Gandhi's Life, Part One
Biography of M.K. Gandhi
A Child Groom
The word Mahatma means great soul. This name was not given Gandhi at birth by his parents, but many years later by the Indian people when they discovered they had a Mahatma in their midst.
Gandhi was born on October 2, 1869, in Porbandar, a small state in western India. He was named Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi. The word Gandhi means grocer, and generations earlier that had been the family occupation. But Gandhi's grandfather, father, and uncle had served as prime ministers to the princes of Porbandar and other tiny Indian states, and though lower caste, the Gandhis were middle-class, cultured, and deeply religious Hindus.
Gandhi remembered his father as truthful, brave, incorruptible, and short-tempered, but he remembered his mother as a saint. She often fasted for long periods, and once, during the four months of the rainy season, ate only on the rare days that the sun shone.
At the age of six Gandhi went to school in Porbandar and had difficulty learning to multiply. The following year his family moved to Rajkot where he remained a mediocre student, so sensitive that he ran home from school for fear the other boys might make fun of him.
When Gandhi was thirteen, he was married to Kasturbai, a girl of the same age. Child marriages, arranged by the parents, were then common in India, and since Hindu weddings were elegant, expensive affairs, the Gandhi family decided to marry off Gandhi, his older brother, and a cousin all at one time to spare the cost of three separate celebrations.
At first the thirteen-year-old couple were almost too shy to speak to each other, but Gandhi soon became bossy and jealous. Kasturbai could not even play with her friends without his permission and often he would refuse it. But she was not easily cowed, and when she disobeyed him the two children would quarrel and not talk for days. Yet while Gandhi was desperately trying to assert his authority as a husband he remained a boy, so afraid of the dark that he had to sleep with a light on in his room though he was ashamed to explain this to Kasturbai.
The young bridegroom was still in high school, where his scholarship had improved, and he won several small prizes. Indian independence was the dream of every student, and a Moslem friend convinced Gandhi that the British were able to rule India only because they ate meat and the Hindus did not. In meat lay strength and in strength lay freedom.
Gandhi's family was sternly vegetarian, but the boy's patriotism vanquished his scruples. One day, in a hidden place by a river, his friend gave him some cooked goat's meat. To Gandhi it tasted like leather and he immediately became ill. That night he dreamed a live goat was bleating in his stomach, but he ate meat another half-dozen times, until he decided it was not worth the sin of lying to his parents. After they died, he thought, he would turn carnivorous and build up the strength to fight for freedom. Actually, he never ate meat again, and freed India with a strength that was moral rather than physical.
But Gandhi was still a rebellious teenager, and once, when he needed money, stole a bit of gold from his brother's jewelry. The crime haunted him so that he finally confessed to his father, expecting him to be angry and violent. Instead the old man wept.
"Those pearl drops of love cleansed my heart," Gandhi later wrote, "and washed my sin away." It was his first insight into the impressive psychological power of ahimsa, or nonviolence.
Gandhi was sixteen when his father died. Two years later the youth graduated from high school and enrolled in a small Indian college. But he disliked it and returned home after one term.
A friend of the family then advised him to go to England where he could earn a law degree in three years and equip himself for eventual succession to his father's post as prime minister. Though he would have preferred to study medicine, the idea of going to England excited Gandhi. After he vowed he would not touch liquor, meat, or women, his mother gave him her blessing and his brother gave him the money.
Leaving his wife and their infant son with his family in Rajkot, he went to Bombay. There he purchased some English-style clothing and sailed for England on September 4, 1888, just one month short of his nineteenth birthday.
END OF PART ONE
This biography was written by Roberta Strauss Feuerlicht and is reprinted here with the permission of the copyright holder.
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