilitate the Indian customs authorities' sullied image, read the piece and promptly ordered an investigation that very Sunday. He contacted Bombay's chief customs officer, who in turn summoned his top officials to resolve the matter. The records showed no evidence of required customs duties for our shipment's re-importation, making it evident that the customs officer at the airport had attempted to illicitly extort money from me. Arrangements were made to expedite the handover of the photographs to me and mitigate any further reputational harm to the customs authorities. On Monday morning, I received an invitation to visit the customs office at the airport. The reception was cordial; over tea, they assured me it was all a regrettable misunderstanding. The following day saw the delivery of the largest photo collection of Mahatma Gandhi and the Indian independence movement to its rightful owner, exempt from duty. Thankfully, despite a humid stint in the airport hall, the photographs were well-protected and remained undamaged.

Following an agreement with Dinodia Picture Agency, India's premier image agency, the photographs were made available globally for publication and research. With the establishment of GandhiServe in 1999 and the launch of its website, I began marketing images from the Jhaveri collection, as well as those taken by Kanu Gandhi and other photographers who captured Gandhi's life. Subsequently, all materials were scanned at high resolution and are accessible on




I had the pleasure of reciprocating the hospitality I've enjoyed in India over the past few years when Yogeshbhai, along with his wife Saroj and their children Sweta and Nandan, visited me in Berlin. They generously loaned the Museum Haus am Checkpoint Charlie, commonly known as the "Wall Museum," several precious items for a period of ten years. These included Gandhi's wooden slippers, his diary, and other original artifacts that were once owned by Yogesh's grandfather, Prabhudasbhai Gandhi. During a media event, the museum proudly displayed these exhibits to the public before integrating them into their permanent exhibition "From Gandhi to Walensa." At that time, the museum was among the most frequented in Berlin, attracting over a million visitors annually. It was mutually agreed that after ten years, the owners would return to Berlin to retrieve their belongings. We were all content with this arrangement and could hardly imagine how things would unfold. That summer, I enjoyed a delightful European tour with my guests. We explored Amsterdam, Paris, and London and participated in the Gandhi Summer School hosted by the English Gandhi Foundation.

The teacher couple and the two teenagers had a keen interest in all things novel, including escalators and double-decker buses. When we phoned Saroj's parents in Bhavnagar from atop the Eiffel Tower, their joy knew no bounds, and they could hardly believe such a call was possible. Up until that point, I had gleaned much about their beautiful life in Rajkot, and it was delightful to share aspects of European life with them. Over the years, I occasionally visited the Museum Haus am Checkpoint Charlie and, at Yogeshbhai's behest, verified the condition of the Gandhi originals. As the 10-year loan period neared its end, the museum expressed interest in extending the loan for another decade. However, they failed to reach an agreement on terms with the owner, leading to an expectation that the valuable originals would be returned. The museum, however, resisted and opted for litigation, in which I represented the owners and engaged several competent lawyers. Despite our persistent and vigorous efforts, our limited financial resources prevented us from retrieving the materials. Consequently, the Museum Haus am Checkpoint Charlie illegally retained the originals, and we were unable to mount a successful legal challenge against this infringement. The inability to triumph in this protracted battle stands as one of my most disheartening experiences.




That year marked a significant turning point in my life: I resigned from my stable university position and left the apartment where I had resided for the past 16 years to move to India. Specifically, I settled in an apartment in Mumbai, situated near the Gandhi Museum and directly opposite the Gandhi Book Center. As the internet continued to evolve, I endeavored to establish myself as a Gandhi expert through this burgeoning medium. My previous efforts to locate and preserve original Gandhi materials were now poised to expand to a wider scale. My ambition was to encompass the seven official Gandhi museums in this initiative. I was certain that through collaboration, we could safeguard the majority of India's photos, documents, films, sound recordings, and other materials from deterioration, ensuring their preservation and international utilization. To this end, I visited all Gandhi museums and engaged with their directors, whom I had known personally for years. Generally, they found the concept impressive but were not truly prepared to commit to a collective endeavor. For several months, I endeavored to convene these gentlemen at one table to endorse the project but ultimately did not succeed. There were numerous reasons cited for avoiding responsibility. In the end, I realized that each institution operated within its own domain of influence and lacked either the interest or the bravery to collaborate with other museums. This was a profoundly disheartening realization, as I am convinced that at that juncture, many materials could have been conserved that have since decayed or vanished.


I embarked on a journey from India to the United Arab Emirates, which necessitated obtaining a visa in New Delhi. After completing the application form, I submitted it to the staff at the UAE Embassy. Noticing my German nationality, she inquired why I was applying for a visa from India and my activities there. I explained my fascination with Gandhi, my visits to related projects, and meetings with genuine individuals. Her eyes lit up as she revealed her uncle was Gandhi's secretary and recounted her childhood experiences meeting Gandhi at his ashram. Realizing her uncle must be Pyarelal Nayar and recalling an image of Kanu Gandhi from August 1944, where Gandhi presented Pyarelal's niece, named Nandini, with a banana for her birthday, I directly asked if she was Nandini. Her confirmation came with an indescribable surge of emotion! We exchanged stories about her childhood and my work, prompting curiosity among the others waiting about our animated conversation during a visa application. Fortunately, I received the visa effortlessly, paving the way for my Dubai adventure.


The journey's purpose included a meeting with Madalsabehn's son, Bharat, who owns a substantial potato chip factory in Dubai. This factory is the primary supplier of chips throughout Africa. My familiarity with Bharat was limited to a handful of photographs depicting him as a toddler in Gandhi's embrace. During my stay as his guest, Bharat shared numerous stories about his childhood and interactions with Gandhi. Observing how Bharat, along with many others I encountered who respected Gandhi, integrated Gandhi's principles into his life was enlightening. Few have fully embraced Gandhi's philosophy in their lives, yet many have adopted certain aspects, such as punctuality, precision, efficiency at work, cleanliness, simple yet nutritious diet, frugality, physical exercise, or a commitment to aiding the underprivileged.


In my extensive interviews with Gandhi's associates and contemporaries who knew him personally, I inquired about the trait they most admired in Gandhi. A common and intriguing response emerged: Gandhi possessed an innate ability to discern people's strengths and weaknesses. He guided them to enhance their positive attributes and overcome their shortcomings without fostering dependence on him. These are the hallmarks of an authentic guru or teacher, from whom many have drawn benefit.

Gandhi never aspired to be a guru; his autobiography, "The Story of My Experiments with Truth," portrays him as a critical and aggressive student of his own errors and shortcomings. He aimed to motivate others to undertake their own 'experiments with truth,' famously stating, "My life is my message," when inquired about his message. I am convinced that an in-depth exploration of Gandhi's life and teachings can enrich anyone.


After returning from Dubai, I endeavored to establish myself professionally in India. As a member of the International Network for Peace Museums, I participated in a conference in Japan that year. It was there that I met Gandhi's grandson Arun and his wife Sunanda. At that time, their son Tushar was struggling with unemployment in Mumbai, uncertain of his future direction. His parents, residing in the USA, implored me to guide him and remind him of his lineage as Gandhi's great-grandson.




(to be continued - perhaps ;-)




All media referenced in the book have been thoroughly digitized and edited, and are accessible for viewing and downloading at, the GandhiServe channel on YouTube - - and