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STUDENTS' PROJECTS > GANDHI - A BIOGRAPHY FOR CHILDREN AND BEGINNERS > Chapter 02
Gandhi was born in Porbandar, on the 2nd of October 1869. Porbandar is one of the many princely States in Kathiawad (Saurashtra) which is now in the state of Gujarat. Gandhi's father belonged to a family that was well known and highly respected in Porbandar as well as in neighbouring states like Rajkot and Junagarh. The family was not known for its wealth or scholarship. But two of the members of the family had occupied the high position of "Dewan" or Chief Minister of the state of Porbandar. They had earned a high reputation for their honesty and wisdom, and their knowledge of the arts of administration and the affairs of the court of the Ruler. They were also known for their loyalty as well as their tact in handling citizens and situations. They were men of culture and high principles in public and private life.
These principles sometimes got them into trouble with the Ruler or highly placed members of the royal family and court. But they conducted themselves with such exemplary courage and rectitude that their views and acts were vindicated, and the reputation of their rectitude spread to other parts of Saurashtra.
Gandhi's grandfather, Uttamchand Gandhi was an able administrator. But he ran into trouble with the Queen-mother-Regent because he refused to do what her maids asked of him. The Regent then dispatched the army and got Uttamchand's house shelled. But Uttamchand did not budge. He preferred to leave her service and move to Junagarh. There he had the audacity to salute the Nawab with his left hand.
He was asked to explain why he had shown such disrespect to the Nawab. He explained that his right hand had been pledged to Porbandar. The Nawab was pleased to see such loyalty, and tried to get Uttamchand reinstated as Diwan of Porbandar when the Queen-rnother passed away, and the successor ascended the throne. But Uttamchand declined, and his son Karamchand was appointed Diwan at the young age of 24.
Karamchand too was a man of high principles and courage. He too incurred the displeasure of the Ruler of Porbandar, and moved to Rajkot. He was appointed Diwan in Rajkot. There, he could not bear the contemptuous manner in which the British Political Agent talked of the Ruler. He protested, and the British officer retaliated by ordering his arrest and detention. But Karamchand refused to relent or apologize, and the Political Agent had to retract and release Karamchand Gandhi.
Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi, who later came to be known as Mahatma Gandhi, was born as the son of this Karamchand Gandhi and his wife, Putlibai. Putlibai also came from the trading community. She had not received much education. But she was very knowledgeable about social affairs and matters of court, and could participate intelligently in the talks and discussions that took place among the ladies of the Royal Court. She was a devout Hindu, and used to visit the Haveli or temple regularly. Gandhi used to accompany her to the temple, although, he admitted, he was not attracted by the pomp and show and the goings on in the temple. But what left a lasting mark on Gandhi's mind was the genuine piety of his mother, her profound faith in God, and her unswerving determination to take and adhere to even the hardest of vows in the pursuit of her religious beliefs. To cite an instance, in the rainy season, she would vow not to take her meals till she saw the sun, and would often have to go without food because the sun disappeared behind clouds by the time her children who had spotted the fugitive shouted to her, and she came out to see the sun herself.
Both Karamchand Gandhi and Putlibai were deeply religious although they were not scholars. They were Hindus, perhaps orthodox in many respects. But sadhus and religious men of many faiths (Hindu, Jain, Muslim and Parsi) visited their house and engaged in religious discussions. All the members of the family and the children including young Mohandas listened to these discussions with deep interest and reverence. These discussions and the atmosphere of piety in the house must have sown the seeds of faith and tolerance in the mind of young Mohandas. In later years, they became the foundation of Gandhi's firm belief that all religions deserved equal respect.
There were also days on which the family listened to readings from the great Hindu devotional classics like the Bhagavata and the Ramayana. Mohandas came under the spell of the devotion and dedication to God that throbbed in these verses. He learned to look upon Tulsidas's rendering of the Ramayana as the most moving devotional classic in Hinduism, — perhaps in any religion.
Around this time, Gandhi chanced to see a copy of the Shravana Pitribhakti Nataka on his father's table. Though he was not given to reading books, this book attracted him. He read it with great interest, and the picture of Shravana carrying both his blind parents on his shoulders imprinted itself on young Gandhi's mind. The thought arose in him that he should be as loyal to his parents as Shravana was, and should serve them with as much dedication and self- surrender as Shravana. The visit of a travelling troupe that exhibited pictures from Shravana's life intensified this desire to serve his parents with devotion and joy.
Another portrayal that created a lasting impression on Gandhi's mind was that of Raja Harishchandra who had dedicated his life to truth. The ordeals through which the king had to pass and the agony, sacrifices and suffering that he had to undergo to stick to Truth melted Gandhi's heart.
He could not banish the picture of Harishchandra from his mind.
Gandhi had always felt a great fascination for Truth. The story of Harishchandra reinforced this attraction and the determination to cling to Truth at any cost.