In Gandhi’s footsteps

A trip of a lifetime to understand the route of a moral compass.


So there I was minding my own business back in about 2007-8, living in West Tisbury at the wonderful Milton Mazer House, after my last book, “Buddha or Bust,” was published, staring at the proverbial blank page (I refuse to call it a screen) wondering: “What next?”

Since that book was about the Buddha and Buddhism, my then agent, without thinking too much about what a mammoth undertaking it would be, suggested: “How about you do something similar with Gandhi?”

On the surface it seemed like a good follow-up idea: my literary legacy could be books about famous people who left an indelible mark on society…and in a good way. She knew that since 2004 I had been spending parts of almost every year in India. I’d seen statues of Gandhi in so many cities, seen his name blessing many town squares and streets, even on nail salons. I’d seen his face on every Indian paper currency. I’d watched Richard Attenborough’s Academy Award-winning film “Gandhi” a few times. I’d probably read about him in history or social studies books way back when. Other than that, very little until…

In 2007 Senator Barack Obama ran for U.S. President with a campaign theme that echoed one of Gandhi’s most famous sayings, “Be the change you want to see in the world.” I then read that Obama said he was inspired more by Gandhi than by Martin Luther King Jr., which seemed unlikely. But I understood why when I further read that King himself was inspired by the work of Gandhi in finding a way to protest nonviolently against oppression and unjust treatment of people.

Bingo: A timely hook. Not to mention that I thought there were many Americans who may also benefit from having a deeper understanding of the petite Indian with big ears and John Lennon-style wire-rimmed glasses and his philosophies revolving around Truth, Nonviolence, Simplicity and more. Further timeliness: I felt civilization has lost its moral compass and we all could use a refresher course now on what a world of respect and integrity would look like.

After some 25 rejections, my agent sold the idea to Sounds True Publisher, originally an audio tapes and books company founded in 1985 with the vision of disseminating spiritual wisdom.

Bingo again: I had found my publishing home.

In June of 2019 the work began in earnest. Said work involved following literally in Gandhi’s footsteps. I spent 10 weeks in India (just before the pandemic lockdown), traveling and interviewing in Porbandar, Gujarat, the city of his birth; in Ahmedabad, where his most famous ashram was located; and on the 230-mile Salt March through Gujarat to the village of Dandi where he lifted salt from the beach and launched a national movement fighting for India’s independence from its British colonizer.

From there I flew to South Africa, where Gandhi had lived for 20 years and where he formulated ideas that would be the foundations of his life’s work. Over a two-week period I conducted more interviews with experts (including three descendants of Gandhi) on his life in South Africa, where I personally observed, with great disappointment, that the banishment of the repugnant Apartheid system could not legislate against racism that still raised its ugly head.

Finally, when it was relatively safe to travel with COVID still in our lives, I spent two weeks in England, where Gandhi went to law school. I also visited the city of Leicester, a London suburb where a large number of Brits of Indian descent live. At one point the nonwhite population rose to some 70 percent, making it the first city in England where nonwhites outnumbered whites. In the 1970s, racial tensions were so high and violent that the city established Britain’s first-ever race relations council committee in 1976. Now city officials and business people I interviewed call it a harmonious and diverse city.

My arduous travels were nothing compared to the daunting inner journey I undertook to follow six principles Gandhi advocated on a daily basis: truth, nonviolence, simplicity, faith, vegetarianism, and celibacy. I had a little (forgive the ancient reference) Rolodex in my head, each day adhering to one or another of these changes I knew I needed to make to, if not become Gandhi, at the least remain in a state of becoming Gandhi. By the middle of my “experiment,” I realized this would be a lifelong journey, in which the attempt would be its own kind of success.

All this led to the publication of “Becoming Gandhi: My Experiment Living the Mahatma’s 6 Moral Truths in Immoral Times,” published in India on Oct. 2, 2023; and in the U.S. on Jan. 30, 2024. The former date was Gandhi’s birthday, which Simon & Schuster chose for that reason. Sounds True’s publication date was Jan. 30, 2024, the day of his assassination, which Sounds True chose, but coincidental to his death. Yet, I feel there is no coincidence that these two publication dates are bookends to the man’s life.

Now, at the very moment of this writing, I’m taking a two-week pause in the very same Mazer House. I had wished to be living here to write this newest book, but alas, it had been rented by some other lucky soul during that 18-month period of writing. I often had the feeling that if I was writing it from the Vineyard, it would have taken less time and quite possibly gone in a different direction.

Gandhi would have loved the Vineyard — for its beatific calm, its pristine environment, its pride in Island-made and Island-grown, its sense of community (aka satsang in Hindi), and its current mix of people from many countries and all walks of life. He was a champion of the working class and had a soft heart for the underdog and marginalized, as Islanders can feel, isolated from the mainland.

But that was not his karma. It has been mine, though, to have had, and hopefully continue to have, the blessing and privilege to work and write and bliss out (and in) here.

Perry Garfinkel, a former Times Calendar editor and longtime New York Times contributor, author of the bestselling “Buddha or Bust,” will speak about his inner and outer travels in Gandhi’s footsteps at the Carnegie Heritage Center in Edgartown, on Saturday, April 13, at 2 pm. It will be the first collaboration between the center and Edgartown Books. 



  1. Perry – congrats, sounds like you’ve been on an interesting journey. Did you know gandhi’s nickname to his closest friends was Micky Mouse? Spent many years in India myself. Sorry I can’t make the reading. Ken (

Comments are closed.