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Monday, 23 March 2015

Mahatma Gandhi

EARLY LIFE AND BACKGROUND

Mohandas Gandhi was born on October 2, 1869 in Porbandar, a town  near Mumbai on India's North West coast. His mother gave birth to him in a dark, windowless ground-floor room of the Gandhi family residence.

Mohandas was the youngest son of Karamchand Gandhi (1822–1885), the dewan (chief minister) of Porbandar, the capital of a small principality under British suzerainty. Later his father became dewan of Rajkot, another princely state. Mohandas' father died before he could finish his schooling.

Gandhi's character was formed by the devout example and teaching of his pious mother, Putlibai, who was his father's fourth wife. A Hindu of the Vaishnava sect, Putlibai, was completely absorbed in her religion, did not care much for finery and jewellery, and divided her time between her home and the temple.

Mohandas' family were descendants of traders (the word "Gandhi" means grocer).

Mohandas had two brothers Laxmidas (c. 1860-March 1914) and Karsandas (c. 1866-1913) and a sister  Raliatbehn (b. 1862).

A shy and serious boy, Mohandas loved to go out on long solitary walks when he was not nursing his by now ailing father or helping his mother with her household chores.

Mohandas Gandhi in his earliest known photo, aged 7

The primary school that Mohandas attended at Pornander had few facilities. The children wrote the alphabet in the dust with their fingers.

When his father became dewan of Rajkot, Mohandas attended Alfred High School, which had better educational facilities. His record was on the whole mediocre, shining neither in the classroom nor on the playing field. He was not helped by getting married at the age of 13 and thus losing a year at school.

One of Mohandas' reports rated him as "good at English, fair in Arithmetic and weak in Geography; conduct very good, bad handwriting."

In 1887 Mohandas scraped through the matriculation examination of the University of Bombay and joined Samaldas College in Bhavnagar (Bhaunagar). Out of 38 students who had passed the high school entrance examination, Mohandas was one of only two students in his year to matriculate.

As he had suddenly to switch from his native language--Gujarati--to English, Mohandas found it rather difficult to follow the lectures. He did not stay there long, however, as his family felt he must become a barrister if he were to continue the family tradition of holding high office in Gujarat.

At the age of 18, Mohandas was sent to London to study law at the University College. Unhappy at Samaldas College, he leapt at the opportunity to study in England.

Though his birth name is Mohandas, Gandhi is generally known as Mahatma which means in Sanskrit 'Great Soul.'

LEGAL CAREER

Gandhi took his studies seriously at London's University College and tried to brush up on his English and Latin by taking the London University matriculation examination. His fellow students snubbed Gandhi because he was an Indian so he shut himself away and studied philosophy.

Gandhi was called to the bar in June 1891 and then left London for India, where he learned that his mother had died while he was in England and that his family had kept the news from him.

Gandhi tried  to establish a law practice in Mumbai, but had limited success. By this time, the legal profession was overcrowded in India, and Gandhi was not a dynamic figure in a courtroom.

Gandhi returned to Rajkot where he made a modest living drafting petitions for litigants but was forced to close down that business as well when he incurred the displeasure of a British officer. In his autobiography, he describes this incident as a kind of unsuccessful lobbying attempt on behalf of his older brother.

It was in this climate that Gandhi decided to accept in 1893 to accept a one year contract from an Indian businessman in Natal, South Africa, Dada Abdulla.

Soon after his arrival in South Africa Gandhi was unceremoniously thrown out of a first class train compartment while travelling to Pretoria for being a non-white person.  He was left shivering and brooding at Pietermaritzburg Station. This was Gandhi's first experience of racism and became a turning point in his life.

The railway station at Pietermaritzburg is named in his honor (Mahatma Gandhi Station).

Once in South Africa, Gandhi began to experience laws that said people with dark skin had fewer rights than people with light skin. Stirred by this, he started to represent Indians in civil-rights cases. He stayed in South Africa for 21 years working to secure rights for Indian people.

Gandhi began to change his thinking as he saw his own fellow Indians being treated as inferior being in the civil rights that he represented them. This increased his interest in politics and helped found the Natal Indian Congress in 1894, which moulded the Indian community of South Africa into a unified political force.

In time, Gandhi became a full-time resistance lawyer, adopting the word "Satyagraha" in place of "Passive Resistance" to describe his non violent civil disobedience.

In 1899, during the Boer War, Gandhi commanded an Indian Ambulance corps, where he helped in organizing the transport of wounded soldiers on stretchers.. He was decorated by the British for medical work in the Anglo-Boer conflict.

In 1903, Gandhi was enrolled as Attorney of Supreme Court of Transvaal. He was the first non-white lawyer in South Africa to be admitted to a supreme court.

In 1906 Gandhi initiated a policy of passive resistance to the Transvaal ordinance requiring registration of Asiatics. Gandhi and 2000 of his fellow Indians went on a peaceful march across the forbidden to Indians border with Transvaal. Their willingness to stoop to concur and restraint under pressure influenced public opinion and a commission reported in favor of repealing Anti Indian laws.

Gandhi was arrested on November 6, 1913 while leading a march of Indian miners in South Africa.

INDIAN INDEPENDENCE

In 1915 Gandhi returned from South Africa to his country of origin, India, a hero, and begun the struggle for Indian independence by non-violent co-operation.

The national English game of football was influential on his thinking. "It was an English Footballer who converted me to independence" was Gandhi's revelation. He was referring to CF Andrews the notable Cambridge athlete and don.

Initially on returning to India Gandhi was instrumental in forming an ambulance corps of Indian students to serve in France during World War 1.

The 1919 Amritsar massacre when the British Troops opened fire on a crowd of protesting Indians killing 379, was instrumental in Gandhi pursuing his policy of active non co-operation with the British.

Gandhi took over Congress Party in 1920, making it Synonymous with the freedom movement. He was elected President of the National Congress Party five years later.

Gandhi's civil disobedience campaign enjoyed widespread appeal and success in India durine early 1920s. However,  it ended abruptly as a result of a violent clash in the town of Chauri Chaura, Uttar Pradesh, in February 1922. Fearing that the movement was about to take a turn towards violence, and convinced that this would be the undoing of all his work, Gandhi called off the campaign of "Non-cooperation  Gandhi was arrested on March 10, 1922, tried for sedition, and sentenced to six years' imprisonment.

Gandhi began his six year prison sentence for civil disobedience on March 18, 1922.  He was released in February 1924 for an appendicitis operation, having served only two years. Gandhi spent a total of 2,338 days in British jails.

Gandhi on the 1930 Salt March

Gandhi resigned from the Congress party membership in 1934. He said that he was no longer able to work through the Congress to unite the divisions in caste and religion. He also wanted to avoid being a target for Raj propaganda by leading a party that had temporarily accepted political accommodation with the Raj.

When Gandhi called on Mussolini in 1931, complete with the goat that he took around with him all the time, the Italian leader's children laughed at the strange Indian politician. However, their father said: "That man and his goat are shaking the British Empire."

In 1947, British Indian Empire became independent, and was divided into two different countries, India and Pakistan. Gandhi wanted independence, but did not want the split into two. Instead of celebrating on independence day, he mourned the division of India.

RELATIONSHIPS

At the age of 13 Gandhi married the illiterate Kasturbai Makharji, known affectionately as Ba, who was slightly older than him.   The wedding was arranged according to custom by his parents.

Their marriage lasted 62 years until Kasturbai died in prison in 1944. She worked alongside her husband.

When Gandhi left for London in 1888, Kasturbai did not accompany him: she was already a mother, since Harilal had been born earlier that year. Manilal was born to them in 1892; Two other children were born in South Africa, Ramdas in 1897, and Devadas, the last of their four sons, was born in 1900.

Gandhi gave up sexual intercourse at the age of 36, becoming totally celibate while still married. This decision was deeply influenced by the Hindu idea of brahmacharya—spiritual and practical purity—largely associated with celibacy. He announced this to his wife, rather than discussing it with her.

He tested his vow of chastity by living among and later sleeping naked with some of his women associates.

Gandhi used to write letters to Russian writer Leo Tolstoy, with whom he was a good friend. He even named his ashram in his honour - Tolstoy Farm.

Gandhi once wrote a letter to his "dear friend" urging him not to go to war. This friend was Hitler.

PERSONAL LIFE

A frail and puny body, Gandhi was barely 5ft tall. He weighed scarcely more than eight stone, with skinny arms and legs, an oversized nose and ears flaring straight out of his shaved head.


In his student days in  London, Gandhi tried to become an English Gentleman spending pounds on western clothes then grooming himself, devoting hours to practising the arranging of his tie and hair. However it was just a temporary fad.

When he returned to India from South Africa, Gandhi gave up wearing Western-style clothing, which he associated with wealth and success. He dressed to be accepted by the poorest person in India.

Even when he became an internationally renowned statesman, Gandhi continued to wear the simple clothes of the poor, sometimes just a giant loose loincloth, to which he added a cotton shawl. Both were made of coarse material he had spun at his own wheel.


After meeting King George V at Buckingham Palace, Gandhi was asked if he felt under-dressed in his dhoti and shawl. Gandhi simply replied, “The King had on enough for both of us.”

When he is feeling ostentatious he wore sandals, though Gandhi generally went barefoot.

Gandhi wore steel rimmed spectacles, which kept slipping from his over-sized nose and an Ingersoll pocket watch which he wears on a string.

Gandhi lived an austere lifestyle. He found that the process of spending less money and acquiring fewer possessions simplified his life and gave him inner peace. In time he winnowed his material possessions down to eyeglasses, a watch, sandals, a book of songs and a bowl.

Even when an international figure Gandhi continued to travel on foot or if not possible use the cheapest  class of railway travel.

When Gandhi went to London for the 1931 Round Table conference on the future of Indo-British relations, he stayed in  a room on the top floor at a social center run by the Kingsley Hall chapel at Bow. His milk-producing goat was tethered on the flat roof.

Gandhi temporarily lost one of his most prized possessions on May 25, 1947 when a thief took the five shilling watch which for 25 years had dangled from his loincloth. The thief is believed to have mingled with crowds which mobbed the leader of the Indian independence movement at Kanpur railway station on his way to Delhi. The thief felt remorse and returned it six months later.

FOOD AND DRINK

When Gandhi was sent to London to study law, he initially vowed to his mother that he would observe vegetarianism. At first he struggled, his friends warning him that it would wreck his studies as well as his health. Fortunately for the young Hindu, he came across a vegetarian restaurant and he was able to feed himself amply rather than nearly starving himself.

The vegetarian Gandhi would not even pluck fruit from a tree as he felt this was too violent a gesture. He relied on gathering fruit once it had fallen to the ground.

At one time Gandhi reduced his daily food to four ingredients, wheat, vegetables, a little oil and fruit but be became very ill. So he added to his diet goats milk and salt.

A typical meal consisted of two segments of grapefruit, some goat’s curds and lemon soup.

A teetotaller, Gandhi had a nightly enema (a fluid injected into the rectum) before going to bed just after 9.00.

Gandhi only wore dentures when eating. He ate with a spoon that had been broken off and repaired with a piece of bamboo lashed to it with string.

Gandhi started a "fast unto death" on behalf of the Untouchables in 1932. The Hindu and Untouchable leaders gathered round his bed and arranged a compromise.

BELIEFS

Gandhi established a commune near Johannesburg in the 1910s, based on Tolstoy's ideas, a farm of 1,100 acres where he pitched in with the manual work along with everyone else.

Gandhi, whose character was much influenced by his devout Jainist mother, once declared,  “I consider myself a Hindu, Christian, Muslim, Jew, Buddhist and Confucian.”

Gandhi followed a strict regime and no one, not the king of the British Empire nor his closest friends could alter it. He would arise at 2.00 am to read from the Hindu or Christian scriptures and say prayers, spend the next quiet hours answering correspondence before embarking on his ritual ablutions.

He criticized the missionaries in India for attempting to convert the Hindus to the Christian faith. Instead, he said they should concentrate on making the Hindus better Hindus and the Christians better Christians.

Gandhi revived the Hindu cult of Rama worship, Rama being the embodiment of chivalry and virtue and reason. He hope was that its symbolism would awaken the Indian national spirit.

HEALTH,  DEATH AND LEGACY

At noon Gandhi habitually undertook a health regime, placing a porous cotton sack packed with oozing mud moistened with cold water on his abdomen and forehead. He once cured a long-standing constipation complaint by this means.

Gandhi believed in having a lot of sleep and had the knack of being able to nap whenever and wherever he liked.

On January 30, 1948. Gandhi was walking through a garden to a pergola on his way onto a prayer meeting at the Birla House Gardens, New Delhi. He was shot by a Hindu nationalist fanatic, Nathuram Godse at 5.13 pm. Godse felt that Gandhi was too lenient towards Muslims.

Gandhi was carried back to his couch in Biria House, where he was given a cup of milk which he couldn't drink. His famous last words were, "He Ram!" (O God!). He died 40 minutes later., the same day as Orville Wright,


Gandhi was cremated in Raj Ghat, Delhi, his ashes kept in a bank vault. After his death India went into mourning for 13 days.

The National Gandhi Museum (see below) showcasing the life and principles of Mahatma Gandhi first opened in Mumbai, shortly after Gandhi was assassinated in 1948. The museum relocated several times before moving for a final time to Rajghat, New Delhi next to the Samadhi of Mahatma Gandhi.


2-3 million Indians were present when Gandhi's Son placed his ashes in the sacred waters of the Ganges and Jumna Rivers 49 years later.

His peaceful non cooperation with British authorities was the forerunner of all our modern sit down protests. Gandhi's principle of satyagraha has inspired other democratic and anti-racist activists like Martin Luther King, Jr. and Nelson Mandela.

Gandhi was nominated for the Nobel Prize on five occasions, but never won it.

Time magazine named Gandhi the Man of the Year in 1930.


The birthday of Gandhi is celebrated on October 2nd. There are celebrations all over India on that day for the "father of the nation."

The most extras assembled for a single scene in a movie was the 300,000, for the two-minute funeral scene in Richard Attenborough's Gandhi biopic

Sources  Encyclopedia of Britannica, Encarta Encyclopedia, Food For Thought, Soul Survivor

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