Childhood and Upbringing
Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi was born in Porbandar India, present-day Gujarat, on October second, 1869. His father was the prime minister of the region and his mother was a devout Hindu. It was a loving family and, as a child, Gandhi was given the endearing nickname ¨Moniya¨.
At the age of seven, he attended an all-boys primary school in Rajkot. Gandhi was not a remarkable student, he was always on par with, or slightly below his peers in academics. He was small, weak, and lacked athletic prowess, this left him very vulnerable to bullying. Even with the constant teasing, Gandhi never thought it right to raise a fist to his tormentors. Violence was never in his nature.
Religion played an important role in Gandhi’s upbringing. Because of his father’s religiously diverse friend group, he was exposed to a myriad of philosophies. From as early as Gandhi could remember, he watched Muslims, Jains, Parsis, and Hindus alike discuss the ways of the world in his living room. Jainism, in particular, was very prominent in the area where Gandhi was raised, this is significant because its values are similar to Gandhi’s eventual beliefs such as the cherishing of life and refusal to kill animals.
As was the custom, at thirteen Mohandas Gandhi was arranged to be married to Kasterbia Makhanji. When recounting his marriage to Kasturba, Gandhi expressed, “As we didn’t know much about marriage, for us it meant only wearing new clothes, eating sweets and playing with relatives.” two years after the wedding, Kasturba gave birth to their first child, but he died only a few days after his birth. Fortunately, by 1900 they were parents to four healthy sons. When they had first married, the couple was almost too timid to speak to each other, but soon Gandhi became jealous and controlling of his young wife. Kasturba wasn’t allowed to see her friends or go out unless given permission from him. However, she was not easily oppressed. They would argue for days without resolution.
During this time, Gandhi was also entering a teen rebellious phase. He ate meat, smoked, lied, and engaged in petty theft: activities that he would soon denounce. This didn’t last long though. He felt so much shame and regret when had stolen a few gold pieces from his father that he swore against lying altogether.
In the fall of 1888, when Gandhi was almost nineteen, he traveled to London to study law at University College London. Before he left, his mom made him vow against meat, women, alcohol, and tobacco. She gave him a necklace to remember his promise. When he arrived he was head set on becoming the picture of an English gentleman, he bought nice suits and watches. Immersed in college life and English culture, young Gandhi took part in dance and music lessons. Even with his assimilation into European Culture, he was still determined to maintain his mother’s values; even with the lack of understanding of vegetarians in London. When he heard about a local vegetarian’s society he was excited to join and quickly rose to the vice president position. His new group of like-minded friends encouraged him to delve deeper into the study of religion and read sacred texts such as the Gita and the Bhagavad. The more he read, the more his interest grew, and soon he was reading texts from many religions.
A heartbreaking surprise caused Gandhi to travel back home in 1891. He discovered that while he was building a life for himself and attending school in London, his mother had passed away. Gandhi had loved his mother very much and his family had avoided telling him for as long as they could. In the early pages of his biography, Gandhi remembers his mother and writes “The outstanding impression that my mother has left on my memory is saintliness.” She was one of his biggest inspirations. His mother’s death might have pushed him to become more religious because of how deeply religious she was.
Now that he was home in India, he went to Mumbai to try to get his footing as a lawyer. After all his attempts garnered no success he returned to Rajkot. Eventually, he was offered a contract from an Indian law firm, Dada Abdulla and CO. He was to spend a year working in Natal South Africa, which was a colony of England. Gandhi’s experiences in South Africa would change his life forever.
Road to Activism
While working in South Africa Gandhi was victim to the extreme racism that was endured by the black and Indian population there. He was turned away from hotels, asked to take his turban off in court, was constantly disrespected, and sometimes treated as if he was subhuman. It all hit him fully when he boarded a train to Pretoria in 1893. Gandhi had bought a first-class ticket and was, correspondingly, sitting in the first class compartment. A white man saw him and was immediately inraged. The man demanded that Gandhi move to the van compartment and when Gandhi, displaying his first-class ticket, repeatedly refused; the conductor threw Gandhi out of the train. He spent the entirety of that cold winter’s night shivering on an uncomfortable bench in the dark Pietermaritzburg train station. During that long night, he pledged to himself that he would stay in South Africa and devote his energy to rectifying the unjust, racist atmosphere there.
Gandhi was making arrangements to return to India after his one-year contract ended in Natal, South Africa. That all changed when he read there was a bill on its way to being passed by the Natal Legislative Assembly that prevented Indians from voting. None of his friends there with similar convictions had the legal experience to fight against it so he made the decision to stay and help. He
The first step Gandhi took was forming the Natal Indian Congress. This way he now had a stable organization to back his the cause. They protected the Indian community in Natal, not only politically, but also helped to enforce the moral treatment of Indians.