October 2 is the birth anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi. As a child he was fond of cricket and was not very good in studies.

A warrior of truth, a priest of ahimsa was Mahatma Gandhi, the Father of our Nation. This towering giant of our freedom struggle was a model of simplicity — he permitted himself apart from the bare minimum of clothing only two personal accessories — his danda (stick) and chashma’ (spectacles). Yet he bestowed on every Indian citizen after 1947 his most prized possession — political liberty and social equality.

Gandhi’s remarkable life and actions stem from a strong moral character, missionary zeal and undying love and faith in all sections of India’s various races and religions. This provided him with the necessary fuel to keep his engine of non-violent revolution moving at a quick pace.

A look at the childhood of this great man reveals many interesting facts of his character. Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi was born on October 2, 1869, the youngest child of Karamchand Gandhi and Putlibai. Physically he bore an alarming resemblance to Sarojini Naidu’s description of him as the endearing Mickey Mouse of Walt Disney fame. He had big dark eyes, a thick nose, jug ears and a big head poised on a thin stalk-like neck. However, like the fairy-tale ugly duckling, Mohandas grew up to be the most loved person our country has ever produced!

As a child, Mohandas was close to his mother. His mother was a simple, hardworking and religious woman whose influence on Mohandas was great. One of the things that he was frightened of was darkness. His nurse Rambha tried to dispel his fear by saying, "There are no ghosts, but if you are afraid, repeat the name of Rama" The mention of the lord’s name to gain courage became almost second nature to him and 70 years later, when Gandhi fell dying to an assassin’s bullet, he departed with the name of Rama on his lips.

Mohandas was naturally playful and sometimes mischievous. When he was seven, his father became the Dewan of Rajkot. By then, Mohandas had become independent and assertive. Though he was not an extrovert, he loved the companionship of familiar people and children. He showed a fondness for clean clothes, plants and animals.

At Rajkot, he joined a primary school. His school days, in his own words, were the most miserable days of his life. He was an erratic student and would sometimes do very well and sometimes very badly. The learning of difficult subjects in English, a foreign language, seemed a big obstacle to him. He said, “Everything had to be learned through English — geometry, algebra, history, geography. If any boy spoke in Gujarati in the class, he was punished.” “High schools were schools for cultural conquest by the English,” he remarked bitterly.

The old Indian epics were a source of inspiration to Mohandas. The stories of the truthful Harishchandra and the devoted son Sharavana impressed him greatly. Though no great sportsman, he had a soft corner for the quintessential English sport, cricket.

At the age of 12, Mohandas began to think more seriously on social codes of conduct. He disagreed with his mother’s practice of untouchability and despite his mother’s dislike, befriended Uka, a sweeper boy.

Cupid, the God of love, made an early entry into Mohandas’s life via Kasturba, his child-bride. He got married to Kasturba at the tender age of 13. She was the daughter of a rich merchant of Porbandar. Later, Gandhi condemned the practice of child marriages in India as being detrimental to the right development of young minds. Gandhi encouraged equality for women and motivated their participation in society and public life.

At about this time, a handsome, athletic boy, Sheik Mehtab, captured Mohandas’s imagination. His strong physique and courageous manner appealed to Mohandas. It was through his friendship with Mehtab that Mohandas was tempted into tasting meat. Despite his wayward manner, Mohandas was fascinated by Sheik Mehtab. Thanks to Mehtab again, Mohandas was introduced to smoking. One day at Mehtab’s instigation, Mohandas stole a piece of gold to pay off a debt which his brother had incurred. Soon after, Mohandas was filled with remorse and wrote an anguished confession addressed to his father.

His father’s health had been failing for some time and he was then very ill. Mr. Karamchand Gandhi read his son’s confession and tears flowed copiously down his cheeks. His father’s silent weeping hurt Mohandas more than would have a hundred blows. He had his first practical lesson in the power of Ahimsa or non-violence. Mohandas felt strangely close to his father as he had never before. Unfortunately, his father’s health worsened and when Mohandas was only 16, his father died. With the passing away of his father, it seemed that Mohandas’s days of childhood were also over.

Keywords: Mahatma Gandhi