Imperative · Meet the Indians

Understanding ‘Gandhi : His Formative years [before 1914]’​

No one is born a Mahatma and neither was Gandhi. It’s very interesting to understand how a man of a simple character without being the emperor, ruler, militant, scientist, artist or without any fancy ranking in the history ended up being the “Father of a Nation”.

Born to the fourth wife (Putlibai) of Karamchandra Gandhi (a government servant) in 1869, on an october of second, Gandhi was the youngest and was a child of no exceptional brilliance. He was mediocre at school and spent most of his time nursing his father, whom he lost soon. While he was still at school, the shy and silent kid got married to Kasturbai.

A curious child :

Like any teenager of his age, he was curious of many things. Like any other teenager he also fell in the traps of ill company. Lied, Kept secrets at home, tried alcohol, smoking and ate meat. But one thing segregated him from anyone else, was his devotion to his elders. He took the words of his elders as commands and not words. And once he promised to quit the ills, he never went back the same way.

Gandhi wanted to be a doctor, but his family was suggestive of the idea that he should study law. Gandhi did not really like his college. When one fine day, one of their family friends introduced the idea of studying in London, and Gandhi leaped at it. In 1888, Gandhi sailed to London, leaving behind his family and a vow to his mother, that he would never touch meat or alcohol at the foreign land. His brother helped him in arranging the finances and Gandhi spent the next three years in London focusing more on finding his religious alignment and doing experiments with food and natural healing and health practices than studies.

During this time, Gandhi was exposed to variety of people and ideas which contributed a lot in building up his personality. He read the holy religious books : The Gita, Quran and Bible to have an understanding of the various religions. He spent time with the cults of various ideas to have a understanding of them. One of the other major experiments of his was with vegetarian diet and the minimalistic lifestyle. He found a society in London which promoted Vegetarianism and was pleased to understand the diet practices. He soon left consuming milk and anything made from it. And later due to his ailment in India was bound to take goat’s milk as a substitution. As he kept growing, he kept on shedding all that was not required, from food to clothing to other possessions (to be seen later). But, he had chosen his path of leading the rest of his life.

First come back to India : [1891]

With his degree he came back to India in 1891 only to found out that his mother was no more and neither were there any jobs. Admits the excessive flow of barristers, Unemployment was severe in those times and being a timid personality, it was difficult for Gandhi to make his own way up the ladder. He could not find work, and after making rounds in Gujarat and Maharashtra, eventually found a lucrative offer to work in Natal, South Africa, which he readily accepted. He then, moved to South Africa in 1893.

Towards South Africa : [1893]

All of the previously mentioned experiments of diet, religion and healing took another leap in this country. He was sure by this time, that his religion will help him find the truth within himself. He stuck to his habits of vegetarianism, exploring religions and other cults. Brothels and women were ideas that were put across him, but he was loyal to Kasturbai.

He came across many incidents where he was brutally insulted. He was bullied for travelling in the first class train, in the court for wearing a turban and was denied acceptance at a European hotel amongst several other insults.

He also studied the ill treatments, which the indentured labours were exposed to in the country. He fought few of such cases, for minimum fees.

During his stay in South Africa, Boer war broke out (1899- 1902) and this was the time, when he began nursing at a huge level. He assisted the injured and ailings and was praised by many for this. A congress of Indians in South Africa was formed and he held an important position therein, followed by printing journals and literature to educate the masses. Few of the books which motivated Gandhi were, Leo Tolstoy’s The kingdom of god is within you, Bhagwat Gita and Ruskin’s Unto the last, which he kept on referring from time to time.

With Family in South Africa :

Gandhi was sure that he was going to spend his life in South Africa and so he was sure of the idea to take his family there. He moved to India for a brief time and came back to South Africa with his wife and children in 1896. During his brief stay in India he met few of the dignitaries who were against the foreign regime in India. However, Gandhi’s aim in all these meetings was to highlight the kind of misconduct Indians and indentured labours face in Africa. After this, he came back to Africa and was attacked by whites for ill promotion of the whites in his native land.

Two of his five boys were born in South Africa. Gandhi soon realised that he should follow Brahamacharya to have a more renounced and peaceful life. Building up his decision from 1900 and finally committing to the vow of celibacy in 1906, Gandhi made a turbulent change in his diet to follow his principals.

None of his children was given conventional school education and he mentions that that was one of the things which his children disliked, however, all of his children were devoted to him. He experimented his natural healing vegetarian methods on his dying children and wife as well which was highly criticised by the doctors but was successful.

Gandhi, had taken up the life of minimalist, with mere resources, food and other consumptions. By this time, Gandhi abhorred the concept of possessions and Kasturbai was asked to donate her gifted jewelleries, (which she did) on their way back to India.

Gandhi had acquired more than what he delivered to South Africa. His formative years outside India, made most of his personality.

The Final Ghar Vapsi (The final Home coming) : [1914]

After the world war started in 1914, Gandhi made his decision to come back to India. Most of the deeds and the episodes of him since 1914, are much talked about in Indian politics. But his formative years in India, London and Africa, has a lot to do with the decisions and strategies that he adopted later.

His main emphasis always laid on non violence, peace and respect for all. These principals were more important and significant to him rather than any other cause, which could be easily figured from his later life and decisions made. The insults he was exposed to and the environment in which he was nurtured, could have routed his life to the path alike any regular man but the choices and decisions he made, following his principals outcasted him from the realm of normal humans.

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