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The Gandhi Family
"To the north of Bombay lies Porbandar, which is one of the states of Kathiawar. The capital of that state is a port and town of the same name. Many, many years ago, when your grandfather was very young, younger even than you are, there lived in Porbandar a man called Karamchand Gandhi. He was a bania by caste. Most banias are traders and not well-educated but all the members of his family were well-read and, for three generations, they had held the posts of Ministers7 in different states of Kathiawar.
Karamchand was an honest, brave and large-hearted man. He was widely respected and his word was law unto the people. But he was rather hot-tempered, and the people were therefore afraid of him. He always spoke the truth, and wielded great power. He used to settle disputes even amongst the various rulers of Kathiawar.
Karamchand lived in Porbandar for a number of years. Then he took up office at Rajkot, one of the smaller Kathiawar states. There were no railway trains then, and the slow bullock-cart used to take five days to cover the distance between Porbandar and Rajkot. The ruler of Rajkot, popularly known as the Thakore Saheb, held Karamchand in high esteem, and, within a few years, he appointed him Dewan8 of his state.
Karamchand was very unlucky in his family life. He had married thrice, and each time his wife had died, without bearing him any children. At the age of forty he was married for the fourth time to one Putlibai, and this union was blessed with one daughter and three sons.
Both Karamchand and Putlibai were deeply religious and very truthful. They would visit the local temple, every day, and offer worship, according to custom. But Putlibai was more religious than her husband. She would go daily to the temple for worship, and she would keep all the fasts prescribed by Hindu custom. Even when she fell ill, she would not give up her fasts.
Putlibai was not only deeply religious, she was also very clever and wise. She was greatly respected by the Ranis9 of the Rajkot Palace, and the Queen Mother never did anything without consulting her. Between Putlibai's eldest child and her youngest, there was a difference of only six years. The youngest was born in 1869, that is, about eighty years ago. He was nothing much to look at, but somehow he was the favourite of the entire family, and Karamchand, Putlibai and the other three children were very fond of him. The three elder children would rush into the room again and again to see their little brother and the little child would suck his tiny thumb and gaze at them with wide open eyes.
The father chose an auspicious day and named the infant, Mohandas. According to the practice in Kathiawar, the father's name, and the family name, were also added to the child's own name. And so he came to be known as Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi.
When Mohandas was five years old, he was sent to school. He would usually manage to learn his other lessons but he just could not remember the multiplication tables. Try as he might, he forgot them almost as soon as he learnt them.
Mohandas was about seven years old, when his father had to leave Porbandar for Rajkot. The children were sad to leave their oldhome, but within a few days they had already forgotten the old place and were happily settled in their new place. Putlibai was a little old fashioned. She took care to avoid the touch of people belonging to the lower castes. She was constantly telling Mohandas that he should immediately have a bath and change his clothes. Okha, the sweeper's son used to come to the house for cleaning it up, and it' ever, by mistake, Mohandas touched him, his mother would at once send him down to have a bath. Mohandas would carry out his mother's wishes and wash himself, but he could never understand why Okha should belong to a lower caste or be looked upon as an untouchable. He soon began to wish that he could become an untouchable himself and show to the world that the meanest untouchable was in no way inferior to a high-caste Brahmin10.
In most things Mohandas was like any other child, but he was different in one respect, he would always tell the truth, no matter how much he might have to suffer for doing so. Once at School he was doing a test in English. An Englishman had come to inspect the school, and Mohandas was not able to spell a particular word correctly. The teacher tried to suggest by certain signs and gestures that he should look into his neighbours slate and copy out that word. When Mohandas did not take the hint, the teacher pressed the young boy's foot with his shoe so violently that the poor boy, was pale with pain. It just would not cross Mohandas's mind that the teacher, was asking him to look into his neighbour's slate and copy.
"But mother," asked Hari, "he must have been a funny teacher to encourage the boys to cheat. If our teacher caught us copying, he would at once turn us out of the class and give us a black mark."
"You are right, my son. But what is most remarkable is the honesty shown by Mohandas. He just would not cheat."
8. Prime Minister of a Princely State.
10. A member of the Hindu priestly class