This is the story of a man born more than 130 years ago. As a boy, he looked no different from the millions of other children born in India. Yet this was no ordinary child. He was to fight and overcome a great empire and, without taking to arms, set his country free. He was to be called the Mahatma, the Great Soul. Having led his people to freedom, he was to lay down his life for their sake.Voice of Asia will bring to you over the next several weeks, the story of this remarkable man who is still an inspiration to millions of oppressed people around the world.
In a small, white-washed house in Porbandar, on the coast of Kathiawad in the western Indian state of Gujarat, Mohandas Gandhi was born on October 2, 1869. His father was Karamchand
Gandhi and mother Putlibai. Porbandar is an old seaport, a little distance from the Barda Hills.
Even in ancient days ships from far-off lands arrived there to trade. It was the ancestral home of the Gandhi family.
The grandfather and father of Mohandas were famous for their ability and for their upright character.
Grandfather Uttamchand Gandhi, who belonged to a humble family of merchants, became the Dewan of Porbandar. He was succeeded by his son, Karamchand Gandhi, popularly known as Kaba Gandhi.
Karamchand had very little formal education, but his knowledge and experience of state affairs made him a good administrator. He was brave and generous. He had, however, one fault – a bad temper.
Putlibai, Karamchand Gandhi’s wife, was a deeply religious woman, lovable and strong-willed woman. She was widely respected for her wisdom and good sense. People often sought her advice on various matters. Mohandas was the youngest of the six children of Karamchand and Putlibai Gandhi. He was the favorite child of the family and was called ‘Moniya’ by his parents and their friends.
Moniya adored his mother. He loved his father too, but he was a little afraid of him. As a child, Moniya seldom liked to stay at home. He would go home for his meals and then run away again to play outside. If one of his brothers teased him or playfully pulled his ears, he would run home to complain to his other.
“Why didn’t you hit him?” she would ask. “How can you teach me to hit people, mother? Why should I hit my brother? Why should I hit anyone?” would be Moniya’s reply. His mother wondered where her little son got such ideas.
Moniya was just seven years old when his father left Porbandar to become the Dewan of Rajkot. Moniya missed Porbandar, and he missed the blue sea and the ships in the harbor.
At Rajkot he was sent to a primary school. He was shy and did not mix easily with the other children. Every morning he went to school in time, and ran back home as soon as school was over.
His books were his sole companions and he spent all his free time alone reading. He had one friend, however; a boy named Uka.
Uka was a sweeper boy and an untouchable. One day Moniya, was given some sweets. He ran at once to Uka to share them with him. “Don’t come near me little master,” said Uka.
“Why not?” asked Moniya, greatly surprised. “Why can’t I come near you?”
“I am an untouchable, master,” Uka replied. Moniya took hold of Uka’s hands and filled them with sweets. His mother saw this from a window, and she ordered Moniya to come in at once.
“Don’t you know that a highcaste Hindu should never touch an untouchable?” she asked sternly.
“But why not, mother?” asked Moniya.
“Because our Hindu custom forbids it,” she said.
“I don’t agree with you, mother. I find nothing wrong in touching Uka. He is not different from me, is he?” His mother had no answer. She angrily told him to go, have a bath and say his prayers.
Karamchand Gandhi loved all his sons, but he was specially fond of the youngest. He often said to him: “You must go to high school and college and take up a profession.”
Moniya worked hard, and did his lessons carefully. But he did not like learning by heart and was therefore weak in Sanskrit. Geometry was his favorite subject because it involved reasoning. Once Moniya happened to read the story of Shravana.
Shravana’s parents were old and blind, and he always carried them with him in two baskets slung on a yoke. Moniya was deeply touched by Shravana’s devotion to his old parents.
Moniya’s brother had a friend named Sheikh. He was tall and strong. Sheik was a meat-eater and he often told Mohandas that if he ate meat he would also grow tall and strong.
There was also at that time a reform movement for a change in the orthodox beliefs and practices of Hindus. Mohandas himself had heard that many wellto-do people had started eating meat, so he, too, tried meat.
He did not like the taste of meat but as time went on he started to like meat curries.
Whenever Mohandas had a meat meal outside, he had to give his mother some excuse for not eating his dinner. He knew that his parents would not forgive him if they knew he had eaten meat. He was not against eating meat then, but he was against telling a lie to his mother.
This feeling was gnawing at his heart and finally he decided not to touch meat again. Mohandas had also taken to smoking with Sheik, his brother, and another relative. He had to pilfer small amounts of money here and there with which to buy cigarettes.
One day, in order to pay off a debt which his brother had incurred, Mohandas stole a piece of gold jewelry. Stealing was a great sin. He knew that he had committed a great crime. He resolved never in his life to steal again. He wrote down a confession of his crime and handed the paper to his ailing father. Karamchand Gandhi read the confession. He tore up the paper without saying a word. The bits of paper fell to the floor. He sank back on his bed with a sigh.
Mohandas left the room, tears streaming down his face. From that day, Mohandas loved his father more and more. Every day he hurried home from school to wait on him. His father’s condition grew worse and at length he died. The house was filled with sorrow. Mohandas was only sixteen when his father died.
(To be continued)