The Extraordinary Life and Times of Mahatma Gandhi

 

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Born more than 130 years ago, the life and times of the man who would grow up to be universally known as The Mahatma, still resonates until today. Mohandas Gandhi had an ordinary childhood in Porbandar, on the coast of Kathiawad in the western state of Gujarat, a loved and pampered son of very ordinary parents. He grew up to inspire legions of people globally by his fearless ideology that uprooted an empire, to bring freedom to the land of his birth. With his message of non-violence, he roused the nation and earned the title of Great Soul.

For the next several weeks, Indo American News will bring you his life story, and of how he continues to be an inspiration to the world and mostly to millions of oppressed people everywhere. Born on October 2, 1869, to Karamchand Gandhi and his wife Putlibai. Young Mohandas hailed from a family highly regarded for the moral ethics and strength of character. His grandfather Uttamchand belonged to a humble family of merchants, but rose in the ranks to become the Dewan of Porbander. His son Karamchand, who had very little education, succeeded him but was a fine administrator.

Putlibai, Karamchand Gandhi’s wife, was a deeply religious woman 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. Moniya was just seven years old when his father left Porbandar to become the Dewan of Rajkot, taking the family along. 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. But Uka told Moniya not to go near him as he was an untouchable. It was the first time that Mohandas encountered India’s cataclysmic social divide. Stunned by the revelation that in India one was identified by one’s caste, he took hold of Uka’s hands and filled them with sweets. His mother, watching from a window, ordered Moniya in the house. She told him that high caste Hindus did not touch “untouchables”. When her son questioned her, she responded that Hindu customs forbid it. When Moniya disagreed, his mother had no answer but was angry with him.

Karamchand Gandhi loved all his sons, but he was especially fond of the youngest. He often advised him to study well and take up a profession. Moniya worked hard, and did his lessons carefully. But he did not enjoy memorizing and was therefore weak in Sanskrit. Geometry was his favorite subject because it involved reasoning.

Moniya 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 well to-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. 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 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 on, 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 next week…

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