The Story of Gandhi
By Ramanbhai Soni
There was a boy. His name was Mohan.
He was studying in a school at Rajkot. He was not bright at studies, but was very fond of reading.
Once he read the story of Shravana. Shravana used to carry his old and blind parents in two baskets slung on a bamboo yoke. Mohan was deeply touched by his devotion to his old parents. He resolved to be like Shravana and serve his parents.
Once Mohan saw a play depicting the life of King Harishchandra, who lost his kingdom and suffered much for truth. Mohan was so deeply moved by this play that he was in tears. He decided never to swerve from the path of truth and be ever truthful and honest like Harishchandra.
In his childhood the young Gandhi was very timid. He feared to step in darkness, even in his own house. He feared ghosts and thieves and snakes. Rambha was a maid servant in his house. Once she said to Mohan: `Why are you so much fearful? Remember Rama! Rama will always protect you. Fear never encounters him who remembers Rama.'
Mohan was deeply impressed by these words. He took to reciting the name of Rama. His faith in Rama increased as he grew up. He remembered God and dedicated all his work to him. When he died his last words were `He Rama!'
Mohan's father, Karamchand Gandhi, was popularly known as Kaba Gandhi. In early years, he was the Diwan of Porbandar, and after that he became the Diwan of Rajkot. During his stay in Rajkot, his Parsee and Muslim friends often visited his house and discussed the good in their religions. Young Mohan, who quite often sat by father's side, heard these discussions. These debates created in him a real love for all religions.
Once the Inspector of schools came to visit his school. He wanted to test the boys, so he dictated a few English words to the boys. Mohan could not spell one of the words correctly. His teacher prompted him to copy that word from his neighbour's slate, but Mohan didn't. He did not like to cheat anybody, come what may. The result was that all the students except Mohan, spelt all the words correctly. The teacher scolded Mohan after the class and Mohan felt wounded. But deep inside him he knew that what he had done was right.
Mohan's full name is Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi. He was born in Porbandar, on the sea-coast of Saurashtra, on October 2, 1869. He did many great things when he grew up. Throughout the world he is now known as Mahatma Gandhi. He led us Indians to the non-violent fight for freedom and finally lay down his life for our sake. He ranks among the greatest teachers of all time like Buddha and Christ. He is the Father of our Nation. Every year, his birthday is celebrated throughout the world.
In those days, India was under the British rule. Once a boy told Mohan: `Do you know why the British are so strong and why they can rule over us? It is because they eat meat. If we become meat-eaters, like them, we will be able to drive them out.'
Mohan was convinced by this argument. But everybody in Mohan's house was strictly vegetarian, so he tried meat-eating outside. He did not disclose this secret to anybody, yet he was averse to telling a lie and deceiving the parents, so finally he decided not to touch meat again.
Mohan was taken to smoking also. For this he had to steal money and to incur debt. When the debt increased, he stole a piece of gold from one of the gold-bracelets that his brother wore and paid off the debt.
But soon after that, his heart was filled with remorse. He resolved never to steal again. He wrote down a confession of his crime on a piece of paper and put it in the hands of his father who was then sick.
The father read the letter and without uttering a word, tore up the paper with a deep sigh.
Mohan was deeply grieved. Tears rolled down his cheeks. He saw the power of truth. From that day, telling the truth became a passion with him. He loved his father more and more. He massaged his legs and served him in all possible ways.
But his father did not live long. He died when Mohan was only sixteen.
After passing his Matriculation examination, Gandhiji joined a college for further study, but his eldest brother decided to send him to England to become a barrister.
Now, Mother Putlibai asked Mohan to take a vow not to eat meat, not to drink and not to live an immoral life, Gandhiji took this vow, and boarded a steamer for England.
He arrived in London in October, 1888. At first, he had to face numerous handicaps. He almost starved until he found a good vegetarian restaurant. He learned Latin and French too, and finally passed his law examination. Now he was a barrister.
Then he returned to India. He was anxious to meet his mother and tell her that he had kept his vows in England. But as soon as he landed in Bombay, he heard that his mother had passed away only a few weeks ago! It was a terrible shock, yet he restrained himself.
Now Gandhiji started practice as a lawyer in Rajkot. After some time, an offer came to him to go to South Africa as a legal adviser to an Indian firm owned by a Gujarati Muslim businessman there. Gandhiji accepted the offer and in May 1893, he went to Natal in South Africa.
In South Africa, Indians were ill-treated and disgraced. They were called `Coolies'. Very soon Gandhiji too had his share of this experience. He was travelling in a train to Pretoria, in a first class compartment. On the way, a European passenger entered the compartment and found Gandhiji in it. He complained to the station master: `Take this coolie out and put him in a lower class!'. Gandhiji raised an objection that he had a first class ticket, but nobody heard him. A policeman pushed him out with his bag and baggage. The train left. Gandhiji spent the night shivering in cold, but he did not touch his luggage.
This incident changed the whole course of his life. He decided to fight all such injustices with the weapon of Truth. Later on, he named this weapon Satyagraha.
More trouble was still in store for him. Next morning, he went to Charlestown by train. He had now to travel by a stage-coach to Johannesburg, but he was not allowed to sit inside the coach with white passengers. To avoid confrontation Gandhiji sat outside on the coach-box behind the coachman. After some time the conductor asked him to sit on a dirty sack on the step below. Gandhiji refused. The conductor began to pull him down and give him blows upon blows. Some of the passengers now came to his rescue and Gandhiji was allowed to sit where he was.
These experiences inspired him to do something to end these sufferings of Indians. He called a meeting of the Indians in Pretoria and told them to form a league. This was his first public speech. It caused a new awakening among Indians.
Gandhiji settled out of court the case for which he had gone to South Africa. This enhanced his reputation. He had helped many to settle their disputes out of court.
After his stay for three years in South Africa, Gandhiji returned to India in 1896. In India, he made speeches about the plight of Indians in South Africa. He then set sail for South Africa, with his wife Kasturbai and two sons. In the meanwhile, the newspaper reports of his speeches in India had reached South Africa in a distorted form. From it, the whites thought that Gandhi had abused them in India, and they were furious.
As soon as Gandhiji landed at the port of Durban, a mob of angry whites threw stones and bricks and rotten eggs at him. They tore off his turban and beat him and kicked him until he was almost unconscious.
At that time, the wife of the Superintendent of Police happened to pass by. She ran to his rescue and opened her parasol to protect him, holding it between him and the crowd. She led Gandhiji to a safe place.
The South African Government wanted to punish the wrong-doers, but Gandhiji refused to file a complaint. This had a very good effect on the whites.
In 1906, the Transvaal Government issued an order that all Indians men, women and children should register themselves with Government by giving their full finger-prints and get their permits. He who fails to do so, will be fined, imprisoned or deported from the country.
Gandhiji declared: `This is an insult to the Indian community. We must fight this `Black Act' in a non-violent way. The Government might use force, arrest us, send us to jail, and prosecute us, but we must face all this without resistance.' He called this `Satyagraha'.
Indians gathered in large numbers and took an oath in the name of God, not to register themselves. They showed wonderful unity. Hundreds of Indians were arrested, but they didn't put up any defence in courts and went to jail. Gandhiji, too, was imprisoned. At last Government made a compromise with Gandhiji and gave a promise in writing to repeal the Black Act if the Indians registered themselves voluntarily.
All the prisoners were released. Most of the Indians supported Gandhiji, but a few rose against. They accused him of being a coward. A Pathan named Mir Alam was one of them. When Gandhiji set out for registration, Mir Alam hit him with a heavy stick. Gandhiji was knocked down unconscious. When he recovered he found himself in the house of an unknown Englishman. The first thing he did was to inquire about Mir Alam and forgive him saying, `I don't want to prosecute him.' Then he called the registration officer, gave him his finger-prints and got himself duly registered.
Thus Gandhiji fulfilled his part of the agreement at the risk of life, but Government went back from its promise and refused to repeal the Black Act.
The Government of South Africa had imposed a heavy poll-tax on Indians. Gandhiji wanted to get all these injustices removed. So again he started the satyagraha movement. A big bonfire was lit and more than two thousand permits were burnt in it. Those who called Gandhiji a coward now greeted him as a real hero.
Gandhiji and many of his colleagues were imprisoned several times in course of this struggle. Gandhiji gave up his practice as a lawyer and devoted all his time in the service of the great cause that he had taken up. He renounced his European dress and put on the simple clothes of a poor Indian labourer. He walked barefoot. He took only one meal a day.
In jail, Gandhiji did hard labour for nine hours a day cheerfully. He never complained about any hardships. He suffered terrible pain of boils in hands, yet did not budge from the work given him. He was made to carry luggages, and was taken to court handcuffed.
Meanwhile, the court in South Africa declared all Hindu, Muslim and Parsee marriages illegal and the Government supported the court. Kasturba could not brook this insult of Indian womanhood. She asked Gandhiji to enlist her name as the first woman satyagrahi. Women under her leadership broke the law and courted arrest. Kasturba was also arrested and jailed.