Lives and Meeting Points

Sykes was the daughter of a schoolmaster from the Yorkshire mining villages who arrived in India via Cambridge University in 1928 to teach at the London Missionary Society’s Bentinck Girls High School in Madras. Patel was a son of a wealthy Parsee cotton trading family from Bombay, and also a Cambridge University graduate. They met at Sevagram, Gandhi’s rural ashram in Maharashtra, in late 1944, brought together ‘by our special interest in the two interlocking programmes which Gandhi was then putting forward as pathways to freedom’.31 The book sheds little light on how this friendship consolidated itself over the intervening years beyond the testimony of co-authorship. What the book does give is a sense of the life paths that brought them to Sevagram as lieutenants of Gandhi’s vision to build Swaraj in the Indian countryside: Sykes through Nai Talim (New Education) and Patel through ‘Nature Cure’, Gandhi’s strategy to bring sustainable health and hygiene to the poor. This fascinating personal and historical trajectory places them within a religio-cultural space trying to articulate new universalisms of the business of living that would serve both a post-colonial India and a post-imperial world.

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