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free summary and ebook of Gandhi: An Autobiography

Synopsis 

The Story of My Experiments with Truth is the autobiography of Mahatma Gandhi. The book covers Gandhi’s early life through to 1921 when he was in his early 50s. Initially, the book was written in weekly installments. Each week from 1925 to 1929, the journal Navjivan would publish a new part of the autobiography. However, this book summary will cover the final work, which was first published in the West in 1948. 

About Gandhi

Mahatma Gandhi is one of the most influential people of the 19th and 20th centuries. Gandhi was an Indian Lawyer and anti-colonialist. He used nonviolent resistance to campaign against Britain’s rule over India. This resistance eventually led to India’s independence from Britain. Plus, his peaceful approaches inspired civil rights movements across the world.

“When I despair, I remember that all through history the way of truth and love have always won. There have been tyrants and murderers, and for a time, they can seem invincible, but in the end, they always fall. Think of it–always.” – Mahatma Gandhi

“Your beliefs become your thoughts,

Your thoughts become your words,

Your words become your actions,

Your actions become your habits,

Your habits become your values,

Your values become your destiny.” – Mahatma Gandhi

Gandhi’s Youth

Colonized India

Gandhi was born on 2nd October 1869, in Porbander. Porbander is a small coastal town in Northwest India. He was brought up by his mother and father. His father was a local politician who worked for local Indian princes. Both his parents were poorly educated. For example, his mother was illiterate, and his father only learned to write in his older years. Despite this, Gandhi’s parents were relatively wealthy for the area. Hence, Gandhi was able to have a good education.

Gandhi was born during the Victorian era. This was a time when the British Empire was in full force. One of the places they controlled large parts of was Gandhi’s native India. Gandhi describes the empire as being a peculiar mixture of commercial greed and an attempt to be missionaries. India was considered the jewel in the crown of Queen Victoria’s empire. This British rule over India was called the Raj by the British. They first colonized India in the 18th century through the British East India Company. In the late 19th century, it was more prominent than ever. The British had become rulers of India. 

Young Marriage

“I lost no time in assuming the authority of a husband . . . (she) could not go out without my permission.” – Mahatma Gandhi

Gandhi was married at the very young age of thirteen. He was married to a local girl of the same age named Kasturbai. Later in life, he would challenge the inhumane practice of child marriage. However, at this time, he was happy with his marriage. As their relationship progressed, they experienced many quarrels. Some were so serious they did not speak for months.

“Of all the evils for which man has made himself responsible, none is so degrading, so shocking or so brutal as his abuse of the better half of humanity; the female sex.” – Mahatma Gandhi

Academic and Religious Mediocrity

Gandhi was a shy child. He would shy away from sport, and he struggled academically at school. Gandhi found the multiplication tables particularly challenging. Similarly, he had no particular affinity to religion at this age. His household, growing up, was religiously diverse. His mother was a devout Hindu, while his father and his friends often debated Islam. On top of this, Jainism was very popular in his local area. Therefore, from a young age, Gandhi was surrounded by a wide range of religions. Although this upbringing most probably molded the man he would become, he was not interested in religion at a young age. In fact, it bored him. He even describes how he ‘“leaned somewhat towards atheism.”

Traveling to London

Gandhi’s father passed away when Gandhi was a young adult. Gandhi was chosen as the successor as head of the family. Therefore, he was encouraged to travel to England and study law. His family wanted him to follow in his father’s footsteps and become a politician. Gandhi’s mother was actually worried before Gandhi left for England. She was worried England would corrupt Gandhi’s morals. To calm her nerves, Gandhi promised to avoid wine and meat. 

Before leaving, an issue arose. The elders of Gandhi’s caste learned of his proposed trip to England. They objected as no members of their caste were allowed to travel to England. England was seen as impure. Gandhi was determined to go, though. So, he decided to leave and be made an ‘out-caste’. Gandhi set sail for England. Among the loved ones he left behind was his three-month-old first child, a boy named Harilal.

London to South Africa

Gandhi struggled to adapt when he arrived in London. He was a slender Indian with protruding ears and a terrible shyness. Although he had learned English at school, he could not hold a conversation very well. In fact, he was so embarrassed on the trip to Southampton that he ate in his cabin to avoid embarrassment. 

After arriving in London, family friends took him under their wing. However, he still had obstacles to overcome. Firstly, vegetarian food was very hard to come by in Victorian London. Many Hindus living in London decided to abandon this Hindu scripture as it was hard to follow. Gandhi had made a promise, though. Gandhi was not the type of man to break promises. He mainly lived off porridge until he found a suitable restaurant. 

Adapting to Western Culture

Although Gandhi initially struggled to adapt, he did make a conscious attempt to westernize himself in some ways. He took lessons in French, dancing, elocution, and the violin. Gandhi didn’t keep these going for very long, but they were a sign of his intent. He then started dressing in the English fashion. On top of this, Gandhi began reading the Bible. He never accepted the idea of sin and redemption, but this did kickstart his passion for religion. Plus, he was inspired by Jesus’ sermon on the mount. He described this sermon as full of humility.

After reading the Bible, Gandhi first started reading one of the most sacred Hindu books: Bhagavad-Gita. He discovered the work through some friends involved in theosophy, a faddish mélange of superstition and Eastern, then fashionable in Victorian society. Its poetry and message soon enthralled him.

Gandhi Becomes a Barrister and Returns Home

“Man often becomes what he believes himself to be. If I keep on saying to myself that I cannot do a certain thing, it is possible that I may end by really becoming incapable of doing it. On the contrary, if I have the belief that I can do it, I shall surely acquire the capacity to do it even if I may not have it at the beginning.” – Mahatma Gandhi

Gandhi studied extremely hard to pass the bar. He did pass and was enrolled as a lawyer. The very next day, he sailed back to Bombay. He had been away from his home, wife, and child for more than three years. He was desperate to see them again. 

However, his homecoming was not the welcome he was expecting. Gandhi’s mother had died while he was abroad, and the family had decided to keep the news from him until he got home. They did not want to disrupt his studies. 

He also was expecting to come back to lots of work opportunities. This did not transpire. He struggled to get well-paid work and he, and his growing family, struggled financially. His first lawsuit ended in a disaster when his shyness overcame him. He was unable to cross-examine a witness. Following this failure, he tried to obtain a teaching position but was unsuccessful. He eventually decided to accept an offer from a Muslim Indian Firm to travel to South Africa for a year and advise on a lawsuit. 

South Africa

South Africa was starting to display racist tendencies. These racist tendencies would eventually culminate in the apartheid regime of the 20th century. Although the black community was the most marginalized group in South Africa, the Indian population was also treated as second-class citizens.

Gandhi would experience this discrimination firsthand while living in South Africa. While traveling on a train, he was forced to wait overnight in Transvaal station as he refused to give up his first-class seat to a white passenger. This experience outraged him and led him to make his first public speech. He spoke to the assembly of Transvaal Indians and urged them to work hard and learn English. If they did this, they would be able to achieve political equality. 

On the day of Gandhi’s farewell party to South Africa, he was made aware of an Indian Franchise Bill. This bill was extremely discriminatory against Indians. The bill would deprive Indians of the right to vote. He was shocked that nobody had created an opposition to the bill. Hence, Gandhi’s friends begged him to stay and assist them in tackling this bill. He agreed to stay. However, he said he could only stay for a month. That month would end up being two years of campaigning in South Africa. By the time Gandhi left South Africa, he has been working there for over twenty years. Many people associated Gandhi with India. However, he was also hugely influential in South Africa. This country is where he was first given the title of Mahatma, which means great soul. 

He went home to India for a short while and was greeted by cheering fans. However, when he decided to return to South Africa, his welcome was slightly less friendly. Riotous crowds of whites awaited him at Port Natal. Gandhi had developed a bad reputation, and he was seen as a rebel and a troublemaker. Therefore, these whites were determined to prevent him from coming on-land. They failed in doing so, though. Although some disliked him, he still had allies who were willing to help him.

While living in South Africa, Gandhi had to live through the Boer War. Although few people realize this, Gandhi was loyal to Britain at this time. Through pacifist approaches, Gandhi supported the British fighting the Boers. For example, he led an Indian medical corps to help serve the British. He was a British patriot at this time. His views on the empire would change dramatically throughout his life. He initially believed that the empire was based on the principles of equality and liberty. These principles were ones he held dear.

The Making of Gandhi

“The seeker after truth should be humbler than the dust. The world crushes the dust under its feet, but the seeker after truth should so humble himself that even the dust could crush him. Only then, and not till then, will he have a glimpse of truth.” – Mahatma Gandhi

Several changes in Gandhi’s personal life would make him even more famous. Firstly, he obtained the personal achievement of Brahmacharya. Brahmacharya is a voluntary abstention from sexual relations. Many Hindu men adhere to Brahmacharya later in life, but Gandhi did this in his 30s. This was very rare and showed his commitment to his religion. Gandhi explained that the reason behind this decision was that he succumbed too easily to lust as a young man. He gave the example of how he failed to be with his father when he died as he was making love to his wife. Gandhi never forgave himself.

Additionally, Gandhi added to his philosophy a specific approach to political protest. This type of protest would soon be named Satyagraha. Satyagraha translated as truth-force. Gandhi committed to refusing to obey unjust authority. He put this into action by encouraging the Indian community to take a vow of disobedience in 1906. This disobedience was in response to the Transvaal government making plans to register every Indian over the age of eight. Everybody at that meeting was willing to make a vow, even though it threatened their lives. Gandhi was one of the first to appear before a magistrate for refusing to register. He was sentenced to two months but actually asked for a longer sentence. This type of action was part of practicing Satyagraha. Gandhi devoted his time in prison to reading.

Rebellion and the Declaration of Independence

“It’s the action, not the fruit of the action, that’s important. You have to do the right thing. It may not be in your power, may not be in your time, that there’ll be any fruit. But that doesn’t mean you stop doing the right thing. You may never know what results come from your action. But if you do nothing, there will be no result.” – Mahatma Gandhi

Another example of Satyagraha was shown in response to the Rowlatt Act in India. Gandhi proposed that the whole country engage in hartal. Hence, the entire country would spend a day fasting, praying, and abstaining from physical labor. These practices would be in response to the repressive new law. The response was overwhelming. Millions of Indians practiced Satyagraha. However, this approach was potentially too drastic at too early a stage. The British arrested him, and angry mobs of people filled the Indian cities. Violence spread throughout the country. Instead of utilizing this mob support, Gandhi told the mob to go home. He did not want Satyagraha if it meant violence would occur. 

In 1920, Gandhi started traveling around India, protesting against British customs. He encouraged Indian people to give up their Western clothing and British jobs. His commitment to the cause encouraged other volunteers to follow him. By 1922, Gandhi had deemed that the time was right for a move from non-cooperation into outright civil disobedience. However, during this time, a horrible event occurred. A mob hacked a local constable to death in Chauri Chauri, a city in India. Gandhi was horrified and withdrew from leading the civil disobedience movement. He spent time meditating and reading to recover. 

Gandhi would be arrested and serve time in prison again for treason. During his time in prison, his movement lost momentum. Indians drifted back into their jobs. However, more worryingly, the Indians and Muslims lost their unity. Gandhi was the one uniting these two religions, and without him, violence would ensue. Gandhi continued to fight for independence, and finally, in January of 1930, Gandhi had written up a Declaration of Independence of India. 

Gandhi’s Final Years

“I object to violence because when it appears to do good, the good is only temporary; the evil it does is permanent.” – Mahatma Gandhi

During Gandhi’s final years, India gained independence from Britain. Churchill lost the British election to a left-wing Labour Party. Labour was determined to help push Indian independence through.

The three years after his wife’s death were a catastrophe. As well as losing his wife, he saw his country partitioned into India and Pakistan. Gandhi argued against the partition. He wanted unity. He felt that the partition would also lead to violence and forced migration. Gandhi was right. Hindus and Muslims killed each other at horrific numbers across the newly created borders. People had to seek safety across either side of the border for religious reasons. Hundreds of thousands of people died, perhaps even millions. Gandhi felt like India had not learned from his teaching of nonviolence and unity with others.

He tried to stop this violence but to no avail. He conducted multiple fasts’ until death’ or until there was peace in Delhi. One fast he started lasted five days until the Muslim and Hindu leaders promised to make peace. He was hoping to do the same for Punjab after recovering. However, it was not to be. On Friday 30th January 1948, a Hindu nationalist named Nathuram Vinayak Godse broke into Gandhi’s garden. Instead of being angry or aggressive to this intruder, Mahatma gave this man a Hindu blessing. However, the man proceeded to take a gun out of his pocket and shoot Gandhi four times. Smoke rose around Gandhi, while his hands were folded in a peaceful position. His dying words were Hei Ra…ma, which means ‘Oh God’. The assassinator’s motivation was that he felt Gandhi had been too accommodating to Muslims during the partition of India. Godse had hoped that Gandhi’s death would lead to war between India and Pakistan and the elimination of the Muslim state. Instead, it led to peace, as Hindus and Muslims alike joined in mourning for the slain Mahatma. Indeed, the entire world mourned: flags were lowered to half-mast, and kings, popes, and presidents sent condolences to India. 

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