Book Review: Gandhi’s Printing Press by Isabel Hofmeyr

PrintWeek India looks at books from varied genres which are informative, based on true events and inspirational, with print and its power as a medium central to all of them.

02 Oct 2019 | By PrintWeek India

Gandhi’s Printing Press by Isabel Hofmeyr is a tale of young Gandhi, as a lawyer in South Africa, began fashioning the tenets of his political philosophy, he was absorbed by a seemingly unrelated enterprise: creating a newspaper. Gandhi’s Printing Press is an account of how this project, an apparent footnote to a titanic career, shaped the man who would become the world-changing Mahatma. Pioneering publisher, experimental editor, ethical anthologist—these roles reveal a Gandhi developing the qualities and talents that would later define him.

Beginning in Durban, South Africa, in 1898, Mohandas Gandhi became the guiding hand of a printing press and the multilingual newspaper it produced, Indian Opinion. Hofmeyr provides an account at once charming and erudite of Gandhi’s vision of printing and the press in relation to Phoenix, the ashram from which the press largely was operated. The author draws us easily into a history that is varied, interesting and little understood. And in understanding philosophers like Thoreau through Gandhiji, one revisits and is astounded by them once more. She also examines the press in relation to the wider satyagraha movement, Gandhi’s unique understanding of the quest for truth, and to Gandhi’s thinking about empire, nationalism, race, sovereignty, and self-rule.

The book is an interesting read, which shows the deep and intimate relation that our Father of the Nation shared with the printing press, here is an excerpt from the book which portrays the pivotal role played by the press in bringing about a sense of community amongst the inhabitants of Phoenix:

“The press became central to Phoenix and operated as an embodiment of its utopian ideals. Virtually all residents – men, women, and children – were involved in at least some aspect of the printing process. Typesetting was mandatory for all literate members of the settlement, some proving to be more adept than others, with Gandhi describing himself as a dunce. Most men assisted with operating the presses while everyone folded the newspapers, put them in wrappers, and pasted on addresses.”