It was seen in the last chapter how we provided for the physical training on Tolstoy Farm, and incidentally for the vocational. Though this was hardly done in a way to satisfy me, it may be claimed to have been more or less successful.
Literary training, however, was a more difficult matter. I had
neither the resources nor the literary equipment necessary; and I
had not the time I would have wished to devote to the subject. The
physical work that I was doing used to leave me thoroughly exhausted
at the end of the day, and I used to have the classes just when I
was most in need of some rest. Instead, therefore, of my being fresh
for the class, I could with the greatest difficulty keep myself
awake. The mornings had to be devoted to work on the farm and
domestic duties, so the school hours had to be kept after the midday
meal. There was no other time suitable for the school.
We gave three periods at the most to literary training. Hindi,
Tamil, Gujarati and Urdu were all taught, and tuition was given
through the vernaculars of the boys. English was taught as well. It
was also necessary to acquaint the Gujarati Hindu children with a
little Samskrit, and to teach all the children elementary history,
geography and arithmetic.
I had undertaken to teach Tamil and Urdu.
The little Tamil I knew was acquired during voyages and in jail. I
had not got beyond Pope's excellent Tamil handbook. My knowledge of
the Urdu script was all that I had acquired on a single voyage, and
my knowledge of the language was confined to the familiar Persian
and Arabic words that I had learnt from contact with Musalman
friends. Of Samskrit I knew no more than I had learnt at the high
school, even my Gujarati was no better than that which one acquires
at the school.
Such was the capital with which I had to carry on. In poverty of
literary equipment my colleagues went one better than I. But my love
for the languages of my country, my confidence in my capacity as a
teacher, as also the ignorance of my pupils, and
more than that, their generosity, stood me in good stead.
The Tamil boys were all born in South Africa, and therefore knew
very little Tamil, and did not know the script at all. So I had to
teach them the script and the rudiments of grammar. That was easy
enough. My pupils knew that they could any day beat me in Tamil
conversation, and when Tamilians, not knowing English, came to see
me, they became my interpreters. I got along merrily, because I
never attempted to disguise my ignorance from my pupils. In all
respects I showed myself to them exactly as I really was. Therefore
in spite of my colossal ignorance of the language I never lost their
love and respect. It was comparatively easier to teach the Musalman
boys Urdu. They knew the script. I had simply to stimulate in them
an interest in reading and to improve their handwriting.
These youngsters were for the most part unlettered and unschooled.
But I found in the course of my work that I had very little to teach
them, beyond weaning them from their laziness, and supervising their
studies. As I was content with this, I could pull on with boys of
different ages and learning different subjects in one and the same
Of text-books, about which we hear so much, I never felt the want. I
do not even remember having made much use of the books that were
available. I did not find it at all necessary to load the boys with
quantities of books. I have always felt that the true text-book for
the pupil is his teacher. I remember very little that my teachers
taught me from books, but I have even now a clear recollection of
the things they taught me independently of books.
Children take in much more and with less labour through their ears
than through their eyes. I do not remember having read any book from
cover to cover with my boys. But I gave them, in my own language,
all that I had digested from my reading of various books, and I dare
say they are still carrying a recollection of it in their minds. It
was laborious for them to remember what they learnt from books, but
what I imparted to them by word of mouth, they could repeat with the
greatest ease. Reading was a task for them, but listening to me was
a pleasure, when I did not bore them by failure to make my subject
interesting. And from the questions that my talks prompted them to
put, I had a measure of their power of understanding.