The Seeker

Written by Sudhir Kakar
Review by Tracey Warr

The Seeker is the story of the unusual relationship between Madeleine Slade, a British woman, and Mahatma Gandhi. Gandhi believes the time for India’s independence is not right because its people need to be purified. It is 1925, a time when the majority of Indian revolutionaries seek a violent overthrow of England’s rule. Gandhi, however, withdraws from the forefront of politics to create several ashrams dedicated to self-discipline and tolerance for all, including India’s untouchable caste.

Madeleine is a visionary person who easily falls in love with ideas and their inherent power. A solitary individual, Madeline is raised in a liberal family who encourage her dreams of living a meaningful life in faraway India. Before carrying out this desire, however, Madeleine struggles with falling in love, first with the brilliant musician Lamond. She communicates this and more in her poignant, impassioned letters to the biographer Romain Rolland. It is he who suggests she read his recent biography of Mahatma Gandhi, an experience that begins her communication with Gandhi and her eventual move to his main community, the Sabarmati ashram. Gandhi’s ashrams are places with inspired but flawed residents whose impurities Gandhi takes on as further need for fasting, prayer and teaching. His life-threatening fasts are searing, painful events to those closest to him. His lengthy periods of silence are defined as the “all-encompassing silence of the inner self that is the attribute of the saint.”

Within this moving novel, Madeleine’s descriptions of nature, musical vision, political conflict and the essence of man’s truest noble mission are lyrical, sensual and provocative. Finally, she realizes the personal and political implications of what Gandhi has always taught about conquering dominance: “the willing sacrifice of the innocent is the most powerful retort to insolent tyranny” in whatever form it manifests.