We know him variously as Bapu, the Mahatma, or the Father of the Nation: Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi needs no introduction. The story of his life has been transformed into the stuff of legend. In fact, so well-known is his unquestionable role in helping India achieve Independence that there is a clear cut narrative in place which can be recited at any moment by any proud Indian.
This post then is not to going to offer any introduction to the great soul. He doesn’t need any. What it merely seeks to do is to list down some lesser known facts about the great man’s life in the hope that we remember him and his teachings better.
- Gandhiji came from the Hindu Modh community and his father Karamchand was, for some time, the chief minister (Diwan) of a small princely in colonial India — Porbandar, Gujrat.
- While it is known that his birthday is celebrated in India on October 2nd every year as Gandhi Jayanti, it is lesser known that the same date is annually marked globally as the International Day of Non-Violence
- When Russian writer Leo Tolstoy wrote in 1908, A Letter to a Hindu, Gandhiji was so impressed that he wrote to Tolstoy seeking to translate the same into his native tongue Gujarati. The men corresponded throughout their lives. Gandhiji even named as Tolstoy Farm the place where Gandhi along with Herman Kallenbach trained pupils through novel methods.
- He went to study law at the prestigious University College London. He studied Indian law and jurisprudence and was trained to be a barrister at the Inner Temple.
- Gandhiji’s philosophy did not just suddenly evolve when countering colonial rule in India. His past life, especially his days as a student in London, had a dramatic impact in shaping his ideology. This was most true for shaping his vegetarianism as a means not just of self-purification but as a political weapon. In this, he was influenced by the writings of Henry Salt. He even joined and was elected into the Vegetarian Society in his London days.
- There has never been a more ardent activist of peace, yet though nominated several times he was never awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.
- Gandhiji, as was the custom of the day, was married at the age of 13 to a 14-year-old Kasturba Makhanji, in an arranged child marriage.
- Indian classical narratives such as the story of Shravana Kumar and the truth teller Harishchandra had a tremendous impact on the Mahatma’s childhood leading him to identify himself as a champion of truth. Not for nothing is his autobiography labeled My Experiments with Truth.
- The first time that Gandhiji put to use his philosophy of satyagraha was in 1906. When the South African Transvaal government formulated a new racist Act forcing the Indian population to register itself, he urged Indians to defy the law and suffer punishment for doing so. His ideas most probably took shape and evolved during this struggle.
- He was heavily influenced by the message in the Bhagwad Gita, that the means are the end. It is for this that he once famously said that “my life is my message.”
There is thus so much one can learn from the message that is his life that it is difficult to put the same into words. If we take all that is the best of him and incorporate his teachings into our life, we would surely go far!