Gandhi's Life, Part Two
Biography of M.K. Gandhi
PART TWOIntroduction Part One
Education in England
During the three-week voyage, Gandhi was too unsure of his English to speak to the other passengers and shunned the dining room because he did not know how to use a knife and fork. He survived on fruits and sweets he had brought with him from home.
When he finally arrived in London, some Indian friends took charge of him and found him a place to stay. But he was homesick, and at night he wept, not for his wife, but for his mother.
Since he had vowed he would not touch meat, he tried living on bread and spinach, but this diet did not satisfy him. When Indian friends advised him to eat meat as they did, he replied simply, "A vow is a vow. It cannot be broken." Instead, he set about hunting for a vegetarian restaurant, walking ten or twelve miles each day until he was finally hungry enough to enter the cheapest restaurant in sight and stuff himself on bread.
One day he finally found a vegetarian restaurant and enjoyed his first hearty meal since he had left home. "God had come to my aid," he wrote.
Freed from fear of starvation, young Gandhi next set about becoming an English dandy. He bought costly new clothes and spent ten minutes in front of a huge mirror each morning brushing back his thick black hair, though there was nothing he could do about his ears, which thrust out from the sides of his head like jug handles. For further refinement he arranged for dancing and elocution lessons, bought a violin, and hired a music teacher.
After about three months of this Gandhi decided that "If my character made a gentleman of me, so much the better. Otherwise I should forego the ambition." He cancelled his lessons, sold the violin, and got down to the serious business of studying law.
Gandhi was an earnest student, taking on more work than was required, and the more he studied, the more austere he became. He trimmed his expenses by walking ten miles to school each day to save carfare, moving into a cheaper room, and preparing his own breakfasts of oatmeal and cocoa and dinners of bread and cocoa. He continued to eat lunch in vegetarian restaurants.
All of his life, experiments with food were to be part of Gandhi's experiments with truth. While in England, where food is sometimes tasteless anyway, he decided he could do without condiments, for "the real seat of taste [is] not the tongue but the mind." He was an aggressive vegetarian and was elected to the executive committee of the local vegetarian society, which he founded. But he was so shy that he froze when he attempted to speak at meetings, and others had to read his speeches for him.
During Gandhi's second year in England, two English brothers asked him to study the Bhagavad Gita, a part of the sacred Hindu scriptures, with them. A long poem of some seven hundred stanzas, written several hundred years before Christ was born, the Gita is a dialogue between the Hindu god Krishna and Arjuna, a warrior about to go into battle.
Gandhi had never before studied the Gita, either in English, or in its original Sanskrit, or in Gujarati, his own dialect. It glorifies action, renunciation, and worldly detachment, and its message seared Gandhi's soul. He later called the Gita his "dictionary of conduct" and turned to it for "a ready solution of all my troubles and trials."
At about the same time he was searching through the Gita, a Christian friend persuaded Gandhi to read the Bible. The Old Testament set him dozing, but the New Testament, particularly Christ's Sermon on the Mount, evoked a spiritual recognition. "'"Whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also. And if any man take away thy coat let him have thy cloak too." The seeds of Gandhi's philosophy of renunciation and nonviolence were thus planted almost simultaneously by sacred Hindu and Christian texts.
Gandhi easily passed his law examinations, was called to the bar on June 10, 1891, enrolled to practice in the High Court on the 11th, and sailed for home on the 12th. He did not spend a day more in England than he had to.
On the choppy passage back to India, twenty-one-year-old Gandhi was sick with doubt. He had learned some laws, but he had not learned how to be a lawyer. Besides, the laws he had learned were English; he still knew nothing of the Hindu or Moslem law of his own country. The despair he felt was doubled when his brother met him at the dock with the news that his adored mother had died while he was away. Gandhi returned to his family at Rajkot. He quarreled with his wife and played with his son, but he was unable to earn money to support them. Friends advised him to go to Bombay to study Indian law, but when he finally got his first case there he was too shy to cross-examine the opposing witnesses. He returned the fee and told his client to find another lawyer.
Desperate, he tried to get a job teaching English in a high school, but he was rejected as unqualified. Defeated, he left Bombay and returned to Rajkot. Gandhi's brother, who was also a lawyer, routed enough paperwork to him to pay for his keep, but Gandhi hated the petty tasks, the local political intrigues, and the arrogance of the ruling British. Bitter and bewildered, he longed to escape from India. His opportunity unexpectedly came when a large Indian firm in Porbandar asked him to go to South Africa to assist in a long and complex legal case in the courts there. It would take about a year and he would be paid all his expenses plus a salary. Gandhi accepted with joy.
A second son had been born to Kasturbai since Gandhi's return from England almost two years earlier. Gandhi bade his growing family farewell and in April, 1893, not yet twenty-four years old, he set sail "to try my luck in South Africa." He found more than luck; he found himself, his philosophy, and his following.
END OF PART TWO Part Three
Introduction 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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