The Unbearable Lightness of Being Mahatma Gandhi
Using a material culture approach, this presentation explores the heavy burden of being
Mahatma (“the Great Soul”) by detailing the paradoxical accumulation of stuff around
M.K. Gandhi, a man who committed himself to dispossessing himself of all but what he
deemed necessary, following his stated principle of possessing non-possession
(aparigraha). His paltry possessions in turn get over-remembered as they come to serve
as material proxies for his corporeal presence, especially in the aftermath of his violent
death, in art works and memorializing activities.
Sumathi Ramaswamy is James B. Duke Professor of History and International Comparative Studies, and
Chair of the Department of History, Duke University. She has published extensively on language politics,
gender studies, spatial studies and the history of cartography, visual studies and the modern history of art,
and more recently, digital humanities and the history of philanthropy. Her recent writings on Gandhi
include Gandhi in the Gallery: The Art of Disobedience (New Delhi: Roli Books) and the digital project B
is for Bapu: Gandhi in the Art of the Child in Modern India (https://sites.duke.edu/bisforbapu/ ). She is
currently working on a new project on educational philanthropy in British India.