Often I find this kind of information being available as regards Gandhijias a student – “...Gandhi remained a mediocre student. He shone neither in the classroom nor on the playing field. One of the terminal reports rated him as ‘good at English, fair in Arithmetic and weak in Geography;’ ….”. These suggest that Gandhiji was not a good student but was rather a poor one.
I wish to examine this objectively.
I have a feel this statement comes from people who just copy
from his autobiography (The Story of My Experiments with
Truth) without much analysis. Gandhiji has written there:
“….My own recollection is that I had not any high regard for my
ability. I used to be astonished whenever I won prizes and
“…..Two more reminiscences of my school days are worth
recording. I had lost one year because of my marriage, and the
teacher wanted me to make good the loss by skipping a class a
privilege usually allowed to industrious boys. I therefore
had only six months in the third standard and was prompted to
the forth after the examinations which are followed by the
summer vacation. English became the medium of instruction in
most subjects from the fourth standard. I found myself
completely at sea. Geometry was a new subject in which I was not
particularly strong, and the English medium made it still more
difficult for me. The teacher taught the subject very well, but
I could not follow him. Often I would lose heart and think of
going back to the third standard, feeling that the packing of
two years' studies into a single year was too ambitious. But
this would discredit not only me, but also the teacher; because,
counting on my industry, he had recommended my promotion. So the
fear of the double discredit kept me at my post. When however,
with much effort I reached the thirteenth proposition of Euclid,
the utter simplicity of the subject was suddenly revealed to
me. A subject which only required a pure and simple use of
one's reasoning powers could not be difficult. Ever since that
time geometry has been both easy and interesting for me…..”
The interpreters have got the message from this that Gandhiji
was perhaps not a good student… he was not able or competent….
he used to have difficulties in understanding certain subjects… etc.
What they do not understand is that Gandhiji has written “My
own recollection is that I had not any high regard for my
ability” because of his divine humility and because of his
high standards of judging things for himself. Actually if one
tried to read between the lines – one could find out more:
… whenever I won prizes and scholarships…. – it
implies there were occasions when Gandhiji won prizes and
……a privilege usually allowed to industrious boys..…
– here we have to understand that the teacher judged him
industrious, only then he would have cleared him for a promotion
(skipping a class). One also has to judge that Gandhi was able
to endure this skipping and not only did he pass matriculation,
he became a Barrister – studied in England which would have been
so rare during those days - period of 1880s. That time a very
small percentage of Indians went to school and even a smaller
number passed matriculation and only few of them went for
further studies that too in England.
……the utter simplicity of the subject was suddenly
revealed to me….. – Gandhiji has suggested that he found
Geometry simple, only if understood the concepts well, he would
have found it simple. If he found Geometry simple he cannot be a
mediocre or a dull student at all.
……It is now my opinion that in all Indian curricula of
higher education there should be a place for Hindi, Sanskrit,
Persian, Arabic and English, besides of course the vernacular.....
– Gandhiji seems to have gone through a tough curriculum of
education… he studied these 4 languages at school and would know
Gujarati also well which was his mother tongue. It is not so
easy studying and knowing 5 languages… certainly not for a
mediocre student. Actually Gandhiji knew more languages than
these 5 – he had studied some Indian languages simply to be able
to read some articles and books he wished to read.
Actually Gandhiji wrote beautiful English, one can find that out
by reading his English writings. Those writings reflect the
sharp but saintly intellect of the person writing them.
While judging some other personalities like Abraham Lincoln,
George Washington, Churchill, Tolstoy, nobody cares how good
they were in their school studies. Why should this benchmark be
set for Gandhiji? Do we expect him to be some Physicist or
Mathematician etc. in addition to being what he was (so that we
would say – yes he was a good student)? When we talk of Bill
Gates (the founder of Microsoft Corporation) as being a college
drop-out we are excited, we take this to be something heroic and
we do quote this with the spirit that he might be poor at
studies… do we?