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STUDENTS' PROJECTS > GANDHI - A BIOGRAPHY FOR CHILDREN AND BEGINNERS > Chapter 03
Chapter 03
Gandhi started going to school in Porbandar. Later when the family moved to Rajkot, he joined the Alfred High School at Rajkot. He was conscientious, but not fond of studies. He was shy. He would hardly mix with other students in school, and the moment school was over, he would run back home. He was not fond of games but liked to go for long and brisk walks. He had the highest respect for his teachers, and never wanted to do anything that would give them pain.
Yet, there were occasions in school (and outside) when his innate loyalty to truth was put to test. Once when he was in the class, the Inspector of Schools visited his school. The English teacher was keen to prove that his students had been taught well. He gave the students a dictation test in the presence of the Inspector. Young Gandhi could not spell the world 'kettle' correctly. The teacher saw this. He tried to prompt Gandhi to look at what the student next to him had written and to correct himself. But Gandhi could not bring himself to do this. He could not believe that his teacher who should have been concerned with the truthfulness and character of his students was himself prompting him to cheat or engage in untruth.
On another occasion Gandhi had to experience the agony of being taken for a liar. Most students of his school used to go home after the end of regular classes and return for the period of gymnastics. Gandhi too used to do this. One day, by the time Gandhi arrived for gymnastics, the period was over, and boys had gone home. He was marked absent, and was hauled up before the Headmaster, Eduljee. Gandhi explained that he had been nursing his ailing father. Besides, the clouds too had misled him in judging the time. But the headmaster did not believe Gandhi, called him a liar, accused him of lying and imposed a fine. It was not the fine that hurt him, but the thought that he had been looked upon as a liar. That day, Gandhi learnt the lesson that those who wanted to be truthful, and taken as truthful, had to be vigilant and mindful of everything.
There were other experiences that taught Gandhi even more bitter lessons. He became friendly with a boy who had earlier been a friend of his elder brother. Gandhi had been warned against coming under the influence of this boy, Sheikh Mahtab. But he persisted in the belief that he would be able to reform Mahtab. But Mahtab's pleasant ways and persuasive tongue began to lead Gandhi astray in one field after another.
Gandhi's family was strictly vegetarian. But Mahtab convinced Gandhi that no one could be strong and muscular without eating meat, and the Indians would never be able to free themselves from the British unless they took to eating meat, which was the secret of the strength of the British. The argument appealed to Gandhi. Though hesitant, he agreed to try. So a day was chosen. A deserted place was located, and Gandhi shared a non-vegetarian meal with Mahtab. At night, however, Gandhi had strange dreams and nightmares. He felt he could hear the goat bleating from within his belly. In spite of this first experience which had made Gandhi restless, his companion persisted in tempting him, and Gandhi went along. But soon it became clear that the habit was expensive. Neither Gandhi nor his friend had any income of their own to have such special meals at special places. Moreover, it involved lying and deceiving his parents and other members of the family. Gandhi could not reconcile himself to a life of deceit. So he decided to give up the experiment and wait till he had his own income.
Mahtab introduced Gandhi to other habits. He began to smoke. Cigarettes were hard to come by. But once one is in the grip of a habit, one looks for ways of getting what one wants. So Gandhi too started picking up cigarette butts thrown away by his uncle and smoking them secretly. But this did not assure a steady supply. So Gandhi began to pilfer small coins from the bags of his servants. When this too became difficult or inadequate he felt frustrated. He was overcome by deep despair. Sheikh Mahtab shared his feelings, and they both decided that they would end their lives rather than live in agony and despair.
They had heard that Dhatura seeds could help them in their design. So they collected these seeds from the jungle and met at a temple to end their lives by consuming the seeds. Gandhi even swallowed two or three seeds. But then courage failed, and he decided that it was better to live and improve his condition rather than to end his life.
To raise some money, Gandhi and his elder brother made bold to clip off a tiny bit from his brother's golden bracelet. This was too much for Gandhi's conscience. He began to see where he was going and where he would reach if he did not turn back. He was not only living a life of untruth but also deceiving his father who had unquestioning faith in him. He could not continue to steal and cheat and deceive his father. He would choke if he did. There was only one way out. He had to confess to his father and regain a clear conscience. He decided to write out a confession, admit his guilt, assure his father that he would never repeat the crime and ask to be punished for what he had done. Gandhi's father was on his sick bed when Gandhi handed over the letter to him and sat near him waiting to be admonished, and perhaps punished. Karamchand sat up in bed, read the letter. Tears rolled down his cheeks, and he lay down. Gandhi too was in tears. He felt that his father's tears of forgiveness and faith had cleansed him. He learned a lesson that he never forgot. When one realises that one has committed a mistake, one should lose no time in accepting or confessing one's mistake, declaring one's firm resolve not to repeat such mistakes, relinquishing whatever one had gained, and cheerfully suffering any punishment that the mistake calls for. It is this lesson and Gandhi's faith in the power of confession that prompted Gandhi to make public confessions of his shortcomings and mistakes in later life.