Was Mahatma Gandhi gay? A new book by Pulitzer-Prize winning author Joseph Lelyveld claims the god-like Indian figure not only left his wife for a man, but also harbored racist attitudes.
Gandhi, who led India to independence and is a universal symbol of peaceful resistance, had another side -- a more human one. In a biography that hit stores this week -- "Great Soul: Mahatma Gandhi and his Struggle With India," former New York Times reporter Lelyveld insists that Gandhi was gay, or at least bisexual.
His lover was Hermann Kallenbach, a German-Jewish architect and bodybuilder. The couple built their love nest during Gandhi's time in South Africa where he arrived as a 23-year-old law clerk in 1893 and lived for 21 years, Lelyveld writes.
Much of the intimacy between the two is revealed in Kallenbach's letters to his Indian friend. Gandhi left his wife, "Ba," -- an arranged marriage -- in 1908 for Kallenbach, a lifelong bachelor, according to the book.
In letters, Gandhi wrote to Kallenbach, "How completely you have taken possession of my body. This is slavery with a vengeance. "
"Your portrait (the only one) stands on my mantelpiece in the bedroom," he writes. "The mantelpiece is opposite the bed."
The new book has been banned in one Western India state, Gujarat, after local press reports claimed the book maligns the father of modern India, according to the Associated Press. Its top state politician, Chief Minister Narendra Modi, called the book "perverse. "
Politicians in the state of Maharashtra, home to India's financial capital Mumbai, have asked the central government to bar publication nationwide.
"This is a non-issue," said Bidyut Chakrabarty, resident scholar at The Gandhi Center for Global Non-Violence. "In India, especially, they tend to think the mahatma is perfect. Mahatma means great soul and they put him on a pedestal, thinking he cannot be human, he's a god."
"And if he's a god, how can he be homosexual?" he asked.
Chakrabarty said that Gandhi emphasized his humanness in an autobiography that was written in 1933. "He kept saying, 'I am a human being,' and he talked about sexual pleasure. It was a very big topic in the autobiography."
The Hindu religion, just as Christianity, frowns upon homosexuality, according to Chakrabarty, who has written several books about Gandhi. But in India today, discrimination against gays is illegal and many are open about their sexual orientation.
In Levyveld's book, the lovers' nicknames to each other were "Upper House" and "Lower House," suggesting one may have been in a stronger position of power.
The book says Gandhi may have been the one to "think deep thoughts" and Kallenbach was more preoccupied with "matters of physical fitness and everything that's down to earth."
The author discovers that Gandhi "made Lower House promise not to look lustfully upon any woman," and the pair swore to each other "'more love, and yet more love ... such love as they hope the world has not yet seen."
But it seems the Indian leader also liked women. In his 70s, Gandhi was also alleged to have had naked "nightly cuddlies" with 17-year-old great niece Manu.
At one point he forced Manu to walk through a part of the jungle where women risked sexual attacks just to get him a pumice stone to clean his feet.