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An Autobiography Or The Story Of My Experiments With Truth by Mahatma Gandhi is an introduction to India’s nationalist and most complex historical figures. The autobiography, which was essentially meant to be a series of newspapers, gives an insight into Gandhi’s spiritual journey. The book contains first-hand information from the author’s concern making it authentic and interesting to read. The name Mahatma Gandhi is a revered name in al contemporary struggle for liberation and freedom. This is a man known for his defiance to oppression and strict insistence on telling the truth. How he succeeded in doing this through non-violent resistance is what makes him an enigma.
The Story of My Experiments with Truth is an autobiography by Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi, published in 1993. Gandhi, known as Mahatma (an honorific meaning ‘Great Soul’) relates the story of his life from childhood onwards, and how he came to formulate his theories and practice of non-violent resistance to British rule in India. In his lifetime, Gandhi succeeded in helping India to push itself towards independence from the British Empire. Through the book, he espouses a moral message to his readers. Aside from his political beliefs and activities, Gandhi discusses his ascetic outlook on life, his vegetarianism and self-discipline, his commitment to abstinence, his ongoing spiritual development, and his time in England. All royalties earned on The Story of My Experiments with Truth go to the Navajivan Trust, a publishing house focused on spiritual and educational development, founded by Gandhi himself.
Gandhi’s autobiography is divided into an intro, five parts with chapters, and a closing. Most chapters are short and cover a brief episode or two in his life. His account is pretty much in chronological order. The intro outlines his quest for truth, and the closing sums it up, so they show the big-picture message.
Part One gives us Gandhi’s birth (October 2, 1869), childhood, teens, and time in England. He’s influenced as a kid by his religiously tolerant political official father and a devout mother. At age 13 (!), he’s married to Kasturbai in child marriage, meaning she’s a teenager, too, and their parents are the ones who decide they should get married.
After a few years, she becomes preggo with the first of Gandhi’s four children. Once Gandhi’s father dies, a family friend suggests Gandhi go to England to study law to keep the family a high status one. However, his caste tells him it’s against their religion for him to travel abroad.
Meanwhile, his mother is worried he’ll lose his way in the foreign culture and start drinking alcohol, eating meat (his family is vegetarian), and sleeping with women other than his wife, who’s to stay at home in India while her husband has his big adventure. Gandhi tells his caste he’s going to England, and they can go ahead and kick him out…which they do.
As for his mother’s concerns, Gandhi takes serious vows not to touch alcohol, meat, or other women. With that, he’s off to England. After being called to the bar (i.e., after officially becoming a lawyer), he returns to India.
Part Two tells us all about his time in South Africa, where he goes to work with a law firm. He gets kicked off a train due to “color prejudice” (which is what he calls racism), and he decides to fight back—non-violently, of course. He continues studying religion and founds the Natal Indian Congress. He heads back to India for a while, where he meets his mentor Gokhale and others, but is soon recalled to South Africa to continue “public work,” which is his term for what we today might call activism.
In Part Three, Gandhi develops his spiritual practice of self-restraint by taking the brahmacharya vow of celibacy—by now, he’s had his four sons, all with Kasturbai—and develops his political power by leading an Indian ambulance corps in the Boer War. He returns to India, where he attends the Indian National Congress and stays with Gokhale, his mentor. He also practices law there. When his second son becomes very ill, Gandhi refuses the doctor’s advice to give him meat broth, which goes to show how seriously our author takes his religious ideals. Gandhi is full steam ahead by this point for sure.
Part Four has Gandhi fighting the Asiatic Department in the Transvaal, giving legal advice to Johannesburg Indians in land acquisition cases, organizing an Indian Volunteer Corps for the Great War, and more. He tells us about his religious studies, his experiments in the diet (fruits and nuts only: dang), and his thoughts on the brahmacharya vow. He’s glad to be celibate, saying that life with sex is “insipid and animal-like.” He feels the self-restraint of celibacy is a purifying practice that makes him a better seeker of truth.
Part Five shows Gandhi at the height of his political power. He founds the Satyagraha Ashram in Ahmedabad, secures help for peasants in Champaran, fights the Rowlatt legislation, suspends Satyagraha after people become violent, edits newspapers, and gets a non-cooperation resolution passed by the Nagpur Congress. And that’s just some of what he does politically.
There’s also his decision to drink goat’s milk when a doctor recommends it for a terrible illness. Gandhi had seen all milk as an animal product, like vegans do today, but decided he needed strength for his public work and that his vow to his mother not to touch milk only encompassed buffalo and cow milk. Gandhi writes that even if drinking goat’s milk doesn’t violate the letter of his vow, it violates the spirit, and he feels quite conflicted and pained over his choice.
Gandhi is, without a doubt, a controversial figure. When asked to write an autobiography in the midst of his career, he saw that as a perfect chance to explain himself. In the book, he says that his ultimate goal is to seek the truth that is linked to devotion to God and how one can bend his life to be in line with the will of God. This is a clear attempt to have a relationship with divine power. According to Gandhi, achieving that requires one to seek purity, something that is possible via simple living, celibacy, dietary practices, and life without violence.
The influence of family on Mahatma
The book begins with Mahatma Gandhi’s narration of his early life. He tells how Gandhi’s are part of the Bania caste and that their original occupation was grocery. However, for the past three generations, from Gandhi’s grandfather, they have been Prime Ministers.
Mahatma Gandhi expresses a lot of admiration for his father and grandfather. Just from how he talks about them, you can tell that the two played a central role in Mahatma’s life. He tells of how his father loved his clan, was generous, brave, and truthful, but could not keep his temper under control.
One of the most striking comments about Mahatma Gandhi’s father is when he says: “My father never had any ambition to accumulate riches and left us very little property.” This is exactly the kind of man that Mahatma turned out to be. He would rather have nothing but be happy instead of owning everything.
His mother’s impact cannot be left out either. “The outstanding impression my mother has left on my memory is that of saintliness.” The mother was a deeply religious lady. At no point did she ever take her meals without the daily prayers. She would make some of the toughest vows and strive towards keeping them despite the challenges faced. Even when sick, she would never move away from her determination. Mahatma recalls of the time when the mother observed the Chandrayana vow while sick.
Thanks to the life that his parents led, Mahatma retained one of the most admirable integrity. This can be seen in an incident that once happened while in high school during an examination. Mr. Gales, the Educational Inspector, asked them to spell a couple of words. He left a teacher to supervise them. One work, “kettle”, proved challenging to Mahatma. The teacher tried to signal him to copy from his neighbor, but he never did. Interestingly, the end result was that everyone except him spelled every word correctly.
The South Africa factor
Long before Gandhi took charge of the Indian freedom movement, he used to reside in South Africa, where he fought against injustice and division along class lines. For a span of 10 years, Mahatma Gandhi propagated the idea of Satyagraha in the country, as he worked towards zero class or ethnic discrimination.
In his autobiography, Mahatma Gandhi describes his preparation for South Africa. His main purpose of going to South Africa was to represent a firm in a court case. The claim was € 40,000. The case had been happening for quite a while, and the firm hoped that involving the services of Mahatma Gandhi would help finalize it. Mahatma’s services were required for not more than a year, and his payment would be € 105. He took on the opportunity to leave India and got ready for South Africa.
As Mahatma notes, his departure for South Africa was not as easy as the one for England. That’s because his brother was nowhere to receive him and that he left behind a wife who had just given birth to another baby. Gandhi arrived in South Africa in 1893. Whereas he had expected to stay for just a year, he soon became the leader of the Indian Community in the country. Until 1914, he took on the role of an attorney and public worker. Later, he noted that as much as he was born in India, it is South Africa that made him.
The autobiography narrates the major activities that Mahatma got involved in South Africa. From the formation of Natal Indian Congress to bringing in 800 Indians to serve along with him in SA, the book will leave you mesmerized by the kind of man Mahatma was.
Autocrats from Asia
It has always been argued that autocracies never have a good ending. The argument is always that an authoritarian regime might have brief flashes of brilliance, but it does not have the creativity and innovativeness needed for long term sustainability.
Mahatma Gandhi was quick to note autocracy in his life in South Africa. When the officers at the new department learned that he had entered the country, they couldn’t think of how he did it. You will find the power of this man in how the officers are frightened to directly ask him the question. Rather, they inquire from Indians who used to go to them. However, these do not give a definitive response. The officers only guessed that he might have entered without a permit. In that case, they would be allowed to arrest him.
As a general practice, the government of a country from war often amasses special powers. That happened in South Africa as well. The Peace Preservation Ordinance had been passed, allowing anyone who came in without a permit to be arrested and imprisoned. It was not clear whether or not to arrest Gandhi under the provision. No one summoned the courage to ask him to produce his permit either. By the time they got a telegram confirming his permit, they were disappointed.
Mahatma Gandhi notes that when officers arrived from India, they carried with them autocracy and the habits they had developed there. He received a fair share of this autocracy when he was summoned to see the chief. He did not receive and written order. The autobiography goes on to narrate his heated argument with the chief of the department.
Gandhi and the fasts undertaken
Mahatma Gandhi gained this title “The Father of the Nation” as a result of his leadership in fighting for freedom in India. One of these fights landed him to a cell at Yerwada Jail near Bombay. While still in detention, he called for a fast to protest against the caste separation of the Indian electoral system.
Taking the forefront in the fight to give India a home rule, the Father of the Nation spread his ideology of passive resistance throughout India and the world at large. He often called upon his followers not to touch any food until their end goal was achieved.
One notable fact that Gandhi describes in the book is one which involved the struggle for settlement with mill workers. He told them that “Unless the strikers rally, I will continue to strike till a settlement is reached.” This declaration touched the laborers. “Tears began to course down Anasuyabehn’s cheeks”, notes Gandhi. They all joined him in the fast.
The net result of the fast was that an atmosphere of good-will was created all-round. The mill-owner’s hearts were touched, and they tried to find better settlement alternatives. The mill-owners commemorated this event through sweets distribution to the laborers and a settlement was arrived at after 21 days of hunger strike.
The influence that Gandhi had on India’s religious and political sphere could be the subject of an entire book. This autobiography effectively explores his views on what was happening around him in the earlier years of the fight to free India. As a classic, it equally plays a good role in preparing one for Indian culture.
As one reads the book, you are left to wonder what kind of impact you would want to have in the world. Besides the challenge of faith and life, one big takeaway from this book is how easily Gandhi identified with the Indian way of life. He provided a detailed description of his life and obsessions about food and vegetarianism.