Role models of greatness.

Here you will discover the back stories of kings, titans of industry, stellar athletes, giants of the entertainment field, scientists, politicians, artists and heroes – all of them gay or bisexual men. If their lives can serve as role models to young men who have been bullied or taught to think less of themselves for their sexual orientation, all the better. The sexual orientation of those featured here did not stand in the way of their achievements.

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Hermann Kallenbach, Gandhi's Gay Lover

Bodybuilder pal Kallenbach, on front row with hat on his knee, is seated next to Gandhi in a photo taken at a political reception in Durban, South Africa.

Hermann Kallenbach (1871–1945) was a South African architect who was best known for his close association with Mahatma Gandhi (Gandhi’s name was Mohandas – Mahatma is an honorific title). Kallenbach was a German-Jewish bodybuilder who moved to South Africa in 1896. He met Gandhi (who was then working as a lawyer in South Africa) in 1904 in a vegetarian restaurant and soon thereafter became the love of his life. In fact, Gandhi left his wife for Kallenbach in 1908.

Two years later Kallenbach, a rich man, donated to Gandhi a thousand acre farm near Johannesburg. The property was used to run Gandhi's famous "Tolstoy Farm" that housed the families of satyagrahis (those who countered evil by non-violent means). Abandoning the life of a wealthy, sport-loving bachelor, Kallenbach adopted a simple lifestyle, vegetarian diet and the equality politics of Gandhi. In Gandhi’s autobiography he frequently referred to Kallenbach as his “soulmate,” a euphemism if ever there were one. Gandhi’s personal life was rife with hypocrisy.

Gandhi wrote to Kallenbach that Kallenbach’s was the “only” portrait in his bedroom, and that he placed it prominently opposite the bed. “You have completely taken possession of my body,” Gandhi wrote in a letter. He made Kallenbach promise not to look lustfully upon any woman, and the two pledged undying love to each other “as the world has not yet seen.”    

Gandhi required members of his ashram to be celibate, even married couples. Gandhi said: 'I cannot imagine a thing as ugly as the intercourse of men and women." He bragged that he was capable of “lying naked with naked women, however beautiful they may be, without being in any manner whatsoever sexually excited.”Gandhi also endeavored to bring his "feminine" side to the surface and extolled androgeny.

Right. So that explains it.

When Gandhi returned to India in 1915, Kallenbach was unable to get permission to travel to India, since England and Germany were at war. Even so, Gandhi never gave up hoping to get him back into his arms. Decades later Gandhi continued to write impassioned letters to Kallenbach, stating that “you are always before my mind’s eye.” Kallenbach reunited with Gandhi in 1936, when at last he was allowed to travel to India. He lived with Gandhi for weeks on end, and when Kallenbach became ill, Gandhi personally nursed him back to health.

Gandhi’s pet name for Kallenbach was “lower house” (to Gandhi’s “upper house”), and he signed each letter to Kallenbach with undying love.

Sounds like a “soulmate” to me.

The above details are revealed in Joseph Lelyveld’s new book about Gandhi: “Great Soul: Mahatma Gandhi And His Struggle with India.” Knopf. 425 pages.

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