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Let Gandhi biographer explain

Two Massachusetts groups should "reconsider" their decision to cancel an event featuring Joseph Lelyveld, whose new book on Mahatma Gandhi had created a controversy in India recently, as the author "deserves" a chance to explain his work, a leading daily here has said.

world Updated: Apr 11, 2011 11:50 IST

Two Massachusetts groups should "reconsider" their decision to cancel an event featuring Joseph Lelyveld, whose new book on Mahatma Gandhi had created a controversy in India recently, as the author "deserves" a chance to explain his work, a leading daily in Boston has said.

In an editorial, the city's leading daily Boston Globe said that plans for a joint event on April 29 by Lexington Historical Society and Indian Americans of Lexington featuring the Pulitzer prize winning author "sadly... have come unraveled".

"While many readers look to biographies to demystify major historical figures, there's a risk of hurt feelings when the subject is as revered as Gandhi. But no one should take reviewers' word for what Lelyveld's book says, and the author deserves the opportunity to explain his work. The two groups in Lexington should reconsider," the Boston Globe editorial said.

The editorial added that an event co-sponsored last year by the Lexington Historical Society and the Indian Americans group was focussed on "comparing the American and Indian movements against British rule" and had "attracted a standing-room crowd."

The Indian Americans of Lexington felt the media coverage of the book 'Great Soul: Mahatma Gandhi and His Struggle with India' had caused "some discomfort" in the Indian-American community.

The organisation felt it might not be fair to Lelyveld to invite him to a potentially heated event, the editorial added.

A report in the Boston Herald quoted chairman of the Indian Americans of Lexington Puran Dang as saying that his group had cancelled the April 29 event as it "wanted to avoid any controversy" for the historical society.

Dang had said he had not read the book and "the author may be 100 per cent correct."

"To avoid any controversy, with all respect to the author... it was a decision which was jointly taken in the interest of everything being in a peaceful status," the report quoted Dang as saying.

Lelyveld's publisher Alfred Knopf said in a statement that the decision to cancel the event was "based on misinformation, not facts."

"Lelyveld is a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist, and it is their organisation's great loss that their members will be denied an opportunity to hear him," the statement said.

Lelyveld's book got embroiled in a controversy after a review published said the book claimed that Gandhi was "bisexual" and "deeply in love with Hermann Kallenbach," an architect and bodybuilder who became Gandhi's disciple in South Africa.

Lelyveld has maintained that he has not used the word bisexual anywhere in the book and that his book is not "sensationalist".

This is the second event featuring Lelyveld that has been cancelled this month in the wake of the controversy over his book.

Earlier, Foundation for Excellence, an educational organisation in California that provides scholarships for students in India, canceled an appearance by Lelyveld citing a desire to avoid controversy.

The book is expected to hit the Indian markets later this month. It has been banned in Gujarat.