MOHANDAS KARAMCHAND GANDHI was born British
rule had been established in India. The uprising of 1857, known as
the Mutiny, had merely served to consolidate the British adventure
into an empire. India had effectively passed under British tutelage,
so effectively indeed, that instead of resenting alien rule the
generation of educated Indians were eager to submit to the
of their foreign masters. Political subjection
had been reinforced by intellectual and moral servility. It seemed that the
British empire in India was safe for centuries. When Gandhi died it was India, a free nation
that mourned his loss. The disinherited had recovered their heritage and the
"dumb millions" had found their voice. The disarmed had won a great battle
and had in the process evolved a moral force such as to compel the
attention, and to some degree, the admiration, of the world. The story of
this miracle is also the story of Gandhi's life, for he, more than any other
was the architect of this miracle. Ever since his grateful countrymen call
him the Father of the Nation.
And yet it would be an exaggeration to say
that Gandhi alone wrought this miracle. No single individual,
however great and wonderful, can be the sole engineer of a
historical process. A succession of remarkable predecessors and
elder contemporaries had quarried and broken the stones which helped
Gandhi to pave the way for India's independence.
They had set in motion various trends in the intellectual,
social and moral consciousness of the people which the genius Gandhi
mobilized and directed in a grand march. Raja Rammohan Roy, Ramkrishna
Paramhamsa and his great disciple, Swami Vivekananda, Swami Dayananda
Saraswati, Dadabhai Navroji, Badruddin Tyabji, Syed Ahmed Khan, Ranade,
Gokhale, Tilak, Aurobindo Ghosh and Rabindranath Tagore, to name only a few.
Each one of them, had in his own, field created a consciousness of India's
destiny and helped to generate a spirit of sacrifice which, in Gandhi's
hands, became the instruments of a vast political-cum-moral upheaval. Had
Gandhi been born hundred years earlier he could hardly have achieved what he
did. Nevertheless, it is true, that, but for Gandhi, India's political
destiny would have been vastly different and her moral stature vastly
But though Gandhi lived, suffered and died in
India for Indians, it is not in relation to India's destiny alone that his
life has significance. Future generations will not only remember him as a
patriot, politician and nation-builder but much more. He was essentially a
moral force, whose appeal is to the conscience of man and therefore
universal. He was the servant and friend of man as man and not as belonging
to this or that nation, religion or race. If he worked for Indians only, it
was because he was born among them and because their humiliation and
suffering supplied the necessary incentives to his moral sensibility. The
lesson of his life therefore is for all to read. He founded no church and
though he lived by faith he left behind no dogma for the faithful to quarrel
over. He gave no attributes to God save Truth and prescribed no path for
attaining it save honest and relentless search through means that injure no
living thing. Who dare therefore claim Gandhi for his own except by claiming
him for all?
Another lesson of his life which should be of
universal interest is that he was not born a genius and did not exhibit in
early life any extraordinary faculty that is not shared by the common run of
men. He was no inspired bard like Rabindranath Tagore, he had no mystic
visions like Ramakrishna Paramhansa, he was no child prodigy like Shankara
or Vivekananda. He was just an ordinary child like most of us. If there was
anything extraordinary about him as a child, it was his shyness, a handicap
from which he suffered for a long time. No doubt, something very
extraordinary must have been latent in his spirit which later developed into
an iron will and combined with a moral sensibility made him what he became,
but there was little evidence of it in his childhood. We may therefore
derive courage and inspiration from the knowledge that if he made himself
what he was, there is no visible reason why we should not be able to do the
His genius, so to speak, was an infinite
capacity for taking pains in fulfillment of a restless moral urge. His life
was one continuous striving, an unremitting sadhana, a relentless search for
truth, not abstract or metaphysical truth, but such truth as can be realized
in human relations. He climbed step by step, each step no bigger than a
man's, till when we saw him at the height he seemed more than a man.
"Generations to come, it may be, will scarce believe", wrote Einstein, "that
such a one as this, ever in flesh and blood walked upon this earth." If at
the end he seemed like no other man, it is good to remember that when he
began he was like any other man.
Such is the great lesson of his life.
Fortunately, he has himself recorded for us the main incidents of his life
till 1921 and described with scrupulous veracity the evolution of his moral
and intellectual consciousness. Had he not done so, there would have been in
India no dearth of devout chroniclers who would have invented divine
portents at his birth and invested him with a halo from his childhood.
MOHANDAS KARAMCHAND GANDHI was born on October
2, 1869, at Porbandar, a small town on the western coast of India, which was
then one of the many tiny states in Kathiawar. He was born in middle class
family of Vaishya caste. His grandfather had risen to be the Dewan or Prime
Minister of Porbandar and was succeeded by his son Karamchand who was the
father of Mohandas. Putlibai, Mohandas's mother, was a saintly character,
gentle and devout, and left a deep impress on her son's mind.
Mohandas went to an elementary school in
Porbandar, where he found it difficult to master the multiplication tables.
"My intellect must have been sluggish and my memory raw", he recalled with
candour many years later. He was seven when his family moved to Rajkot,
another state in Kathiawar, where his father became Dewan. There he attended
a primary school and later joined a high school. Though conscientious he was
a "mediocre student" and was excessively shy and timid.
While his school record gave no indication of
his future greatness, there was one incident which was significant. A
British school inspector came to examine the boys and set a spelling test.
Mohandas made a mistake which the class teacher noticed. The latter motioned
to him to copy the correct spelling from his neighbour's slate. Mohandas
refused to take the hint and was later chided for his "stupidity".
We can also discover in the little boy a hint
of that passion for reforming others which later became so dominant a trait
of the Mahatma, though in this case the zeal almost led him astray. Impelled
by a desire to reform a friend of his elder brother's, one Sheikh Mehtab, he
cultivated his company and imbibed habits which he had to regret later. This
friend convinced him that the British could rule India because they lived on
meat which gave them the necessary strength. So Mohandas who came on
orthodox vegetarian family took to tasting meat clandestinely, for patriotic
reasons. But apart from the inherited vegetarian sentiment which made him
feel, after he had once swallowed a piece, as if "a live goat were bleating
inside me", he had to wrestle with the knowledge that such clandestine
repasts would have to be hidden from his parents which would entail
falsehood on his part. This he was reluctant to do. And so after a few such
experiments he gave up the idea, consoling himself with the reflection :
"When they are no more and I have found my freedom, I will eat meat openly."
While he was still in high school, he was
married, at the age of thirteen, to Kasturbai who was also of the same age.
For a boy of that age marriage meant only a round of feasts, new clothes to
wear and a strange and docile companion to play with. But he soon felt the
impact of sex which he has described for us with admirable candour. The
infinite tenderness and respect which were so marked a characteristic of his
attitude in later life to Indian women may have owed something to his
personal experience of "the cruel custom of child marriage", as he called