M. K. Gandhi: Indian Patriot in South Africa/Chapter 6

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CHAPTER VI

EARLY DAYS

The home in Porbandar is a vision of afterthoughts. Some one long ago purchased the ground adjoining two temples, and then built the house on to them. You reach it now through a lane opening into the main street. The two temples, one to Krishna, the other to Rama, keep guard on either side. Then comes the open court, then a raised verandah, and finally the house itself. What it was originally no one can tell. Alterations were made by every generation. New families added to the ancestral home, and as expansion was impossible, storey was built on storey, until, when the fourth was reached, it was found that the weight of stone would mean disaster, so the last storey was built of wood. A rambling, old, weather-beaten, shot-riddled house, sacred to the afterthoughts of a long line of Gandhis.

It was here that Mohandas was born, on the 2nd of October, 1869, the youngest of the three children. On the sixth day, according to Hindu custom, a great feast was held under the auspices of Vidhata, God of Fortune, and the child's name was given. The name chosen was "Mohandas."

As usual, the family astrologer was more or less responsible for this. He had consulted the signs of the Zodiac, made a reckoning with the stars, and presented to the parents the fortunate letters out of which a name might be made. The letters permitted the name of "Mohandas," so this was added to the father's name of "Karamchand," crowned with the family name of "Gandhi," and the boy, in this way, was set up for life. Until he was seven years old, he attended an elementary school in Porbandar, studying some religious book with a private teacher. Then, owing to the migration of the family to Rajkot, he was transferred to a public school. From this time, although Porbandar continued to be the family home, it was seldom visited. Rajkot was five days distant by ox-waggon, or one hundred and twenty miles away, and only on special holidays, weddings, or feasts was a return possible.

Although Rajkot is not so picturesqueiy situated as is Porbandar, it was probably more pleasant to the eye. Certainly, as an educational centre, it was preferable. It stands on the bank of the Aji River, and at that time was partly surrounded by a wall: this has since been pulled down, and avenues of trees have been planted instead, so that to-day it is one of the pleasantest spots in the the Province of Gujarat.

Rajkot is divided into two parts, representing the old and the new, the East and the West. The old part is ruled by the Thakore of Rajkot, and those born there are simply under British protection. The new town or "station" is subject to the Governor of Bombay, and is essentially British. Even the Customs' regulations and the Civil Courts are as distinct as though they belonged to different countries. Old Rajkot is not so rich in buildings as is Porbandar. The white glossy plaster and white stones are missing. The houses are poor, the roofs peaked and tiled. There is more of the squalor of the Orient about it. But the "station" is beautiful. In those days, it was just emerging from obscurity, but trees were being planted, gardens beginning to show their flowers, while rich bungalows were springing into view. Notable among the buildings which then challenged attention, was the Rajkumar College, with its splendid European appurtenances, where Prince Ranjitsinhji was already pursuing a course of study. Beyond the "station," almost as far as the eye could see, green fields spread out, dotted with villages and cattle, or giving promise of harvest. It was essentially a pastoral country.

The Gandhi's second home was in old Rajkot, close to the palace. At first they were merely guests in the town, but when Karamchand accepted the position of Dewan Sahib to the Thakore, a house was built by him, and they became settled citizens. These were school-days for Mohandas. First of all he attended the Vernacular School, and continued there until his tenth year. Then he was transferred to the Kathiawar High School, whose head-master was a Parsi graduate, where he remained until he matriculated at Ahmadabad at the age of seventeen.

"Did you ever hear of Christians and Christian doctrines in those days?" I asked him. "Not at all in Porbandar," he said, "there were no Christians there, in my time. But in Rajkot rumours of Christianity found their way into the school, and so into the home. But they were vague, and by no means attractive. The Presbyterians had a Mission in Rajkot, and at one time our school was deeply stirred by the authentic report that a well-known Hindu had become a Christian. The idea among us of what becoming a Christian meant, was not complimentary to Christianity. The school boys held the firm conviction that conversion meant eating meat and drinking wine."

"Had they no idea of the doctrines taught?" "None whatever. These acts, which are both abhorrent to Hindus, were for them the symbols of Christianity; beyond this, they knew nothing. Sometimes, on our way to school, we could see a crowd near the school gate, catch a glimpse of Mr. Scott preaching, or hear his voice in the distance; occasionally we heard rumour of his ill-treatment by the people, but I, at least, never went near him then. Later, I got to know him and to admire him."

At this time, all the religious teaching was received in the home, and there the dharma had not decayed.