If you’ve assumed that Mahatma Gandhi was one of the brightest students in class or one of the most outstanding student leaders in his youth, then you may be in for a surprise.
Not only was he a mediocre student, he was a very quiet and shy teenager too. But did that stop him from becoming India’s “Father of the Nation”?
It’s a great piece of news for us! Because, if you’ve been through a similar situation, all is not lost yet! You’re still able to create your own story of victory… just like Gandhi.
A Family Disappointment
Born into a mid-ranking caste family, Mohandas K. or Mahatama (“Great-Souled”) Gandhi had a low self esteem when he was young. Because of that, he seldom stayed back after school to interact with other classmates for fear of being ridiculed at. That was also part of the reason for his early unhappiness in his marriage (when he was 13 years old) as his young bride had difficulty accommodating to his impatient, jealous and demanding outbursts.
He didn’t do well in school either. After struggling to graduate from high school, he moved on to study medicine in a local university only to fail badly and subsequently, forced to quit. At that time, he had only attended that university for only 5 months.
In their desperate bid to help the young man, his family decided to send him to England to study law, a course that they believed he would be able to cope. They pooled all the financial resources that they could get and finally sent the excited Gandhi off to London to embark on a fresh new start.
Life In London
A stranger in a foreign land, Gandhi had difficulty adjusting to the seasonal weather in London and would often be teased for his inappropriate seasonal attire and his poor command of the English language. To make up for all those, he worked very hard, trying to excel in both his studies and other curricular activities such as French, dancing, violin and elocution. He also tried to improve on his dressing by buying more suits.
Those proved to be short lived as he found himself running out of money gradually.
To cut costs, he gave up his hotel for a small room and walked instead of traveling on buses. He also changed his diet, switching English meals for simple vegetarian fare. Interestingly, those newly adopted lifestyle habits formed the basis of his lessons on health and simple living subsequently.
His Debut in the Court
During those times in London, Gandhi couldn’t wait to return home. The day after he passed his exams and was appointed to the bar, he made his trip back, only to be notified that his beloved mother had passed away while he was still traveling.
He then decided to leave for Bombay where he would not be reminded of his grief, to practice law. Sadly, life struck back again. Due to his inadequate knowledge about the Indian law, he had difficulty getting a case. Even when he finally secured one, he had stage fright at the last moment and abandon the courtroom abruptly, leaving his colleague to conduct the cross examination. It was a disgraceful debut.
His inability to succeed as a lawyer drove Gandhi back home again. With the help of his brother, Gandhi decided to go South Africa and take up a clerical position, at the expense of leaving his wife and 2 sons behind after barely 2 years back home.
But it wasn’t all that smooth sailing in South Africa either. Instead of landing on a clerical position, he realized that he was engaged for a civil suit that required strong accounting knowledge and detailed legal analysis. The realities of the life and the harsh discrimination against Indians in the country cornered Gandhi into making a decision whether he should pack his bags and leave South Africa or stay on to fight the case, until one day something happened.
While riding on the first class carriage on the train to another town, he was ordered to move to the freight compartment. When he refused, he was unceremoniously driven off the carriage. As he waited in the station for the next available coach, thoughts of his present circumstances flooded his mind. It suddenly dawned on him that despite changing his environment each time, he was still unable to avoid the challenging issues ahead. He realized that it was cowardice of him to shun away from his fears instead of helping the people to fight for the rights they deserve!
A Lawyer, A Human Rights Campaigner
Gandhi then started working hard on the case, drilling into the details zestfully. With his diligence and perseverance, he learned a lot about the case and counteracted against the punitive nature of the lawsuit by persuading his client and the other party to settle on an amicable reconciliation out of court.
His apt handling of the suit earned the respect of the Indian community so much so that he was asked to delay his departure back home to help them on another case to fight for the rights of Indian settlers in the country. That catalyzed his involvement into politics.
He would propose political negotiations with British leaders whom he regarded as his equal, work with people from different castes, religions and nationalities to achieve harmony in coexistence, fight for his country’s independence and set the highest standards for his people. All his work for civil rights, India’s Independence and active propagation of love and peace wouldn’t have been possible if not for his firm conviction that all people possess the innate capability to change from within, in the pursuit of what’s right.
What Did I Learn From This Story?
That the person you see in the mirror everyday while brushing your teeth, combing your hair etc is the person responsible for your life. Yes. That, is none other than yourself.
(1) Your Innate Potential Can Be Unlocked By Yourself
Who would have imagined that the shy and introverted boy who refused to stay back after school to interact with his classmates for fear of being laughed at, to be able to speak with such eloquence and persuasion, winning over the whole nation in his pursuit for India’s independence? Who would have expected the young timid lawyer who scrammed the courtrooms at the slightest tinge of fear to be able to stand up against tyranny and injustice?
It would be after the fact irony to say that someone probably did. That Gandhi had the good fortune to meet a good mentor who was able to see the potential in him that others didn’t. But the truth was, there was no such person in his life at that time.
But Gandhi didn’t wait.
He chose to be the miner and let the bolt of realization at the train station’s waiting area guide him in unearthing and polishing the gem hidden in a tad of dirty mud. Himself.
What about you? Did you choose to wait and see if there’s opportunities for you to develop yourself or actively seek to find such opportunities?
(2) Stop Blaming & Take Accountability
We live in a blame society.
We blame the fast food chains for producing junk food that makes people obese. But we ignored the fact that people willingly subject themselves to eating such food. We blame the Internet for being a source of violence and pornography for the kids but we forget that it’s the responsibility of parents to monitor and teach their children the right values in interpreting such information. We argue that our current predicament is a result of a lack of certain resources, overlooking the fact that those resources are not necessary to improve our situation in the first place!
In the midst of this blaming culture, it’s easy to possess a distorted view of the issue and fail to notice the essence of the problem, isn’t it? The problem never gets resolved. It just gets bigger.
This is where I think we can learn from Gandhi. Even though he was involved in the blame game in the earlier part of his life, he subsequently took accountability for it. His enlightenment started from the realization that no matter how his environment changed, if his mentality, attitude and internal mettle were still the same, he would never be able to breakthrough the chain.
And when he stopped blaming, the piece of filth clogging his visibility removed itself, allowing him to see the crux of his problem. Himself again.