Birth and Parents
Gandhi was born on October 2, 1869, at Porbandar.
Mohandas or Mohan was youngest of the three sons of Putlibai and
Karamchand Gandhi. The latter had been Prime Minister successively in
three Kathiawar States. He was straight and true as steel, known for his
steadfastness and loyalty. The little house were Gandhi was born is
today the "Kirti Mandir".
was a traditional Indian woman, devoted to her home and family, deeply
religious and austere. These qualities left a deep impression on young
Gandhi. Another powerful influence of Gandhi’s early life was seeing
King Harishchandra, in the play, suffer for, but finally triumph in, his
adherence to Truth. The boy Gandhi aspired to do no less.
At school, first the primary at Porbandar, and later
the Albert High School, Rajkot, Gandhi showed no particular brilliance,
played no games, avoided company. He read little beyond text books, but
respected his teacher, though, even at his biding, he would not copy
from his neighbour’s answers.
Kasturba and Laxmidas
Marriage with Kasturba, at the age of thirteen, was
almost play. But Gandhi began as a jealous and possessive husband; he
wanted to make his illiterate wife an ideal one. The other person he was
much attached to was his eldest brother Laxmidas. When their father was
no more, it was Laxmidas who helped to educate him and sent him to
England for legal studies.
Putlibai let Gandhi go abroad only after he vowed to
lead a chaste and simple life. For a while Gandhi was tempted to ape
English dress and manners. But soon he returned to simplicity. A
vegetarian by tradition he soon became one by conviction, joining and
working actively for the London Vegetarian Society. He was called to the
Bar in June 1891.
The challenge in South Africa
In 1893, Gandhi went to South Africa to handle a case.
But though his legal work was soon over, he remained there for 21
years, fighting for Indian rights and defending indentured labour in low
courts against discrimination. In this he was assisted by European
staff and associates like Polak and Kallenbach.
In founding and running his Ashram settlement at
Phoenix and Tolstoy farm, Gandhi was much influenced by Tolstoy and
Ruskin towards leading a simple community life. The third of "the
moderns" who impressed Gandhi was Raj Chandra, the Jain philosopher and
Service in hour of need
Gandhi combined his opposition to wrong with the
compassion for the wrong-doer. During the Boer war and the Zulu
rebellion he helped the Government at the hour of its need, by raising
Indian Ambulance and Stretcher-bearer Corps which served close to the
line of fire. Gandhi was awarded medals for this service.
The Indian struggle
The Natal India congress founded by Gandhi in 1894, on
lines similar to the Indian National Congress, and later the British
Indian committee in the Transvaal fought against restriction on Indian
trade, movement and residence. During the campaign against the ‘Black’
Registration Act, Gandhi lit a grand bonfire of thousands of the
The Tolstoy Farm
The Passive Resistance Struggle was to be
long-drawn-out. Thousands of satyagrahis suffered imprisonment, loss of
property, trade. Tolstoy farm was built by Gandhi on land donated by
Kallenbach, as a colony for housing satyagrahis families. They did
farming, grew fruit, followed simple crafts and conducted school — all
noble experiments in community living.
The Great March: - Gokhale visited south Africa in
1892, and studied the Indian problems first-hand. He met government
leaders and securing promise of relief counselled Indian moderation. But
government failure to abolish the 5 poll-tax drove them to despair. In
November 1913, Gandhi led the ‘Great March’ from Natal into the
Transvaal, defying law.
After Gandhi, Polak and Kallenbach were arrested and
jailed. Woman too courted imprisonment. Later the government released
them and set up the Solomon commission of inquiry. C. F. Andrews and
Person visited South Africa and interceded with the Government. Gandhi
attend the unveiling of a memorial for Martyrs like Nagappan and
The Mahatma Leaves
The Indian relief passed, Gandhi decided to return to
India. After receiving farewell tributes, the Mahatma left South Africa
in July 1914. When in England, enroute home, the great war broke out.
Gandhi helped to raise an Indian Volunteer Corps. In December, Gandhi
and Kasturba sailed for India.